Utopia Banished. Thought of the Day 103.0

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In its essence, utopia has nothing to do with imagining an impossible ideal society; what characterizes utopia is literally the construction of a u-topic space, a space outside the existing parameters, the parameters of what appears to be “possible” in the existing social universe. The “utopian” gesture is the gesture that changes the coordinates of the possible. — (Slavoj Žižek- Iraq The Borrowed Kettle)

Here, Žižek discusses Leninist utopia, juxtaposing it with the current utopia of the end of utopia, the end of history. How propitious is the current anti-utopian aura for future political action? If society lies in impossibility, as Laclau and Mouffe (Hegemony and Socialist Strategy Towards a Radical Democratic Politics) argued, the field of politics is also marked by the impossible. Failing to fabricate an ideological discourse and incapable of historicizing, psychoanalysis appears as “politically impotent” and unable to encumber the way for other ideological narratives to breed the expectation of making the impossible possible, by promising to cover the fissure of the real in socio-political relations. This means that psychoanalysis can interminably unveil the impossible, only for a recycling of ideologies (outside the psychoanalytic discourse) to attempt to veil it.

Juxtaposing the possibility of a “post-fantasmatic” or “less fantasmatic” politics accepts the irreducible ambiguity of democracy and thus fosters the prospect of a radical democratic project. Yet, such a conception is not uncomplicated, given that one cannot totally go beyond fantasy and still maintain one’s subjectivity (even when one traverses it, another fantasy eventually grows), precisely because fantasy is required for the coherence of the subject and the upholding of her desire. Furthermore, fantasy is either there or not; we cannot have “more” or “less” fantasy. Fantasy, in itself, is absolute and totalizing par excellence. It is the real and the symbolic that always make it “less fantasmatic”, as they impose a limit in its operation.

So, where does “perversion” fit within this frame? The encounter with the extra-ordinary is an encounter with the real that reveals the contradiction that lies at the heart of the political. Extra-ordinariness suggests the embodiment of the real within the socio-political milieu; this is where the extra-ordinary subject incarnates the impossible object. Nonetheless, it suggests a fantasmatic strategy of incorporating the real in the symbolic, as an alternative to the encircling of the real through sublimation. In sublimation we still have an (artistic) object standing for the object a, so the lack in the subject is still there, whereas in extra-ordinariness the subject occupies the locus of the object a, in an ephemeral eradication of his/her lack. Extra-ordinariness may not be a condition that subverts or transforms socio-political relations, yet it can have a certain political significance. Rather than a direct confrontation with the impossible, it suggests a fantasmatic embracing of the impossible in its inexpressible totality, which can be perceived as a utopian aspiration.

Following Žižek or Badiou’s contemporary views, the extra-ordinary gesture is not qualified as an authentic utopian act, because it does not traverse fantasy, it does not rewrite social conditions. It is well known that Žižek prioritizes the negativeness of the real in his rhetoric, something that outstrips any positive imaginary or symbolic reflection in his work. But this entails the risk of neglecting the equal importance of all three registers for subjectivity. The imaginary constitutes an essential motive force for any drastic action to take place, as long as the symbolic limit is not thwarted. It is also what keeps us humane and sustains our relation to the other.

It is possible to touch the real, through imaginary means, without becoming a post-human figure (such as Antigone, who remains the figurative conception of Žižek’s traversing of the fantasy). Fantasy (and, therefore, ideology) can be a source of optimism and motivation and it should not be bound exclusively to the static character of compensatory utopia, according to Bloch’s distinction. In as much as fantasy infuses the subject’s effort to grasp the impossible, recognizing it as such and not breeding the futile expectation of turning the impossible into possible (regaining the object, meeting happiness), the imaginary can form the pedestal for an anticipatory utopia.

The imaginary does not operate only as a force that disavows difference for the sake of an impossible unity and completeness. It also suggests an apparatus that soothes the realization of the symbolic fissure, breeding hope and fascination, that is to say, it stirs up emotional states that encircle the lack of the subject. Moreover, it must be noted that the object a, apart from real properties, also has an imaginary hypostasis, as it is screened in fantasies that cover lack. If our image’s coherence is an illusion, it is this illusion that motivates us as individual and social subjects and help us relate to each other.

The anti-imaginary undercurrent in psychoanalysis is also what accounts for renunciation of idealism in the democratic discourse. The point de capiton is not just a common point of reference; it is a master signifier, which means it constitutes an ideal par excellence. The master signifier relies on fantasy and imaginary certainty about its supreme status. The ideal embodied by the master is what motivates action, not only in politics, but also in sciences, and arts. Is there a democratic prospect for the prevalence of an ideal that does not promise impossible jouissance, but possible jouissance, without confining it to the phallus? Since it is possible to touch jouissance, but not to represent it, the encounter with jouissance could endorse an ideal of incompleteness, an ideal of confronting the limits of human experience vis-à-vis unutterable enjoyment.

We need an extra-ordinary utopianism to the extent that it provokes pre-fixed phallic and normative access to enjoyment. The extra-ordinary himself does not go so far as to demand another master signifier, but his act is sufficiently provocative in divulging the futility of the master’s imaginary superiority. However, the limits of the extra-ordinary utopian logic is that its fantasy of embodying the impossible never stops in its embodiment (precisely because it is still a fantasy), and instead it continues to make attempts to grasp it, without accepting that the impossible remains impossible.

An alternative utopia could probably maintain the fantasy of embodying the impossible, acknowledging it as such. So, any time fantasy collapses, violence does not emerge as a response, but we continue the effort to symbolically speculate and represent the impossible, precisely because in this effort resides hope that sustains our reason to live and desire. As some historians say, myths distort “truth”, yet we cannot live without them; myths can form the only tolerable approximation of “truth”. One should see them as “colourful” disguises of the achromous core of his/her existence, and the truth is we need more “colour”.

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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.