Žižek’s Dialectical Coincidentia Oppositorium. Thought of the 98.0

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Without doubt, the cogent interlacing of Lacanian theorization with Hegelianism manifests Žižek’s prowess in articulating a highly pertinent critique of ideology for our epoch, but whether this comes from a position of Marxist orthodoxy or a position of a Lacanian doctrinaire who monitors Marxist politics is an open question.

Through this Lacanian prism, Žižek sees subjectivity as fragmented and decentred, considering its subordinate status to the unsurpassable realm of the signifiers. The acquisition of a consummate identity dwells in impossibility, in as much as it is bound to desire, provoked by a lacuna which is impossible to fill up. Thus, for Žižek, socio-political relations evolve from states of lack, linguistic fluidity, and contingency. What temporarily arrests this fluid state of the subject’s slithering in the realm of the signifiers, giving rise to her self-identity, is what Lacan calls point de capiton. The term refers to certain fundamental “anchoring” points in the signifying chain where the signifier is tied to the signified, providing an illusionary stability in signification. Laclau and Mouffe (Hegemony and Socialist Strategy Towards a Radical Democratic Politics) were the first to make use of the idea of the point de capiton in relation to hegemony and the formation of identities. In this context, ideology is conceptualized as a terrain of firm meanings, determined and comprised by numerous points de capiton (Zizek The Sublime Object of Ideology).

The real is the central Lacanian concept that Žižek implements in his rhetoric. He associates the real with antagonism (e.g., class conflict) as the unsymbolizable and irreducible gap that lies in the heart of the socio-symbolic order and around which society is formed. As Žižek argues, “class struggle designates the very antagonism that prevents the objective (social) reality from constituting itself as a self-enclosed whole” (Renata Salecl, Slavoj Zizek-Gaze and Voice As Love Objects). This logic is indebted to Laclau and Mouffe, who were the first to postulate that social antagonism is what impedes the closure of society, marking thus its impossibility. Žižek expanded this view and associated antagonism with the notion of the real.

Functioning as a hegemonic fantasmatic veil, ideology covers the lacuna of the symbolic, in the form of a fantasy, so that it protracts desire and hence subjectivity. On the imaginary level, ideology functions as the “mirror” that reflects antagonisms, that is to say, the real unrepresentable kernel that undermines the political. Around this emptiness of representation, the fictional narrative of ideology, its meaning, is to unfurl. The role of socio-ideological fantasy is to provide consistency to the symbolic order by veiling its void, and to foster the illusion of a coherent social unity.

Nevertheless, fantasy has both unifying and disjunctive features, as its role is to fill the void of the symbolic, but also to circumscribe this void. According to Žižek, “the notion of fantasy offers an exemplary case of the dialectical coincidentia oppositorium”. On the one side, it provides a “hallucinatory realisation of desire” and on the other side, it evokes disturbing images about the Other’s jouissance to which the subject has no (symbolic or imaginary) access. In so reasoning, ideology promises unity and, at the same time, creates another fantasy, where the failure of acquiring the anticipated ideological unity is ascribed.

Pertaining to Jacques Derrida’s work Specters of Marx (Specters of Marx The State of the Debt, The Work of Mourning; the New International), where the typical ontological conception of the living is seen to be incomplete and inseparable from the spectre, namely, a ghostly embodiment that haunts the living present (Derrida introduces the notion of hauntology to refer to this pseudo-material incarnation of the spirit that haunts and challenges ontological present), Žižek elaborates the spectral apparitions of the real in the politico–ideological domain. He makes a distinction between this “spectre” and “symbolic fiction”, that is, reality per se. Both have a common fantasmatic hypostasis, yet they perform antithetical functions. Symbolic fiction forecloses the real antagonism at the crux of reality, only to return as a spectre, as another fantasy.

Third Space Theory of Postcoloniality. Note Quote.

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Writers, such as Homi Bhabha and Salman Rushdie, who proceed from a consideration of the nature of postcolonial societies and the types of hybridization these various cultures have produced, proposed a radical rethinking—an appropriation of the European thinking by a different discourse. Whereas in European thinking, history and the past are the reference point for epistemology, in postcolonial thought space annihilates time. History is rewritten and realigned from the standpoint of the victims of the destructive progress.  Hybridity replaces a temporal linearity with a spatial plurality. Salman Rushdie  makes this obvious when commenting on the message of his controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, in an essay called “In Good Faith” as follows:

The Satanic Verses celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, songs. It rejoices in mongrelization and fears the absolutism of the Pure. Melange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world. It is the great possibility that mass migration gives the world, and I have tried to embrace it. The Satanic Verses is for change-by-fusion, change-by-conjoining. It is a love-song to our mongrel selves.

