Monday, December 17, 2007

Excessive Religion, Part 8: Dramatization and Mysticism

Part 7

In Inner Experience, Bataille describes inner experience as being like mysticism, but without any particular confession. Confession implies knowledge, and it must cling to this knowledge in a limiting way. Because Bataille is striving for a moment of non-knowledge, an unrepeatable experience, knowledge only limits horizons.

Knowledge seems, in fact, to have no temporal or cause and effect relationship with inner experience at all. Bataille says that, in terms of knowledge, inner experience “reveals nothing and cannot found nor sets out from it.” Knowledge, beliefs and propositions are unconnected to the experience of non-knowledge. Inner experience is only the unknown, not a variation on the known.

This prohibition on the value of knowledge seems to bring into question the value of both faith and fidelity. Faith seems to be especially susceptible here; is it not synonymous with the idea of the “particular confession” Bataille has already derided? This would be a hasty conclusion; faith does not so much concern encyclopedic knowledge about an object as it does the place of the object within a particular symbolic position. Neither is fidelity concerned with a body of knowledge; it is a relationship to one’s own desire. Both faith and fidelity are defined by their relationships to object a, not the body of knowledge that arises around this.

It is dramatization in which faith and fidelity can be seen as analogous. Bataille offers the opportunity for such a suggestion when he says “one reaches the states of ecstasy or of rapture only be dramatizing existence in general.” This is the mechanism that pushes one forward: the surge of libidinal energy that pushes to useless expenditure and excess begins with dramatization. Dramatization rallies energies around a particular object; it “necessarily has a key, in the form of an uncontested (deciding) element, of a value such that without it there can exist no drama, but indifference.” What other object could this key be than object a? Dramatization is a surge of desire, encourage and provoked by an external object. If one is dominated by indifference or a neurotic continual questioning, inner experience will forever remain beyond one’s life.

Dramatization and the either/or pair of faith and fidelity do not map perfectly onto each other, however. Faith, in particular, will suffer at the hands of Bataille. Drama needs a key, certainly, but this key must “exist in us.” Desire is always desire for the desire of the other; sublimation and fantasy are always a relationship with this other. The dramatization of faith is always external. This is where Bataille finds the limit of traditional religion; the focus on finding one’s desire outside of one’s self is limits even while it pushes forward.

Dramatization is also the will to not be satisfied with discourse; it adds itself to discourse and goes beyond what is stated. The will to move beyond what is stated is a major incompatibility with faith. Because faith involves sublimation - which sets an object into a particular position in the symbolic and therefore in a particular linguistic position - faith is necessarily tied to discourse. The libidinal investment of faith finds part of its limit at the edge of the symbolic position of God, as both object a and barred Other. Faith is the dramatization with only a sickly (if partially effective) will to move beyond what is stated.

Fidelity, however, is capable of willing to move beyond what is stated in the traversal of fantasy. The spirit of wo es war, soll ich werden is that of becoming one’s own cause. A constitutive element of this is the recognition that one says more than one means. The slips and bursts are the elements of the real that appear in language. Language exists because of a lack; the simply surface meaning lacks the recognition of the excess of meaning. What is said is not all there is.

It is that recognition of such a lack and the implied relationship of the unconscious that helps eliminate the cause and effect problem surrounding the limit experience. This problem is that of the principle “of inner experience: to emerge through project from the realm of project.” Projects are the praxis of calculative reason, and have the temporal nature of always putting off life until “later.” Reason and project, Bataille says, are essential; “without the support of reason we don’t reach dark ‘dark incandescence.’” It is this shift from project to non-project, knowledge to non-knowledge that is the fundamental problem. How can one lead to the other? How can knowledge condition non-knowledge? Is there a temporal cause and effect relationship?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Excessive Religion, Part 7: Antigone and Dramatization

Part 6

Recap of Part 6: Both faith and fidelity push one into the future, and without either, one dies.

To clarify this, I will briefly discuss Antigone in the spirit of Lacan’s seventh seminar. What better image of the obsessional neurotic is there than Antigone’s sister Ismene? When Antigone announces her plan to bury Polynieces against Creon’s orders, Ismene equivocates. Consider Ismene’s response to Antigone:

Oh no! Think carefully, my sister.
[. . . .]
And we must obey this order, even if it hurts us more.
As for me, I will say to those beneath the earth
This prayer: “Forgive me, I am held back by force.”
And I’ll obey the men in charge. My mind
Will never aim too high, too far.”

Ismene does not even say no. She has nothing to act upon, nothing that she can affirm or negate. All she is capable of doing is calculating out a series of goods and harms. She says “think carefully,” which is in this context is only an attempt to defer action. Ismene denies her ability to act and to choose on the basis of being “held back by force.” She also denies the value of any high aim that requires a view to the future.

Contrast Ismene with Antigone, who in Lacan’s reading, is an agent of fidelity. She maintains her desire in the face of the Other of the city in the form of Creon. Antigone is able to make choices that will lead to her own death because she is so invested in one particular object: her brother. Her actions led to excess and death; she participated in the accursed share. Ismene can even be contrasted with Creon. Creon was clearly invested in the city; not only to the maintenance of the city’s current status, but also to the city’s future well being. Because Creon had faith in the value of the city, he was able to make choices that also led to death and excess. Both Antigone and Creon, because of their respective fidelity and faith, were able to make choices and invest in a path that led to excess. Ismene, on the other hand, languished in a life of calculation, deferral and regret. Both faith and fidelity push one towards the future and towards excess. Without either of these things, one lives in a grey world of things to be calculated, stored and shifted around. No quantity of pleasure, security or material goods will ever admit the slightest glimmer of the splendorous excess that awaits one in sacred time.

Here we have the necessity of re-reading Bataille. Bataille has two problems. The first is that much of the problem concerning transgression. Bataille implicitly acknowledges a difficulty here when he disavowed the sexual revolution. Transgression is only possible if rules exist; the sexual revolution indicates the possibility that any one system of rules is capable of dissolving. When one recognizes that rules can dissolve, the next step is to begin understanding all laws and morality as purely self-imposed. How is transgression against such self imposition possible?

The second problem is Bataille’s lack of interest in knowledge, of the common time, the average everydayness of life. Daily life to Bataille is merely a period of cold calculation; projects and reason dominate common time. The question becomes, if daily life is so drab, where are the flowing energies that produce the accursed share? How can life that exists only in a series of calculations of things ever have but the most superficial contact with non-knowledge and the general economy?

What a re-reading offers is the fact that the solutions to these problems are already in Bataille’s work; they are simply covered over and neglected. The solution comes from the linking of a driven, directed secular time to the non-discursive, sacred time. This can be accomplished by using the preceding Lacanian concepts to flesh out and supplement Bataille’s own “dramatization.” What I hope to do is magnify the role that dramatization plays in inner experience, emphasizing its necessity more than Bataille himself does. Along this path, the limitations of faith will become clear.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Excessive Religion, Part 6: The Death of God and Fidelity

Part 5

Recap of Part 5: In faith, the promise of the future works upon the present.

What does one do with the death of God, then? God is dead, and as Lacan would said, the Other is barred. Yet, as Jean-Luc Marion shows, any insistence on the non-existence of God must offer a conceptual and therefore limited definition of the God it wishes to dismiss. Such a limited view of God can only ever be an idol, and so any atheism is only worth as much as its concept of God. A true, rigorous atheism, then, does not like in rejecting the existence of a being called God, whatever ontic or ontological characteristics one wishes to ascribe to this God. The existence and ontological status of God is not the primary issue; the issue is God’s status as the Autre, the Other that fulfills desire. Atheism is nothing other than the rejection of such a status. In other words, atheism is the rejection of faith in God. It is the rejection of God as sublime object and of the fantasies that establish the supposed relationship to God. The atheist simply does not have faith in God, “God” or the crossed God.

If faith corresponds to fantasy, than atheism corresponds to the traversal of fantasy and the refusal of God as the signifier of object a. Rejecting God as the object of desire allows the opportunity for a new relationship to one’s desire; to own one’s desire as if it were not a part of the other. Instead of encountering my desire and unconscious as an other, I can claim it and take responsibility for it. Where it was, there I will come into being.

The imperatives of faith are well known; the subject must act in the name of the desire of the other. The atheist faces a no less stringent imperative. In the final chapter of The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Lacan outlines a conception of ethics revolving around the concept of not giving ground on one’s desire. A direction relationship to desire - in which one says “I” where the other’s desire used to be - is one that sets the subject in a place of radical responsibility. Desire, because it must be fulfilled, cannot but demand action. The difference between faith and atheist desire is that an atheist act’s in the name of their own desire, while the faithful subject acts for God’s desire. The atheist holds a fidelity to their own desire, hence another term for the atheist is the subject of fidelity. The subject of fidelity necessarily acts towards a point that lies in the future; endlessly deferred, perhaps, but the action is necessary none the less.

Both the subjects of faith and fidelity are active in pursuit of a goal that is continuously deferred into the future. Both are active within an economy of libidinal flows in contradistinction to those without faith or fidelity. It is possible to live without either faith or fidelity, without any pursued desire at all. Lacan would term such a figure the obsessional neurotic, the person that is only ever capable of questioning and hedging. The obsessional neurotic is only capable of questioning; this cripples action and makes a movement to a future goal impossible.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Excessive Religion, Part 5: Faith and Time

Part 4

Recap of Part 4: The faithful relationship to God is the fantasy that takes God as the ultimate object of desire.

