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.

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