Even though on the surface postcolonial texts may contain race divisions and cultural differences, they all contain germs of community which, as they grow in the mind of the reader, they detach from the apparently inescapable dialectic of history. Thus, postcolonial literatures have begun to deal  with problems of transmuting time into space and of attempting to construct a future. It highlights the acceptance of difference on equal terms. Now both literary critics and historians are recognizing cross-culturality as the possible ending point of an apparent endless human history of conquest and occupations.  They recognize that the myth of purity or essence, the Eurocentric viewpoint must be challenged. The recent approaches show that the power of postcolonial theory lies in its comparative methodology and the hybridized and syncretic view of the modern world which it implies.

Of the various points in which postcolonial texts intersect, place has a paramount importance. In his dialogism thesis, Mikhail Bakhtin emphasizes a space of enunciation where negotiation of discursive doubleness gives birth to a new speech act:

The  hybrid is not only double-voiced and double-accented . . . but is also double-languaged; for in it there are not only (and not even so much) two individual consciounesses, two voices, two accents, as there are [doublings of] socio-linguistic consciousnesses, two epochs . . . that come together and consciously fight it out on the territory of the utterance.

Also, Homi Bhabha talks about a third space of enunciation, a hybrid space or a new position in which communication is possible. Third Space theory emerges from the sociocultural tradition in psychology identified with Lev Vygotsky. Sociocultural approaches are concerned with the “… constitutive role of culture in mind, i.e., on how mind develops by incorporating the community’s shared artifacts accumulated over generations”. Bhabha applies socioculturalism directly to the postcolonial condition, where there are, “… unequal and uneven forces of cultural representation”. For Bhabha, such negotiation is neither assimilation nor collaboration as it makes possible the emergence of an “interstitial” agency that refuses the binary representation of social antagonism. The “interstitial perspective” as Bhabha calls it replaces the “polarity of a prefigurative self-generating nation ‘in-itself’ and extrinsic other nations” with the notion of cultural liminality within the nation. the liminal figure of the nation-space would ensure that no political ideologies could claim transcendent or metaphysical authority for themselves. this is because the subject of cultural discourse – the agency of a people – is spilt in the discursive ambivalence that emerges in the contest of narrative authority between the pedagogical and the performative, which is to say, between the peoples’ status as historical objects of a nationalist pedagogy and their ability to perform themselves as subjects of a process of signification that must erase any prior or originally national presence. Hybrid agencies find their voice in a dialectic that does not seek cultural supremacy or sovereignty. They deploy the partial culture from which they emerge to construct visions of community, and versions of historic memory, that give narrative form to the minority positions they occupy: “the outside of the inside; the part in the whole”.

This “new position” Bhabha proposes is closely related to the “homeless” existence of post-colonial persons. It certainly cannot be assumed to be an independent third space already there, a “no-man’s-land” between the nations. Instead, a way of cultural syncretization, i.e. a medium of negotiating cultural antagonisms, has to be created. Cultural difference has to be acknowledged: “Culture does imply difference, but the differences now are no longer, if you wish, taxonomical; they are interactive and refractive”. This position emphasizes, contrary to the too facile assumption of world literature and world culture as the stages of a multicultural cosmopolitanism already in existence, that the “intellectual trade” takes place mostly on the borders and in the border crossings between cultures where meanings and values are not codified but misunderstood, misrepresented, even falsely adopted. Bhabha explains how beyond fixed cultural (ethnic, gender- and class-related) identities, so-called “hybrid” identities are formed by discontinuous translation and negotiation. Hybridity, liminality, “interrogatory, interstitial space” – these are the positive values Bhabha opposes to a retrograde historicism that continues to dominate Western critical thinking, a “linear narrative of the nation,” with its claims for the “holism of culture and community” and a “fixed horizontal nation-space”. We must, he argues eloquently, undo such thinking with its facile binary oppositions. Rather than emphasizing the opposition between First World and Third World nations, between colonizer and colonized, men and women, black and white, straight and gay, Bhabha would have it, we might more profitably focus on the faultlines themselves, on border situations and thresholds as the sites where identities are performed and contested. Bhabha says, “hybridity to me is the ‘third space’ which enables other positions to emerge”.