Two elements of the above will bear on what follows. The first is obvious: faith as sublation requires a God that is an object. God is an object that is raised into the dignity of the Thing. However else this God is predicated, it must carry the status of a definite object. In a sense, God must be held to occupy both the position of object a and Autre. God is both a person and a structural position; faith offers the ultimate fantasy scenario of the satisfaction of desire through God as the sublime object.

The second element is that of deferral into the future. Ritual actions are carried out in order to secure God’s desire - a securing that is always deferred into the future. This deferral is how religion “respects” or “avoids” the void, the empty space. Religion avoids the fact that desire is always deferred by promising a future time in which desire will be fulfilled. This promise of eternal life is well known; heaven is nothing but a place in which one will perpetually enjoy the jouissance of the Other.

The present, however, is not neglected. The present is a time of looking to the future fulfillment, to the undoing of the fall, to the undoing of castration. The present is a time of anticipation, but not of inaction; the repetition, the striving for God’s desire, all demand a heavy load upon the faithful. One cannot make a libidinal investment in God without taking on both duties and joy. The present is a time of work, of watchfulness, of engaged repetition of acts that will usher in the future possibility of enjoyment. The present also enjoys the effects of the sublime. To those with faith that makes one object sublime, all other objects reflect the faint glow of the divine. In a capital driven, mechanistic world, only the elevation of one particular object offers the rest the ability to have value.

Faith can also be seen as an imaginary relationship - in other words, a fantasy. Faith is the construction of a fantasy in which God’s desire is aroused and offered. The praxis of faith such as rituals or charitable works of whatever content are the scenarios in which God’s desire is aroused and in which the subject is promised the enjoyment of God.

Both sublimation and fantasy offer promises for the future. The satisfaction of desire is promised, if only after death. Sublimation takes God’s satisfaction as its object and fantasy creates scenarios in which God’s desire is aroused. Faith is therefore oriented to a future time, an orientation that creates significances for the present. The fantasy scenarios must be acted out.

It is that “must” that needs to be considered more carefully. The promises of full satisfaction are conditional - the fantasy always involves the need for some sort of submission. Faith demands actions and commitments even from the most ardent Lutheran. For instance, rejection of the value of works by Luther was nonetheless accompanied by an absolute insistence on a particular social structure as exemplified by his reaction to the peasant revolts in northern Germany. As good Christians, the peasants were expected to cede some of their freedom to the princes in the name of a future satisfaction.

The fact that the promise of the future asserts demands upon the present is a necessary aspect of faith. Faith involves works in the present devoted to a future faith. Faith is a relationship to an object cause.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Excessive Religion, Part 4: Faith as Libidinal Investment

Part 3

Recap of Part 3: Religion is the attempt to sublimate lack through respect, as opposed to art or science which deal with lack in their own way.

This description of religious sublimation is adequate so far as it goes, but it needs to be expanded in two ways.

Alenka Zupančič describes the two basic ways in which Lacan speaks of sublimation. The first kind of sublimation is the sublimation that operates on the level of the drive; it allows the drive to find a satisfaction in an object that is different from its aim. For example, the oral drive’s aim is food, but the pleasure of the mouth can be found in another object. The second kind of sublimation works on the level of desire. This sublimation appropriates a particular object and elevates it to the level of the Thing, that which will close the gap in the subject and satisfy desire. This kind of sublimation finds an object and attempts to use it to fill the gap in the subject. It is this second form of sublimation that religious experience relies upon. The object of sublated desire is God. God becomes a figure of libidinal investment, the entity whose own desire is seen as having the ability to satisfy the subject’s own desire.

The second necessary expansion upon Lacan’s 1960 view of religious sublimation is to be found in the eleventh seminar, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Here, Lacan describes part of the artist’s work as attempts to “arouse the desire of God.” Religious rituals, then, can be seen as attempts to earn the desire of the other. They are actions that are repeated, following upon one another in a linear, temporal series. Each one is an attempt to move forward along the chain of signifiers towards the master signifier, God, who will suture the gap in the subject and satisfy desire. These rituals stage jouissance - in other words, this is a fantasmic arrangement. A narrative and a structure is developed, with specific circumstances to be achieved; a relationship to desire is staged through repetition and metonymic movement along the signifying chain.

To tie the foregoing thoughts together: religion is a structure that is built around the empty space of the subject and the attempt to satisfy the desire this emptiness causes. One particular object - God - is taken as the object capable of filling this desire.

This description of sublimation is intended to replace the concept of faith as epistemological supplement. Faith is a libidinal investment in God as the object that will satisfy desire; it involves a metonymic movement into the future, the repetition of actions that will arouse God’s desire. Faith continuously moves forward in the belief that access to God’s jouissance is possible. This is a picture of the religious life in secular time, or as Bataille might have it, under “common conditions.” God operates in the position of the Autre, the subject supposed to know and that satisfies desire. The faithful relationship to God, then, is the ultimate fantasy. The movement of desire carries the subject into the future, into the repetition of acts designed to gain access to God’s jouissance. It is this God that one may dance before; under what other conditions can explosive joy be felt except in the presence of the (however fantasmic) jouissance of the Autre?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Excessive Religion, Part 3: The Empty Space

Part 2

Recap of Part 2: Faith is always something that stands in excess of knowledge.

In both the Biblical text and Augustine’s confessions, there is always an element of excess that moves beyond mere knowledge. One does not merely hold beliefs about an object; one makes a libidinal investment in this object. Put another way, the object (God, here) is raised to the dignity of the thing. It is in the seventh year of his seminar, entitled The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, that Jacques Lacan makes some very useful remarks regarding religion and sublimation, remarks that I will then bring to bear on aspects of Bataille’s thought. In this preliminary discussion, I am not trying to draw too many parallels between the thought of Lacan and Bataille; their views of the subject are irreducibly different.

In psychoanalytic thought, the subject lacks. The subject cannot but lack; this the cost of the entry into the symbolic. Because of this lack, the subject must continuously search for an object that will fill this lack. Particular objects are taken to be the thing that will fill this space; This empty space is the cause of desire, desire being the desire for the other’s desire. One believes that the other’s desire will be the Thing that fills this void. The metonymy of desire is a constant movement from object to object, always pushing forward. Each object is discovered to have some internal failing, an inadequacy that generates a dialectical movement to another object. It is this metonymic movement to close this empty space that drives human action.

In The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Lacan describes three particular ways of dealing with this empty space, this Thing that cannot be whisked away. All three methods are modes of sublimation. He speaks of art, science, and religion. Art builds itself around the Thing, around the empty space. The Thing becomes a source of creativity; the Thing is dressed up but always reappears. Science is an attempt to “foreclose” or deny this empty space; any excess or break in reality is denied in favour of a full description of the chain of conditions. Religion, on the other hand, is an attempt to respect the emptiness. The emptiness is acknowledged and a structure is built up around it. The emptiness becomes the mystery that sustains the religion; perhaps elevated from being a structural element of the subject to an element of ontology as such.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Conservatives Are Right

As in correct.

So, the world is ruled by a combination of Empires and Corporations. As the world is, it is basically a Capitalist's wet dream. Why? Why do conservatives always win, aside from the initial stages of various communist revolutions?*

I've seen two examples recently that lead to me believe that conservatives are very often simply smarter than lefties.

First, 2 weeks ago I was invited by a friend to a UWO group called 'Theology on Tap." It was a short lecture held in the grad club. The speaker was talking about Neo-Con godfather Milton Friedman, leftie populist Naomi Klein, and Jesus.

He first discussed Friedman. Friedman was the ideological go-to guy for various U.S. administrations in the 20th century. Buddy buddy with Reagan and Thatcher. What he taught the cons boils down to this: "Only during a crisis can the impossible become the inevitable."

So, various crises around the world were used to shuffle in free market reforms, to crush trade unions, etc. Often violently and painfully -- see Chile and Pinochet, or Thatcher and northern England.

Naomi Klein calls this the "shock doctrine." She sees it as unforgivable manipulation, a brutal violence used against the people. Klein's solution for the world is a return to Keynesian economics, which in a nutshell means government spending in lean times, and financial reticence in times of plenty. This is meant to stave off the worst excesses of capitalism. The return to Keynesian economics, to Klein, is entirely possible and desirable.

For the Jesus bit, the speaker presented his own economics -- a return to the jubilee economics of the Old Testament, in which debts are forgiven at particular intervals. He claimed that while he was sympathetic to Klein and found Friedman reprehensible, Klein's liberal humanism was too "thin," or too insubstantial to really found any sort of serious politics. So a serious dose of Jesus is required to fix these problems.

Now, my response. I agree that Klein's ideas are entirely too thin. I saw it coming a mile off when the speaker finally said that Klein insists she is not a revolutionary. Well duh, obviously. here's the thing: any politics that is not too thin must accept that Friedman is right.

