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.


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