Ideology

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For Žižek, we are not so much living in a post-ideological era as in an era dominated by the ideology of cynicism. Adapting from Marx and Sloterdijk, he sums up the cynical attitude as “they know that, in their activity, they are following an illusion, but still, they are doing it”. Ideology in this sense, is located in what we do and not in what we know. Our belief in an ideology is thus staged in advance of our acknowledging that belief in “belief machines”, such as Althusser’s Ideological State Apparatuses. It is “belief before belief.”

One of the questions Žižek asks about ideology is: what keeps an ideological field of meaning consistent? Given that signifiers are unstable and liable to slippages of meaning, how does an ideology maintain its consistency? The answer to this problem is that any given ideological field is “quilted” by what, following lacan, he terms a point de capiton (literally an “upholstery button” though it has also been translated as “anchoring point”). In the same way that an upholstery button pins down stuffing inside a quilt and stops it from moving about, Žižek argues that a point de capiton is a signifier which stops meaning from sliding about inside the ideological quilt. A point de capiton unifies an ideological field and provides it with an identity. Freedom, i.e, is in itself an open-ended word, the meaning of which can slide about depending on the context of its use. A right-wing interpretation of the word might use it to designate the freedom to speculate on the market, whereas a left-wing interpretation of it might use it designate freedom from the inequalities of the market. The word “freedom” therefore does not mean the same thing in all possible worlds: what pins its meaning down is the point de capiton of “right-wing” or “left-wing”. What is at issue in a conflict of ideologies is precisely the point de capiton – which signifier (“communism”, “fascism”, “capitalism”, “market economy” and so on) will be entitled to quilt the ideological field (“freedom”, “democracy”, Human rights” and so on).

Žižek distinguishes three moments in the narrative of an ideology.

1. Doctrine – ideological doctrine concerns the ideas and theories of an ideology, i.e. liberalism partly developed from the ideas of John Locke.

2. Belief – ideological belief designates the material or external manifestations and apparatuses of its doctrine, i.e. liberalism is materialized in an independent press, democratic elections and the free market.

3. Ritual – ideological ritual refers to the internalization of a doctrine, the way it is experienced as spontaneous, i.e in liberalism subjects naturally think of themselves as free individuals.

These three aspects of ideology form a kind of narrative. In the first stage of ideological doctrine we find ideology in its “pure” state. Here ideology takes the form of a supposedly truthful proposition or set of arguments which, in reality, conceal a vested interest. Locke’s arguments about government served the interest of the revolutionary Americans rather than the colonizing British. In a second step, a successful ideology takes on the material form which generates belief in that ideology, most potently in the guise of Althusser’s State Apparatuses. Third, ideology assumes an almost spontaneous existence, becoming instinctive rather than realized either as an explicit set of arguments or as an institution. the supreme example of such spontaneity is, for Žižek, the notion of commodity fetishism.

In each of these three moments – a doctrine, its materialization in the form of belief and its manifestation as spontaneous ritual – as soon as we think we have assumed a position of truth from which to denounce the lie of an ideology, we find ourselves back in ideology again. This is so because our understanding of ideology is based on a binary structure, which contrasts reality with ideology. To solve this problem, Žižek suggests that we analyze ideology using a ternary structure. So, how can we distinguish reality from ideology? From what position, for example, is Žižek able to denounce the New Age reading of the universe as ideological mystification? It is not from the position in reality because reality is constituted by the Symbolic and the Symbolic is where fiction assumes the guise of truth. The only non-ideological position available is in the Real – the Real of the antagonism. Now, that is not a position we can actually occupy; it is rather “the extraideological point of reference that authorizes us to denounce the content of our immediate experience as ‘ideological.'” (Mapping Ideology) The antagonism of the Real is a constant that has to be assumed given the existence of social reality (the Symbolic Order). As this antagonism is part of the Real, it is not subject to ideological mystification; rather its effect is visible in ideological mystification. Here, ideology takes the form of the spectral supplement to reality, concealing the gap opened up by the failure of reality (the Symbolic) to account fully for the Real. While this model of the structure of reality does not allow us a position from which to assume an objective viewpoint, it does presuppose the existence of ideology and thus authorizes the validity of its critique. The distinction between reality and ideology exists as a theoretical given. Žižek does not claim that he can offer any access to the “objective truth of things” but that ideology must be assumed to exist if we grant that reality is structured upon a constitutive antagonism. And if ideology exists we must be able to subject it to critique. This is the aim of Žižek’s theory of ideology, namely an attempt to keep the project of ideological critique alive at all in an era in which we are said to have left ideology behind.