Serious change, the kind that sees the impossible become inevitable, only happens during a crisis. How often is a crisis part of a religious conversion story? What was the crucifixion but a crisis that made the twin impossibilities of the resurrection and founding of the church inevitable? And as for the speaker's jubilee economics, surely he'd be the first to admit the idea is totally impossible. But could it be made inevitable?

Klein's rejection of the impossible is exactly why leftist humanism so often ends up being so anemic, so whiny, so utterly fucking retarded. Lefties need to start thinking in terms of the impossible, just like cons.

The second anecdote is taken from here. In 2004, the New York Times Magazine quoted a conversation between the article writer and an anonymous, highly ranked member of the Bush admin:

The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernable reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you are studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’

And that's kind of it, isn't it? The cons win on a strategic level because they act and change reality, while lefties can only claim tactical victories (ie, civil rights) because they insist on spending all their time coming up with good, correct propositions about reality. The conservatives learned Marx's maxim about changing the world, not studying it; the lefties didn't.

A leftist politics that is going to be able to compete with conservatives needs to be able to embrace the crisis, and the impossible, and it needs to be able to work upon the public imagination, the fantasies that bind us together. Conservatives have done this really well, and it's time to start learning from them.

*I'm fully aware that conservatives have plenty to complain about - gay marriage, etc. But the world is basically a place in which conservatives can be basically happy about the status quo, and all problems are merely hiccups that can be ironed out with enough prayer, guns or free enterprise. Unlike lefties, who think the status quo itself is rotten.

The Inverted World

2 posts down, you'll see that the internets have declared my blog to be all but unreadable. This is fine. Still, I've decided to express an opinion on jargon.

The continental tradition has built up a reputation for impossible jargon and vulgar relativism. They're the postmodernists, and if you write something like they do, your blog's reading level will be College (Postgrad). Incomprehensible and completely impractical, it seems. Nothing about it accords with common sense. Another pretty common accusation is that the jargon is used just so that the author can fool the readers into thinking the author is smarter than he really is.

There are a few things here. First, the tyranny of common sense. The insistence that philosophical jargon is bizarre and counter-intuitive amounts to the insistence that all thinking be common thinking. In any other area, however, the common is the mediocre. Pennies are common. Michael Crichton novels are common. On the other side, the excellent is the uncommon. Common sense is always mediocre, while uncommon sense at least as the opportunity to become excellent, or path-breaking, or truly creative.

The second thing is the insistence that thinking be practical. That we must study reality in order to know how to interact with it in the best way - morality, knowledge, politics, etc. However, this subordinates all thinking to a factory-like process. Thought becomes a product that enters the market place, and is consumed like a bottle of coke. The problem is that the commodification or instrumentalization of any human effort - like thinking - immediately forces thinking to become a popular product. Any sort of individuality is stripped away from it. To insist that thinking be practical is to miss the basic nature of thinking, which, at its best, actually lies prior to the theory/praxis distinction. It's not a product, it's a way of being in the world. In the jargon, its an ethos, a particular way of "dwelling."

So thinking should neither be common nor "practical." I think this is partly why Hegel called philosophy "the inverted world" - everything appears upside down. And this, to me, is the great merit of the entire project - to be able to turn one's world on its head.

To turn one's world on its head, to create concepts or find distinctions, to think in an uncommon way, one needs tools adequate for the job. The tools are the words, and sometimes the words are difficult. It is entirely worth the effort, though. It's a strangely exhilarating experience to reflect on the temporal structure of the moment of decision, but such reflection can only take place when one has a particular vocabulary and is willing to leave behind common sense.

One should always be able to step back into the "real world," of course, and discuss matters with friends and family that have no particular interest in the jargon. At this point, if one wishes to avoid the inane repetition of common sense, all one can do is fall back on the ethos one has developed through thinking. It's a bit like having a new common sense, a new default way of looking at things. This can be expressed without the jargon, and hopefully some communication can take place.

Excessive Religion, Part 2: Faith

Part 1

Recap of Part 1: How do the sacred and the secular interpenetrate one another?

In order to develop a concept of how the sacred can be expressed in our lives, it is necessary to outline one vital aspect of religious experience that is only minimally dealt with or accounted for by Lacan and Bataille.

There is a very common notion of “faith” that has given rise to endless nonsensical chatter about religion. The definition of faith as some kind of epistemological concept needs to be set aside. Faith is all too often seen as a supplement to knowledge; the claim that a particular proposition is believed because of “faith” immediately creates the age-old faith versus reason conflict.

I would argue that this concept of faith is wholly inadequate for explaining religious life. Even the faithful that speak of faith as a supplement to knowledge are unable to account for certain aspects of religious experience. The first aspect of religious experience that faith as epistemology cannot account for is the inability of belief in particular propositions to alter behavior. Sundered from any more fundamental role in the faithful subject’s life, the belief in any number of religious propositions will not produce anything that resembles devotion (or excess).

It cannot be denied that faith involves knowledge, but must be made clear is the excess involved. There is always something more to faith, something that carries it beyond mere knowledge. In terms of the Christian religion, faith as epistemological supplement is explicitly rejected in the Bible and implicitly by thinkers such as St. Augustine. Two particular Biblical texts offer support for rejection this version of faith. The first is Matthew 7:21-23:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"

This text is a clear image of people being judged and rejected by Christ not because they did not accept certain beliefs about Christ. They claimed to believe in Christ, and they even claim to have acted upon these beliefs. Christ does not dispute this point; he never says that their beliefs were false or that their actions did not take place. The charge that Christ levels against them is that he did not know them. There was something lacking about the religious stance of these people. If faith is only a supplement for knowledge, or even merely some kind of Archimedean point for knowledge, this story would be rendered absurd.

St. Augustine’s Confessions contains an implicit rejection of this propositional faith. It is his famous prayer, “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.” This is another point that would be rendered absurd if faith was reducible to knowledge (or a source of it). This prayer can be rephrased as “I believe that chastity and continence are demanded of me, but I will defer any attempt to fulfill these demands. Augustine could not pray this prayer without already believing in God; but he could also not pray this prayer if he had made what might be termed a libidinal investment in God. God remains one object among many to Augustine at this point, without any particular quality that demands Augustine’s attention. It is only later that he truly “converts,” and ceases to defer a true commitment to God and the Christian way of life. His previous acceptance of truths about God are shown to be meaningless.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Excessive Religion, Intro: Sacred/Secular Time

It requires only the most passing knowledge of human life to know that religion is one of the most powerful and vital forces we experience. All too often, religion is dismissed as a speculative cosmology or fundamentalist ideology. Against these dismissals, one should insist that elements of the sacred are deeply ingrained in human life as such; the only question is how to articulate these elements.

Georges Bataille describes religion as a search for a lost intimacy. Achieving this intimacy involves intense personal experience in which the concerns of daily life are left behind. What this amounts to is a description of long periods of common time, otherwise known as secular time, punctuated by extraordinary flashes of immanence and intimacy that can be described as a sacred time. Reason and knowledge give way to an ecstatic non-knowledge. A question left open here is the relationship between sacred and secular time. If they operate as opposites, how can one be expressed in the other? How can there be any sort of cause and effect relationship between the two? I would argue that a certain common ground must be found between the sacred and the secular, a ground that exists prior to any particular dogma or practice.

It is Jacques Lacan that offers an opportunity to see how the sacred and the secular are expressed in one another. The psychoanalytic notion of desire and its metonymic movement through time provides an adequate explanation for both the intensity of religious experience that Bataille describes an for how reason can produce non-reason. The concept of desire also offers hints as to how the sacred can be expressed in our own lives. It also offers an alternate view of the subject’s relation to the general economy of Bataille. What I hope to find here is an experience that one may move towards in the future and experience, but that dissolves in the past, again leaving over the need for the metonymic movement of desire.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


cash advance

That's right, bitches.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Love and Law, Collected Posts

Part 1: Elaborating on Love and Law
Part 2: The Law/Desire Connection
Part 3: Feminine Non-All
Part 4: Excess and Mortification
Part 5: Two Views on Redemption
Part 6: "As If"
Part 7: Parallax Gap and Conclusion

Love and Law, Part 7: A Shift in Perspective, and Conclusion

Part 6

Summary of Part 6: When you are working within the confines of the pleasure principle, a life gripped by love and one crushed by law look about the same.

Žižek makes it quite clear that the perspectivism of the parallax gap is operative here. The life gripped by love and the life crushed by the insane superego appear identical from the outside. Both are lives that appear to be utterly without freedom; what separates them is not a change in content or actions but a shift in perspective. The way love appears as identical to Law can only be surmounted by a shift in the subject themselves - one must enter the life of the spirit for themselves.

The non-all logic of love is hinted at in the New Testament again in 1 Corinthians. This is the passage that speaks of love as being only for incomplete beings; it is only incomplete beings with incomplete knowledge that have access to knowledge. However, this passage also speaks of love as still existing even when knowledge is complete. This, again, must be read in terms of the non-all. Žižek says “love is not an exception to the All of knowledge, but precisely that ‘nothing’ which makes incomplete even the complete series/field of knowledge.”

