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.

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