Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Travels with Dante

This obscene virtual dimension is inscribed into an ideological text in the guise of the fantasmatic background that sustains the emptiness of what Jacques Lacan called the Master-Signifier. The master-Signifier is tha signifier of potentiality, of potential threat, ot a threat which, in order to function as such, has to remain potential (in the same way as it is also the signifier of potential meaning whose actuality is the void of meaning: say, "our Nation" is the thing itself, 'the supreme Cause worth dying for, the highest density of meaning - and, as such, it means nothing in particular, it has no determinate meaning, it can be articulated only in the guise a tautology - "Nation is the Thing itself"). This emptiness of the threat is clearly discernible in everyday phrases like "Just wait! You will see what will happen to you!" - the very lack of the specification of WHAT exactly will befall you makes the threat so threatening, since it solicits the power of my fantasy to fill it in with imagined horrors. As such, the Master-Signifier is the privileged site at which fantasy intervenes, since the function of fantasy is precisely to fill in the void of the signifier-without-signified, i.e., fantasy is ultimately, at its most elementarv, the stuff which fills in the void of the Master-Signifier: again, in the case of a Nation, all the mythic obscure narratives which tell us what the nation is... This gap between the Law and its superego supplement concerns the ambiguous status of political representation, the constitutive excess of representation over the represented. At the level of the Law, the state Power only represents the interests of its subjects; it is serving them, responsible to them and itself subjected to their control; however, at the level of the superego underside, the public message of responsibility, etc., is supplemented by the obscene message of unconditional exercise of Power: laws do not really bind me, I can do to you WHATEVER I WANT, I can treat you as guilty if I decide so, I can destroy you if I say so... This obscene excess is a necessary constituent of the notion of sovereignty (whose signifier is the Master-Signifier) - the asymmetry is here structural, i.e. the law can only sustain its authority if subjects hear in it the echo of the obscene unconditional self-assertion.

It is similar with anti-Semitism: Jew is the Master-Signifier, the ultimate empty point of reference which accounts for the (inconsistent) series of phenomena that bother people (corruption, moral and cultural decadence, sexual depravity, commercialization, class struggle and other social antagonisms ... ); as such, the figure of the Jew has to be sustained/encircled by the swarm of fantasies about their mysterious rituals and properties. 6 However, in the XXth century, this link between power and invisible threat gets in a way redoubled or reflected-into itself: it is no longer merely the existing power structure which, in order to sustain its efficiency, its hold over its subjects, has to rely on the fantasmatic dimension of the potential/invisible threat; the place of the threat is, rather, externalized, displaced into the Outside, the Enemy of the power - it is the invisible (and for that very reason all-powerful and omnipresent) threat of the Enemy that legitimizes the permanent state of emergency of the existing Power (Fascists invoked the threat of the Jewish conspiracy, Stalinists the threat of the class enemy up to today's "war on terror," of course). This invisible threat of the Enemy legitimizes the logic of the preemptive strike: precisely because the threat is virtual, it is too late to wait for its actualization, one has to strike in advance, before it will be too late... In other words, the omnipresent invisible threat of Terror legitimizes the all too visible protective measures of defense (which pose the only TRUE threat to democracy and human rights, of course)if the classic power functioned as the threat which was operative precisely by way of never actualizing itself, by way of remaining a threatening GESTURE (and this functioning reached its climax in the Cold War, with the the threat of the mutual nuclear destruction which HAD to remain a threat), with the war on terror, the invisible threat causes the incessant actualization - not of itself, but - of the measures against itself. The nuclear strike had to remain the threat of a strike, while the threat of the terrorist strike triggers the endless series of strikes against potential terrorists... The power which presents itself as being all the time under threat, living in mortal danger, and thus merely defending itself, is the most dangerous kind of power.
-Slavoj Zizek, "Move the Underground"


  1. Not this week. They gave me some time off, now i'm giving them some time off.