It is not difficult to see the application of this to the symbolic realm of the Law. One that lives the life of the spirit is submersed in the Law, living out the “as if” demands. The one that is living life instead of existing in a state of living death is encompassed by a rigid series of responsibilities and demands upon conduct; however, they are not totalized by the Law. The subject never becomes an automaton, engaged in compulsive repetition of acts, trying to answer the question of what the Other wants.

It is here that we may return to the Kantian relationship between morality and freedom cited above. Kant argues that the ability to legislate laws is the pre-condition of freedom, and vice verse. Freedom cannot exist without a certain relationship to the symbolic Law. Freedom without Law will never have access to jouissance. What is freedom but the ability to be thrown into one’s desire, which is held by the Law and guided by the nothing of love? Law, desire, love and freedom all presuppose one another, though, as Paul would say, “the greatest of these is love.”

By way of conclusion, it is clearly the way of love that steers a path through the dismal responses to the harsh dialectic of Law and desire. The path of the libertine attempts to deny Law itself, and discovers that pleasure descends into mechanistic repetition. It leads to a life incapable of investment in any particular object and the abandonment of desire. The alternate path of the ascetic finds the superego growing immeasurably, swallowing up any last hint of agency or life. One’s desire is constantly foreclosed, deferred, mutilated. Both of these paths lead to the Pauline existential positions of death. Love, however, leaves the subject under the Law, but the lack of totalization leads to the ability to make choices and decisions as a subject. Learning to love is, then, a vital part of fulfilling the psychoanalytic maxim of wo es wor, soll ich werden. Love is an element of that which allows me to appear where it was, for my desire to grow where it was once crushed by the desire of the other.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Love and Law, Part 6: "As If"

Part 5

Summary of Part 5: In the participatory reading of Christ's death, the presence of the Law is in fact increased when under a regime of love. To see how this is possible, we must again look at the feminine "non-all" logic.

The critical passage to begin with in Paul is the “as if” passage from 1 Corinthians. Paul exhorts the Christians to live in a manner in which they have dealings with the world in a kind of suspended manner; the Christians are those who “rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as if they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as if they had no dealings with it.” One should live “as if” one were under the Law, “as if” one were subjected to a series of great demands, despite not being so. This living one’s life under a series of great demands shows that Pauline love cannot simply be reduced to a suspension of the Law. The Law remains active; the symbolic order is not somehow abolished. What is accomplished in this life of living “as if” is that the Law is no longer a totalizing force sustained by its own transgressions, its own constitutive exceptions. The Law otherwise achieves a totalizing dominance, complete with its own transgressions. It is the introduction of love that prevents this totalization, this bear subjection to the Law.

When one lives in “the way of the spirit,” the transgression of the Law ceases because the Law is suspended. In other words, one lives with sin. Here the issue of the constitutive exception becomes vital. Any structure is of course maintained by one; if sin disappears from the subject’s life, what place then does the Law have?

What this suspension of Law - to live “as if” one were not under the Law - amounts to is an engaged position, the (non-biological) life, a “fully subjectivized, positive yes!” to [one’s] own life.” It is this exuberant affirmation of life that throws one into the grip of the “as if” demands, the laws without their constitutive exceptions. Žižek says this best in his description of falling passionately in love:

“Love shatters our daily life as a heavy duty whose performance demands heavy sacrifices on the level of the ‘pleasure of principle’ - how many things must a man renounce? ‘Freedom,’ drinks with friends, card evenings.”

The duty of love - the fidelity to desire - will always be the harshest series of demands possible upon one’s life. St. Paul found himself condemned to death in a Roman prison, Antigone was buried alive in a tomb, and Slavoj Žižek does not play cards with friends. The Law does not disappear; what love does is “suspend the obscene libidinal investment on account of which the Law generates / solicits its own transgressions.” It is sin - transgression, resistance to the law - that makes the law appear to be a foreign power crushing the subject. So the problem is not that the law does not contain enough love - but rather that it contains too much love. I am unable to recognize myself in the Law insofar as I cling to the immediacy of a “love” that feels threatened by the rule of Law. The Christian suspension of the law remains is a love that remains tied to the Jewish law that creates a distance from the social order, while the pagan suspension of the law is only aimless transgression. Enjoy your not enjoying. Obey the law as if you were not obeying it - obey from love.

This setting of love against Law that Paul appears to be using to critique the older Jewish position is, however, exactly how the Jewish law already works. The Jewish law doesn’t have a superego backing it up; because it does not rely on an obscene underside, it is the excess of the law itself that address us, not the law.

This, as Zizek says, is the ultimate alternative. The opposition between law and love is internal to law itself - the gap between the specific, determinate, positive laws and the infinite superego. Love and the excessive superego appear identical from within the frame of the law. Put another way, when you’re working within the confines of the pleasure principle, a life gripped by love and one crushed by law look about the same.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Love and Law, Part 5: Two Views on Redemption

Part 4

Summary of Part 4: The Jewish law is typically seen as harsh and repressive, while Christian love and grace are set against this. Is this an adequate reading of redemption?

There are two basic interpretations of how the redemption made possible by Christ’s death operates. The first interpretation is sacrificial, and the second is participatory. We are redeemed either because Christ pays out debt to God, or because we participate in his death - we “die to sin” in Christ.

The problem with the sacrificial reading is that it leads up right back to the dominance of the Law. Christ pays a debt for us, thus simply leading us into a gift economy. Christ gives us a gift, and we must pay him back with what Spinoza might have called "the basest servitude." With this debt simply transferred to the Crucified rather than God, we are placed in a position in which we must continuously ask of Christ “what do you want from me?” Christ takes the position of the infinite superego; the infinite debt of sin can never be paid. Christ’s love becomes a mask for this infinite debt, this hyperbolic Law. The sacrificial reading ends with the same impasse as the attempt to fully accede to the Law: domination and repression.

Žižek expands on the difficulties with the sacrificial reading with a second biblical passage, offering context for the first. The passage ends with a rhetorical question, “and why should we not say ‘Let us do evil so that good may come!’” The suggestion St. Paul is intending to refute here is that, because God’s grace and forgiveness is a good thing, we should engage in ever more and greater sins so that more forgiveness will take place. What this does, however, is place God into the position of the pervert: God’s desire to act as our saviour becomes an imperative to sin and transgress. God’s actions become the source of our pleasure. This still ties pleasure to transgression, however, and the morbid guilt that arises from this remains.

It is the participatory reading that offers a move away from the oppressive superego. According to Žižek, it is Paul’s “way of the Spirit” that offers a way out of the dialectic of Law and desire. It is a matter of rejecting the subjective position of “death” and choosing the alternate position of “life.” The key to this choice lies in another Biblical passage from 1 Corinthians: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.” This is a surprising shift away from the usual moralistic tone of religion; the Law finds itself suspended - by what? - love. In the sacrificial reading of the crucifixion, love becomes a supplement for the Law in the form in the infinite superego. In the participatory reading, however, “the Law which regulates and prohibits certain acts is suspended.” The Christian ceases to be bound by the Law, and their affirmations and negations are guided by love, not Law. Put another way, the Christian undergoes the second death, entering the realm of ate. This love beyond Law is no longer the transgressive desire that is aroused by the Law, but rather itself a fidelity (which, as Alain Badiou points out, is itself a term of love) to desire. The superego ceases to shout “do your duty!” and das Ding ceases to drag us into doing what we hate. When one is guided by love, one’s duty is their desire.

The Law, being constituted by the symbolic realm, obviously does not somehow disappear. In fact, the Law’s presence may actually grow or intensify under this regime of love. To see how, we must return to The Puppet and the Dwarf and it’s exploitation of the feminine non-all logic.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Love and Law, Part 4: Excess and Mortification

Part 3

Summary of Part 3: In order to escape the sin/desire deadlock, an element of excess needs to be found in life. Zizek looks to Christ as a figure of this excessive life.

In order to frame his argument, Žižek offers us a portrait of a confused world that, in attempting to deny the “Law,” merely finds itself denying excess. This is a world that is trapped on the safe side of the Law. In other words, it is a world immersed in the pleasure principle. A world that denies excess cannot help but exist in a kind of living death, the Pauline existential position of flesh. Žižek offers an example from physics called the Higgs field as an illustration. The Higgs field is a condition under which less energy is expended to exist as something rather than dissipate into nothing. This is a concept reminiscent of Nietzsche’s “man would rather will nothingness than not will.” The Higgs field is a fine metaphor for the difference between the death drive and the nirvana principle. The nirvana principle seeks the lowest tension; it is easier to live a sickly life than to burn out like Achilles on the battlefield. It is not life that is opposed by this nirvana principle, by this submission to the pleasure principle - such an opposition would require far too much effort. What is opposed by the man locked into the Law and governed by the pleasure principle is the excess of life.

It is a world that combines pleasure with constraint. Everything is permitted so long as its dangerous element is removed. Anything that would require risk or commitment is eliminated; hence we have the goal of revolution without revolution, coffee without caffeine, and the “libertine” insistence on the legalization of a weak drug like marijuana.

In this world, the only possible extreme is a negative one: absolute evil. This is the central place that the Holocaust and the Soviet gulags hold in the twentieth century; they stand as warnings for all those that would posit any sort of rigid goals. Any attempts to agree on a positive good are held in suspicion as attempts to wield “power” over others, like a variation on Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s warning that revolution inevitably leads to the gulag. The “good,” then, can never be anything other than a defense against “evil.” Positive good can never be anything other than a position of moderation.

