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.

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