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.

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