The (alleged) denial of law (which is only an affirmation of hedonistic pleasure) is bound up with the denial of love, jouissance and excess. A fine example of this can be found in Antigone: Antigone’s sister, Ismene. After Antigone informs her of Creon’s orders against burying Polyneices, and of her intent to violate this order,

Ismene exclaims:

"Oh no! Think carefully, my sister.
[. . . .]
And we must obey this order, even if it hurts us more.
As for me, I will say to those beneath the earth
This prayer: 'Forgive me, I am held back by force.'
And I’ll obey the men in charge. My mind
Will never aim too high, too far.”

Ismene’s advice contains four elements. The first is the demand to “think carefully.” This advice can obviously many different things, but it is all too easy for “careful thought” to simply emerge as the infinite deferral of action. Ismene, by opening her speech with this phrase, indicates her intent to calculate out the possible goods and harms that may result from action. Secondly, Ismene says that they must obey Creon, “even if it hurts.” What is this advice if not to choose a sickly, painful life over the even greater pain of rushing beyond the pleasure principle? Ismene would rather endure the constant, nagging, low level suffering and guilt of having betrayed her brother rather than face the potentially swift death of violating the law. Thirdly, Ismene claims that external forces are controlling or limiting her. She is “held back by force.” She is deferring to the Other, to the Law, in the attempt to avoid pain. Finally, she says that she will always limit her goals to the possible, later going on to say that “it’s the highest wrong to chase after what’s impossible.” A positive good, in a world that denies excess, is nothing other than the impossible or the insane.

Against this mortification of life, Žižek sets the figure of Christ on the cross. Christ’s death, of course, is an attempt to deal with the Law and sin (the Thing). The Jewish tradition of the law is typically seen as oppressive and legalistic, while Christian love and grace are set against this. The question remains as to whether or not this is an adequate reading of the mechanics of Christian redemption.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Love and Law, Part 3: Feminine Non-All

Part 2

Summary of Part 2: The Law crushes life, and only something like madness can escape the law and affirm life.

A partial attempt to escape that Law/madness battle is something like libertinism, the “path of uninhibited jouissance.” This amounts to the denial of the Law, the move toward a life of pure pleasure without restraint. This collapses, however, when the necessity of the Law for pleasure is remember. Sin - or pleasure - needs the Law. If one denies the Law, one has no access to anything but the most banal enjoyment, like Zarathustra’s little pleasure of the day and the little pleasure of the night.

Another attempt to escape the cycle of guilt and pleasure is the full acceptance of the Law. In other words, this is the choice to live one’s life in a radically moral way. The fault here, as Lacan points out in his discussion of Freud, is that whoever “attempts to submit to the moral Law sees the demands of his superego grow increasingly meticulous and increasingly cruel.” The Law, when one willingly enters into its economy, can only grow. The positive order of being attempts to overtake all excess, creating a world in which every action is carefully formed to continuously answer the question of what the Law wants. The life thrown into the Law is spent asking the Law, which is the Other, “what do you want from me?” Because there is no specific answer offered, the subject must search for more and more emphatic ways of answering this question for themselves.

So here we have three separate yet related problems for the relationship between Law and desire. Under Law, desire can only be expressed in a hyperbolic way, in a rush into the repulsive real where morbid guilt awaits. The question for both Lacan and Žižek revolves around the possibility of moving beyond this impasse. Lacan asks if the ethics of psychoanalysis leaves “us clinging to that dialectic.” The search is for a relationship to desire beyond the Law, and Žižek locates this in a non-all logic of love.

In The Puppet and the Dwarf, Žižek introduces his reading of non-all logic by dealing with a potential problem for Lacan’s formulations of sexuation. Žižek pits Bruce Fink’s and Suzanne Bernard’s reading of this against each other. In Zizek’s portrayal, Fink argues that feminine jouissance is both ineffable and inextricably bound up with speech. Fink appears willing to allow this sort of contradiction or incompletion in Lacan’s work. This seems like a reasonable enough position to take, considering Lacan’s general views on lack and knowledge. However, Žižek insists that this cannot be written off as an innocent contradiction, as this problem lays at the crux of sexual difference itself. To solve this problem, Žižek turns to the work of Suzanne Bernard in the same volume.

The logic of feminine non-all does not mean there is some mysterious part of a woman that remains outside the symbolic. Rather, there is a “simple” lack of totalization. All totalization takes place through its constitutive exception, in much the same way that the Law is sustained by transgression. Here, the argument is made that the woman is in the symbolic without exception. There is nothing in a woman that is not immersed in the phallus. So the woman is completely symbolized, but because there is no exception, she cannot be said to be totalized by the symbolic. There must be some excess here, a nothing that is a something. It will be by following up on this logic of non-all with a reading of Christianity universality that Žižek tackles the Law and desire problem.

Part of the solution involves the idea that something can be immersed by not totalized because there is an excess; in the case of the feminine non-all subjection to the Law, there is the jouissance of the other. Being in the symbolic without any sort of exception produces its own excess, formulated by Lacan as S(A). It is down the road of excess that we need to travel if this question of Law and desire is to be answered. Žižek will follow St. Paul in looking to Christian agape and Christ as a figure of excessive (eternal) life for clues to the solution.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Love and Law, Part 2: The Law/Desire Connection

Part 1

Summary of Part 1: The Law creates/sustains Desire/sin.

There are three specific, related problems in this situation (of Law sustaining Desire/sin). The first problem is that the relationship of Law and desire means our desire only ever appears as a death drive, as a movement beyond the pleasure principle. As Lacan says, it is only because of the Law that “sin . . . takes on an excessive, hyperbolic character.” Law only ever allows enjoyment to take place as a transgression.

Lacan also traces the oppressiveness of the Law back to the logic of the murder of the great man. This mythic origin has the “all-powerful, half animal creature of the great horde” being killed by his sons. The sons kill the father in the attempt to achieve their desire; they find, however, that the guilt of this murder imposes profound guilt. Lacan says that “every act of jouissance gives rise to something that is inscribed in the book of debts of the Law.” The Law is an economy of debts and payments that can never be superceded; one is forever caught in a cycle of guilt and pleasure.

In The Ticklish Subject, Žižek offers a second problem for this intertwined relationship of Law and desire. He lays out St. Paul’s ideas of life and death as “existential positions,” that is, not as biological states but as ways of carrying out life. Žižek here equates the Law with the positive order of being; the mechanical, extant, non-excessive life. This is living one’s life in a type of living death. Life, on the other hand, exists under divine grace - a sort of universalism. Death is equated with Law, Life is equated with love. The existential position of Life is that which is excessive, capable of moving beyond the Law and the positive order of being.

The very introduction of the Law, then, creates the Life/Death dichotomy. In other words, the subject is torn between life and death, between mechanical, conscious subjection to the Law and an unconscious desire for transgression. The unconscious becomes the only affirmation of life; it might be the case that Bataille’s exuberant, repulsive festivities are the only expression of freedom in such a world.

Lurking Outside the Tomb With a Shotgun

(Or, the Second Problem With the New Atheists)

I seek God, I seek God. Wither is God? I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now?. . . . Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. . . . .

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment.

I come too early. My time has not come yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering – it has not yet reached the ears of man. . . . This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars - and yet they have done it themselves.

What are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?

- Nietzsche, rushing in where even Spinoza feared to tread.

If one has a look at Richard Dawkins’ homepage, he gleefully lists all the books written by Christians rising to challenge himself and the other New Atheists. The battle is joined, and he is confident in being on the winning side. He considers his arguments against the existence of God to be powerful ones. The Christians, for their part, have marshaled every ounce of reason and rhetoric at their disposal to oppose these atheists. Best sellers will be written, and millions of dollars will be earned on both sides.

The argument is an old one, of course. Cataloguing reasons to believe or disbelieve in God’s existence is probably the second oldest profession. It is a merry-go-round that will continue as long as the deed remains distant from us.

Part of the glory of 20th century philosophy was the attempt to think the unthought. Heidegger, Derrida and others tracked down the various merry-go-rounds that the west had been playing on for the last few millennia, and tried to smash them. The idea was to think without metaphysics, or, in this context, to think without God. This does not mean to think without truth, or conviction, or to think arbitrarily. Rather, the search was for a way to dwell in a world in which God is dead as opposed to non-existent.

As usual, Slavoj Zizek says it well:

“. . . we are never in a position directly to choose between theism and atheism, since the choice as such is already located in the field of belief. ‘Atheism’ (in the sense of deciding not to believe in God) is a miserable, pathetic stance of those who long for God but cannot find him (or who ‘rebel against God’). A true atheist does not choose atheism: for him, the question itself is irrelevant - this is the stance of a truly atheistic subject.

(Am I suggesting a cheap psychoanalysis of Dawkins et al? Their daddies didn’t love them, so they’re searching for/rebelling against God? Absolutely not. The idea that our families – and our past as such – dominate what we are today is a cheap escape from anxiety. Yes, we have habits, and those habits started somewhere. That is not the same as creating what amounts to an idol of the past.)