Bataille and Solar Anus Economy/Capitalism: Note Quote

Focusing on Bataille as a pivotal point, his take on Solar Economy is a bit weird to begin with, but, then I do see its relevance to accelerationism. The take on political economy is driven by excess, rather than scarcity, a plethora of energy (like that from the sun) that would not just facilitate growth, but would be vulnerable to expenditure in a purely apathetic manner as well. That is how he differentiates the general from the restricted economy. I am keen to note how accelerationism, if guarded by the normative (I understand the term to carry a baggage of strictures) dromos (dromocracy), would shift the balance of the economic towards the general rather than the restricted. I think, if capitalism gets overridden by the belief in this economic, a probable fracture within it could be affected. Bataille, then would make his presence felt even more crucially for the ultimate eschatology of capitalism.

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Bataille provides a premonitory text relating the energy of the sun, the sexual movements and excitements of the cosmos and of terrestrial life, and the anus of an eighteen-year-old girl. Operating at the intersection between his sexually explicit literary works – think here especially of Madame Edwarda, whose eponymous hero demonstrates that her labia are the copula of God: “Madame Edwarda’s old rag and ruin leered at me, hairy and pink, just as full of life as some loathsome squid. […] “You can see for yourself,” she said, “I am GOD.” – and his later development of a theory of a general economy of expenditure in La part maudite, “The Solar Anus” provides a rich but conceptually underdeveloped reading of the cosmic and terrestrial with regard to their potency, fertility, and fundamental antagonism.  Bataille writes,

Disasters, revolutions, and volcanoes do not make love with the stars. The erotic revolutionary and volcanic deflagrations antagonize the heavens. As in the case of violent love, they take place beyond fecundity. In opposition to celestial fertility there are terrestrial disasters, the image of terrestrial love without condition, erection without escape and without rule, scandal, and terror. […] The Sun exclusively loves the Night and directs its luminous violence, its ignoble shaft, toward the earth, but it finds itself incapable of reaching the gaze or the night, even though the nocturnal terrestrial expanses head continuously toward the indecency of the solar ray.

In La part maudite, Bataille goes on to develop his argument against scarcity, which contends that, from the point of view of a general economy, the key problem on the tellurian surface is not the conservation of energy, but its expenditure [depenser].  Bataille offers the following reversal of the political economy of scarcity:

I will begin with a basic fact: The living organism, in a situation determined by the play of energy on the surface of the globe, ordinarily receives more energy than is necessary for maintaining life; the excess energy (wealth) can be used for the growth of a system (e.g., an organism); if the system can no longer grow, or if the excess cannot be lost without profit; it must be spent, willingly or not, gloriously or catastrophically. (The Accursed Share)

The “curse” of the accursed share is disturbingly simple: the earth is bombarded with so much energy from the sun that it simply cannot spend it all without disaster. Over the course of millions of years of solar bombardment, the creatures enslaved to this “celestial fertility” by way of photosynthetic-reliant metabolic systems are forced to become increasingly burdensome forms of life. By the end of the Ediacaran period, we find the emergence of animals with bones, teeth, and claws, and eventually even more flamboyant expenditures like tigers and peacocks, and later still, tall buildings. Or, as Bataille suggests in his short text “Architecture,” for the surrealist Critical Dictionary: “Man would seem to represent merely an intermediate stage within the morphological development between monkey and building.” With this morphology of expenditure in mind, let us now return to the anal image of thought.

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What the theory of expenditure calls into question in its most precise philosophical reading is the division between useful and wasteful (flamboyant) practices; this is because in order for any theory of use value to be coherent, it must first restrict the economy, or field of operations, within which it is operating. The restriction of this field of energy exchange is a moral action inasmuch as it sets up the conditions for any action in the field to be read as either productive or wasteful. For Bataille, the general economy permits us to evaluate the terms of restriction as a means to call into question the cultural values and forms of social organization they engender. Because of this, the “anus of her body at eighteen years old” must be intact: as a potential for pure loss, pure expenditure of energy without reserve and without reproduction, Bataille is transfixed by the analogy of glorious or catastrophic expenditure in relation to the energy of the sun and the potential for escaping this curse as much as the curse of the intact anus.