What the New Atheists are doing is playing the same old game, the same old dogmatic metaphysical ramblings that Kant first struck a hammer blow against. It is time to move on, time to leave behind dogmatic metaphysics (in a nutshell, dogmatic metaphysics is the search for the unconditioned). "God is dead" is not equivalent to the statement "God does not exist." It is not so much a statement about whether or not God exists as a thing, but rather a statement about God's irrelevance. What Dawkins et al repeatedly show is that the death of God is an event still far from their ears. They are no more aware that God is dead than any Christian.

1st Excursus: What exactly is the death of God? This is not a question of statistics, of the empirical facts of Europe's atheism and North America's religiosity. Belief in God continues to exist, and will probably never go away. What the death of God means is the death of the possibility of any unquestionable highest value; all of us are caught up in an endless reflexivity. Everything is questionable, which is not to say everything is being questioned. Everything is a matter of calculation, of pragmatic value. Everything exists only to be used, to be placed in reserve.

2nd Excursus: Certainly one of the primary expressions of this nihilism is Christian apologetics. The Christian apologetic par excellence is presuppositionalism, in which the twin nihilist forces of calculation and (obscene, unacknowledged) doubt find expression. Only a closeted nihilist finds himself so utterly bankrupt that he must place all value, power and knowledge in an external object.

God and Jesus are dead. Dawkins doesn't know it, and will probably spend the rest of his life shadow boxing specters. Good for them. It's time to move on.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Elaborating on Love and Law

In a culture in which love and sex have become synonymous, the need for questioning the concept of love becomes ever greater. To equate love with sex is to make love an act, something engaged in only under specific circumstances. However, a more traditional concept of love that centres on an emotional state is no more adequate; emotional states come and go. If love is to have some place in our lives, it must be at home in the subject as subject. Love must find a place in the subject that is not affect, emotion or action. If love is to be rooted in subjectivity, at least in Lacanian terms, it must have a relationship to the Borromean knot structure of the subject.

To describe love as an active force rather than a passive trait, we must have an idea of how love affects the tri-part structure. How does love interact with the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real? This is a broad question that one could say Lacan arguably struggled with his entire career. The question will have to be narrowed, then. What relationship does love have to desire, and that which institutes desire, the Law? This is one of Lacan’s questions in his seminar concerning ethics, and it is the driving question of Slavoj Zizek’s book The Puppet and the Dwarf. Love does not eliminate the Law, or mitigate the Law. Neither does it guide the Law. Love, here, suspends the Law. This suspension is not the Bataillan festival, the madness that overtakes a social group and sees social norms disintegrate. This suspension has a very specific meaning: love suspends the Law’s ability to produce transgression and morbid guilt. The subject of love continues to find themselves under the Law, but with a lurking nothing, an element that prevents the excess that does nothing but foul life.

As Kant opens his Critique of Practical Reason, a footnote appears tucked off onto the margin of the page. Here, Kant claims that freedom is the essence of morality, and that morality is the condition that makes us aware of freedom. This mutually conditional relation cannot help but bring to mind the relationship Lacan develops between the Law and the Thing; “I can only know of the Thing by means of the Law.” This explicit use of St. Paul highlights the fact that the Law produces its own transgressions. Our desire is aroused by the Law; to understand how this works a brief description of the logic of castration is necessary. Žižek, in The Puppet and the Dwarf, offers a useful explanation of this idea. He begins by critiquing the usual interpretation of the fort/da story. The boy’s spool is not the compensation for the mother’s absence, but rather her presence. The boy is working out his anxiety over her overbearing, infinitely encroaching desire, her jouissance. The mother’s desire crowds out the boy’s own desire. The boy’s solution is, in effect, the acting out of his own castration. The insistence that he is incapable of fulfilling his mother’s desire is what provides the necessary space for his own desire. The boy’s desire, then, is only sustainable by means of the institution of the Law. The boy has to assert his own incompleteness, his own split subjectivity.

This version of the fort/da game is a picture of how the Law sustains desire. If the boy was not subject to the Law, he would be forever suffocated by his mother. This arousal of desire by the Law is specifically read into the Biblical text Romans 7:8-18 by both Lacan and Žižek. In this text, St. Paul argues that “sin, seizing and opportunity in the commandment, produces in me all kinds of covetousness.” In other words, the Law produces its own transgressions. The Law is an enticement, an enticement to an object that is always beyond it. The very fact that this object is forbidden only makes it more attractive.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The First Problem with the New Atheists

Benedictus Spinoza can arguably be seen as one of the fore-runners of today's materialism. His mechanistic universe in which God is identifiable with all that is has proven to be something of a philosophical Rorschach test. He has worn the guise of a pantheist, an atheist, and a renegade Jew. Whichever of these interpretations is right, he wielded one of the most stubbornly powerful intellects the western world has ever seen. One cannot be a powerful thinker without being a powerful creator; he smashed accepted doctrines and created new ones with an almost unique intensity. Between his Ethics and Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, he ground traditional religious views beneath his heel. For all this, some French theologian or another called him the "most dangerous man of the century."

Without trying to be too romantic about this, those who can think new things and hold to truths are always foes of the status quo. The people that found new ways of thinking and create new concepts always, of course, stand in excess of the status quo. Atheism has commonly enough been the stance of these excessive figures. Atheism was a view that set one upon an outsider's life; a life that was not necessarily dangerous, but comforts of various kinds were sacrificed. See the almost-atheists like Hobbes and Kant, or the virulent atheists like Nietzsche and Russell.

Things are different now. We live in a Liberal! Tolerant! society. The status quo allows a great deal more latitude in terms of thought. This is not to say that atheism is now a garden-variety view; it is obviously still unpopular and held in suspicion - see the recent polls about Americans disliking atheists. But the world has changed enough that what was once only a position held by dedicated and serious thinkers is now a label worn by rebels without causes.

Vulgar Atheism is now the cheapest form of rebellion there is. All you have to do is say "I'm an atheist" and the eyes of everyone around you will go wide. It's the philosophical equivalent of wearing a leather jacket or getting nipple rings. And just like leather and oddly-placed metal, vulgar atheism is an adolescent trapping.

Adolescence is obviously a necessary stage, but it just as obviously needs to be superseded. Vulgar atheism should never be anything other than a cocoon stage. There's a huge intellectual world out there. It is one thing to sit on your ass well within the confines of the status quo (i.e., traditional religion) and ignore the call of thinking; it is another to set your hand to the plowshare of thought and not plow anything.

Dawkins et al write polemical screeds, assaulting religion. As such, I don't have a problem with this. I'm not knocking them for being atheists. My complaint is that they've picked a fight with a group of people that have traversed their own version of adolescent anxiety. Various religions traditions have their own brand of serious thought and conviction. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists have all produced serious work.

Most of that serious work is in the past, of course. Since Luther, the only Christian to be a serious philosopher was Kierkegaard. This does not detract from the monumental achievements of Augustine, Aquinas and Eckhart. Christians are still perfectly capable of retrieving these past possibilities based upon their own resoluteness.

The New Atheists have no such past possibilities, and seem to be unaware of their own historicity. They can scrape at science to find philosophical, political and ethical convictions, but in the end, all the force of their conviction comes purely from negation - the negation of religion. The problem here is that any negation of a thing remains in that same game as the thing itself. Negating religion can never be anything other than a religious act. Dawkins is the flip side of Falwell.

In this interview with Alain Badiou, Badiou discusses the tendency of some Christian thinkers to appropriate his own resolutely atheistic notion of truth and change, and expresses what I think is an important idea for both atheists and Christians engaged in an emancipatory project.

I accept the discussion because I think that in the present world the great and fundamental problem is not between the religious way and the non-religious way. Certainly, it is, finally, very important, but it is not our principal problem. We know that today there is religious conviction that takes the way of sacrifice, religious conviction in the way of enjoyment, and religious conviction in a third way. So we can see that the distinction between religious conviction and non-religious conviction does not determine the topology of our world. We are not in the same position as in previous centuries. Today, religious conviction is important, but it is not the central problem. The world cannot be divided into the religious and the non-religious. So the discussion is, for me, a positive discussion.

What separates the New Atheists from both the properly atheistic subject and the Christian interpolated by love beyond law is the traversal of anxiety, of the dismissal of the need to negate and reject, in favour of the affirmation of both thought and deed.

Part 6: Love Beyond Law and Conclusion

Part 6

What shakes out of Zizek’s critique of Agamben’s book on Paul The Time That Remains is that the idea of Pauline love as the founding suspension of the law. The critical passage in Paul is the “as if” passage - “buy as if you had no possessions, deal with the world as if you had no dealings with it. It’s not about staying what you are, accepting existing power relations, but rather the position of a thoroughly engaged fighter who ignores things not relavent to the struggle. It is an engaged position of struggle; on pg. 112 it’s described as “an uncanny interpellation beyond ideological interpolation.” It is a life seized by love. The gap between mere pleasure and jouissance is most obvious when a complacent life is shaken and seized by love; the perfomance of love demands sacrifice and duty on the level of the pleasure of principle. Enjoy your not enjoying. Obey the law as if you were not obeying it - obey from love. Thus what Paul attempts to suspend is not so much the law itself, but rather the constituative exceptions - the law’s obscene underside. As Zizek says, “we should suspend the obscene libidinal investment in the law, the investment on account of which the law generates / solicits its own transgressions.”

This uncanny interpellation that Paul is striving for and using to critique the older Jewish position is, however, exactly how the Jewish law already works. The Jewish law doesn’t have a superego backing it up; because it does not rely on an obscene underside, it is the excess of the law itself that address us, not the law.

This, as Zizek says, is the ultimate alternative. The opposition between law and love is internal to law itself - the gap between the specific, determinate, positive laws and the infinite superego. Love and the excessive superego appear identical from within the frame of the law. Put another way, when you’re working within the confines of the pleasure principle, a life gripped by love and one crushed by law look about the same.

Zizek goes on to talk about the famous love passage from Corinthians 13. There are two seemingly contradictory statements: the first is that even when one has all knowledge, there is love. The second is that love is only for incomplete beings.

The only way to resolve the deadlock is to fall back on Lacan’s feminine formula of sexuation. As Zizek says on page 115, “even when it is all (complete, with no exception) the field of knowledge remains, in a way, non-all, incomplete - love is not an exception to the all of knowledge, but precisely that nothing which makes incomplete even the complete series/field of knowledge. Whether I am with or without knowledge, if I have love, I am a nothing that is aware of itself; made rich through the very awareness of its lack. So, as Zizek goes on to say, “only a lack, vulnerable being is capable of love: the ultimate mystery of love, therefore, is that incompleteness is, in a way, higher than completion.”

Like the co-dependancy of incompleteness and love obeys the feminine formula, the co-dependancy of law and transgression obey the masculine logic. Transgression is the very constituative exception that sustains the law; in the end, this means that love is not just beyond the law, but actually articulates itself as, as Zizek says, “the stance of total immersion in the law. ‘Not all of the subject is within the figure of legal subjection’ equals “there is nothing in the subject which escapes its legal subjection.’” Nothing in the subject escapes the law, but the subject is not totalized by the law - in the same way that the woman is not totalized by the symbolic.

It is sin - transgression, resistance to the law - that makes the law appear to be a foreign power crushing the subject. So the problem is not that the law does not contain enough love - but rather that it contains too much love. I am unable to recognize myself in the law insofar as I cling to the immediacy of love that feels threatened by the rule of law.

So, what it comes down to, is finding a way to relate to the law that itself “unplugs” us from immediate social surroundings; one that acts as an ideological interpollation and gives desire the distance that it needs. The Christian suspension of the law remains is a love that remains tied to the Jewish law that creates a distance from the social order, while the pagan suspension of the law is only aimless transgression.

In conclusion and to sum up, Zizek's project is the search for a law without the obscene underside. The law's obscene underside works like this: think about what happens when you forbid a kid to do something. "Don't eat that cookie." Or, telling an adult "don't fornicate." The effect in both cases is the same: the person actually hears "don't. . . . FORNICATE! FORNICATE!" Forbidden fruit and all that.

Yet the answer is not to dispel all law and say "If you, as a responsible adult, wish to consent to having any form of sex in private, you may do so..." The destruction of the law is, in the end, the destruction of all enjoyment. When the law becomes "you may," life becomes deadened and pathetic.

Love is the force that suspends the "you may," and replaces it with a law that address us directly, without the the obscene underside. It unplugs us from our constructed social surroundings and builds us a new world, one with its own law and duty, the only kind of duty without the obscene underside: the duty that only says "your duty is. . . . DO YOUR DUTY!"

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Puppet/Dwarf 5: Excessive Life and the Last Man

Part 4

It is that image of Christ’s offer of eternal life, aka excessive life, being connected with law, love and suffering that Zizek takes up in the next chapter. He sets up a difference between the Freudian death drive and the nirvana principle by using an example from physics... the gist of which is, the nirvana principle seeks a state of the lowest tension; it requires less energy to be a sedentary something rather than an expended nothing. The nirvana principle is shackled to the pleasure principle; it is the attitude of the survivalist last man. The death drive is the tension that constantly pushes past the pleasure principle. The nirvana principle avoids extremes and risks; opposed to this is the excess of life. The mortification of life isn’t an opposition to life as such - that would take too much effort. What the mortified, survivalist last man opposes is the excess of life.

The problem is that life is inherently excessive. It either comes out in jouissance or in the revenge of sick passion. On page 95, Zizek describes it well; he says “the post metaphysical survivalist stance of the last man ends up in an anemic spectacle of life dragging on as its own shadow.”

Basically, it is a world that combines pleasure with restraint. Everything is permitted so long as it is deprived of its dangerous element - or of anything that would require a commitment. So, we have “revolution without revolution” and decaffeinated coffee. Like we’ve said a few times in this class already, the superego injunction in our culture is to enjoy; the law is chased away.

Within this horizon, the only absolute possible is a negative one — absolute evil. Which I think is a pretty solid argument; it would be nigh on impossible to get a lot of agreement on a positive good, but it would be just as hard to find someone to disagree about the evil of the holocaust.

In this world that denies law, both love and jouissance are also denied. So what should we do? Perhaps only a god can save us now.

So lets look at how Jesus saves us! There are two interpretations of how Christ’s death deals with sin. The sacrificial concept, and the participatory concept. Either we are redeemed because of Christ’s actions, or because of our identification with him.

In the first approach, debts are canceled and paid - not by us, though, which leaves us in permanent debt. So how does the second way work? I think the best way to frame this answer is to contrast it with something on page 6. Zizek makes a few snide remarks about Levinisian/Derridian styles of religion. When asked about God, the intellectual diverts the question into a heavily theoretical answer - they set up a distance between themselves and their belief. The skeptical attitude of deconstruction always relies on an other who “really believes.”

So, how does that relate to participatory redemption? What Christianity does is that it sets up Christ as our subject supposed to believe. We ourselves don’t believe, but we identify with Christ, who does.... except Christ himself doubted on the cross. So, on a deeper level, Christ is maybe the subject supposed not to believe. Instead of doubting, and perpetually holding all things at a distance, we can transpose our doubt onto the other, thus regaining the ability to believe. The true identification with Christ, then, is to participate in disbelief.

I wonder if the postmoderns are Zizek’s subjects supposed not to believe?

In the calculative, sacrificial reading of the crucifixion, Christ’s death remains within the horizon of the law - the law becomes an unconditional, rampant superego. Love becomes the mask of an infinite law, a law that no longer imposes specific orders. The problem is how to pass from this hyperbolic law to actual love - ie a love beyond the law and the pleasure principle. If such a thing is even possible.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Puppet/Dwarf Part 4: The Singular Univeral and God's Self-Alienation

Part 3

What is change for Zizek if not politics proper? Well, more specifically, the excess of the system. Zizek uses set theory language to describe this: there are people whose multiple presence is not properly presented in the one of the state. There are two themes connected to politics to bring out here. Violence, which will require a bit of a throwback to ch. 2, and universality, which will provide a segue into religion and love.

In ch. 2, Zizek contrasts Buddhist violence against Christian/revolutionary violence. Buddhist violence is totally de-subjectified; that is, the act and the actor are collapsed into each other. Inner peace is connected to violence; it is also the ultimate goal.

Christianity and revolutionary violence, on the other hand, is the empty set, the excessive element that violently causes change. Buddhist violence exists in a state of conservative, maintained, Buddha eye state, revolutionary violence is a traumatic eruption of the real. The other function of this revolutionary set is that of the singular universal. On pg. 65 this is described as “a singular that appears as the stand in for the universal, destabilizing the natural functional order of relations in the social body.”

The singular universal is, it seems, and I might be completely wrong on this, the appearance or specific form of the struggle for concrete universality. Abstract universality has to appear first - a notion that, like the name suggests, is totally without specific content. Concrete universality splits universality from within, just like the real, the excess, the swerve. Universality, through this split, is reduced to one of its particular elements - and stops being abstract. It enters its own frame. I almost want to guess that in Lacanian terms this would be the master signifier entering its own signifying chain.

Put another way, as Zizek does on pg. 108, “Universality in a political sense is the introduction of a social indivisible remainder that embodies concrete universality.”

Zizek finds both this idea of the split in the identical and the singular universal in the figure of Christ on the cross saying, “father, why have you forsaken me?” This question indicates a split in God himself.

In the sense that the real is both the thing and that which prevents access to the thing, but more precisely the shift from that first idea to the second, the Christian experience is, as Zizek says on pg. 78, “the very radical separation of man from God that unites us with God, since, in the figure of Christ, God is thoroughly seperated from himself - thus the point is not to overcome the gap that seperates us from God, but to take not of how this gap is internal to God himself.”

Christ here has the position of “man without properties.” He isn’t a sublime object, an object raised to the dignity of the thing, but the thing itself; more precisely, the thing is the gap that makes him not fully human.

So Christ - with no distinctive features and therefore no place in society - is a singular universal. “And why should we not take the risk here of referring to Nietzsche”– well... unless just to contrast with the last man?

But Christ as this excess, this split - this is what sets him up as the dividing line between the old and the new testaments. Christ is the culmination of the logic of sacrifice; himself standing for the extreme sacrifice, for the self-relating exchange in which we no longer pay God, but God pays himself for us, thus involving us in infinite debt.

So here we have a link to Nietzsche that I do understand. Nietzsche connects the excess of life to suffering; Christ connects eternal life with the suffering of the cross. Christian redemption isn’t the undoing of the fall, but its repetition. Identifying with the doubt and split in Christ and God. It was the fall that instituted sin - but also the law - and also love. The fall wasn’t a simple contingent eruption; it was the forced choice of Adam. The fall brought in freedom, sin, law, and love.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Puppet/Dwarf Part 3: The Absolute Perspective

Part 2

So reality has breaks in it; breaks produced by language; otherwise known as enigmas. Every signifying system recognizes these breaks in one way or another; enigmatic terms are used. Enigmatic terms are signifiers that indicate the excess in a purely formal, empty way. They are the stand-ins, the empty sets of an given system.

It is these breaks, these excesses, these swerves, that affect the normal functioning of perception. Zizek offers an example based on an anthropological study of a native tribe called Winnebago. The tribe is divided into two groups. One group describes the village buildings as being in two concentric circles; the other sees one circle, but a circle that is broken by a clear dividing line. The difference in their perceptions of the ground plan indicates a fundamental antagonism; the wealthier members see two continuous circles, while the poorer members see a clear split. This break in the community - the real - here is not the physical arrangement of the buildings, but the “traumatic core” of the social antagonism that distorts the tribe members view of the actual arrangement.” Put another way, the real is the swerve that distorts their perception.

The real here is doing double duty. It is not only the thing to which access is not possible, it is itself the obstacle that prevents the access. In other words, the breaks in the symbolic are not like Kantian antinomies - problems built into the structure of reason that cannot be resolved. Zizek's example is the tension between the individual and society; which comes first? Does the individual subject pre-exist, or does society? It is not that this is an unresolvable antinomy — this tension is itself one of the fundamental features of society.

This idea of the split, or the break, also informs a reading of Nietzsche’s ideas of truth. Borrowing from Zupancic, Zizek points out that in Beyond Good and Evil, there are two seemingly opposed views of truth. Truth is either a terrifying force, a blinding Platonic sun, or, truth is radically perspectival.

Is this a contradiction, or is there a third way? Well Zizek wouldn’t be a Hegelian if he couldn’t find one. Of course everything is not just the interplay of appearances; there is a real - this real, however, is not the inaccessible or horrible thing, but rather the gap that prevents our access to it, the rock of the antagonism that distorts our view of the perceived object through a partial perspective. So truth isn’t the “thing in itself,” but rather the gap itself - for example, the social antagonism of the village. Truth is the perspectival distortion.

When it comes to perspectival truth, Zizek wants to read Nietzsche avec Lenin. True knowledge is possible, but only from an interested standpoint. Truth, as Badiou would say, always involves a decision. One must always make a decision to approach the real.

It’s been a while since we’ve had a dig at Bataille, so we shouldn’t let that go. There are two ways to approach the real. One is the limit experience; if you get to closed, you’ll be burned. Again, this is the passion for the real; the violence that peels back the layers of everyday life.

But there is, also, the real that we actually have to pass through - and in a manner of speaking, always already have. The example of this approach that Zizek gives is the connection between the death drive and creative sublimation. The excess, the void, can be a source of change and creativity. Perhaps also known as an evental site.

So, if we are going to briefly characterize the real before seeing how Zizek and Zupancic search for it in politics, religion and love, we’d have a list like this: the split in the identical, the excess in the system, the object of desire, the obstacle that produces multiple perspectives, and the traumatic kernel that can produce change.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Puppet/Dwarf Part 2: Gaps in the Symbolic

Part 1

We shouldn’t be looking for the real laying behind the appearance - because as Alenka Zupancic says, the idea that there is something behind the appearance is itself the deception of appearance. The real appears in the split of the minimal difference. And the real shouldn’t be seen as a horrible, unbearable thing laying behind the symbolic. Zizek suggests that maybe the “ultimate veil concealing the real is the very notion of the horrible thing” itself. The real doesn’t elude symbolization; it trips it up.

This idea of the real being behind the veil of the symbolic is a favourite target for critics of Lacan; the charge is that erecting of the barrier between the real and the symbolic is itself a symbolic act. Zizek says this criticism can be cleared up by a discussion of the feminine logic of non-all found in Lacan's 20th seminar (SXX). In the commentary “Reading SXX” Bruce Fink brings up a potential contradiction in SXX. Lacan sets up women’s jouissance as ineffable, as being beyond speech. However, he also apparently identifies women’s jouissance with the jouissance of speech, the enjoyment that is inherant to the act of speaking.

Fink is willing to write this off as a small problem; Zizek isn’t. He sees this as a potentially crippling problem for Lacan’s formulas of sexuation. Zizek finds the answer to this problem in an essay by Suzanne Barnard. She finds a way to sublate the two. The feminine non-all does not mean there is a mysterious part of a woman outside the symbolic, but a simple absence of totalization. All totalization takes place through its constitutive exception; in the feminine libidinal economy, there is no outside, no exception to the phallic function. The woman is in fact in the symbolic without exception; women’s jouissance has both speech and silence. It’s this idea that one can be immersed in something - ie, the law, but not be totalized by it, that will come back later. What all that means for the real, however, is that the real “is not external to the symbolic; the real is the symbolic itself in the modality of non-all, lacking an exception.”

So the real is an effect of language; what this means, according to Zizek, is that language isn’t referential, it doesn’t designate reality — it digs a whole in it. To look at the world with purely empirical eyes is actually something of an impoverishment. To look at an other in a purely empirical way is one thing; to name thing; to engage in language use with them, enables me to see an abyss beyond them, where object a lies.

Zizek really moves away from the real as a simple register of the subject; he uses it as a model for ontology as such. Kant is taken to task for discovering these gaps in reality, aka the gaps in the symbolic, and for trying to cover them over with an inaccessible noumenal world. Freud does the same; he discovers that something lies beyond the pleasure principle, and tries to cover over this by setting up Thanatos and Eros as cosmic principles, there-by reestablishing the harmonious order. What is beyond the pleasure principle becomes rational and explainable.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Slavoj Zizek's The Puppet and the Dwarf: Intro

This past semester, I studied a fair bit of psychoanalysis. One of the more fascinating things I came across in those readings was Jacques Lacan's and Slavoj Zizek's appropriation of religious ideas, especially the idea of the relationship between the law and sin. Zizek in particular is fascinated by Paul, and along with a few other contemporary theorists look to Paul for critical and revolutionary potential. The Puppet and the Dwarf is a key text for the current wave of "post secular" thinking, and it's a fine piece of philosophy.

This is another oral presentation, and I'm posting it without editing it. So yeah, it's sloppy, but I'm swamped with work at the moment.

Zizek describes the 20th century as a time of the passion for the real, one of Lacan's "registers of the subject." Georges Bataille is the paradigm example here; he describes sacrifice as an attempt to destroy the “thingness” in the victim; Zizek reads this as my attempt to destroy the other to get to their real kernel.

The attempt to destroy someone to get to their real kernel is the movement of jouissance. Through symbolic castration, the overwhelming jouissance of the other is sublated into phallic jouissance - which is jouissance under the condition of unfulfillable desire. It’s from this framework that Zizek (and Lacan in SX) re-read the fort-da story. Usually it is seen as the kid mastering the mother’s absence and presence; Zizek takes the toy, the spool the kid tosses and reels in, as object a - that which the mother sees in the kid and will destroy him to get to it. This seems to be suggesting that the boy is acting out his own symbolic castration.

In other for my desire to flourish, there needs to be a space between myself and the other. Desire cannot function without prohibition and distance, a gap between object and object cause. To move beyond this impasse, Zizek sets up an extended discussion or re-examination of the real.

So, again, the 20th century as a time of passion for the real. Shattering enjoyment opposed to everyday life; the two are incompatible. Bataille goes so far as to base his theory of religion upon this sacred/secular split; the passion for the real is about the violence and excess required to peel back - and purify - the layers of normal life.

Now, this route of purification is only one way to approach the real. There is also subtraction; that which is subtracted from the One of the state. Zizek says that “subtraction starts from the void, from the reduction of all determinate content, and then tries to establish a minimal difference between this void and an element that functions as its stand-in.” According to Zupancic, minimal difference is a split at the core of the same. The classic logical axiom “A is A” implies a minimal difference - A as subject is not quite the same as A as predicate.

So the subtractive approach to the real is to identify the element of the state that is minimally different from the void. It's Ranciere that Zizek cites, but we’ve of course already come across this idea in Badiou - that which falls outside the state of the situation is an eruption of the real. Or a potential eruption, anyways.

It is this concept of minimal different that Zizek says is the shift from Kant to Hegel. Kant takes the appearance and has something - the nounema - lay behind it. The non-conceptual escapes the conceptual. Hegel, on the other hand, sees non-conceptual reality emerge because notional development is caught in an inconsistency. Multiple perspectives don’t arise because of the transcendent thing behind them; the thing is nothing but an ontologization of the inconsistency between appearances.

In Lacanian terms, the real is the result of the gaps in the symbolic. It took me a while to realize that the gaps in the symbolic exist, then, because of the minimal difference within the identical.