Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The New and Improved Guilt-Free/ Feel Good Liberalism

Our daily lives are mostly a mixture of drab routine and unpleasant surprises – however, from time to time, something unexpected happens which makes life worth living. Something of this order occurred at the memorial ceremony for Nelson Mandela last week.

Tens of thousands were listening to world leaders making statements. And then … it happened (or, rather, it was going on for some time before we noticed it). Standing alongside world dignitaries including Barack Obama was a rounded black man in formal attire, an interpreter for the deaf, translating the service into sign language. Those versed in sign language gradually became aware that something strange was going on: the man was a fake; he was making up his own signs; he was flapping his hands around, but there was no meaning in it.

A day later, the official inquiry disclosed that the man, Thamsanqa Jantjie, 34, was a qualified interpreter hired by the African National Congress from his firm South African Interpreters. In an interview with the Johannesburg newspaper the Star, Jantjie put his behaviour down to a sudden attack of schizophrenia, for which he takes medication: he had been hearing voices and hallucinating. "There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation," he said. "I tried to control myself and not show the world what was going on. I am very sorry. It's the situation I found myself in." Jantjie nonetheless defiantly insisted that he is happy with his performance: "Absolutely! Absolutely. What I have been doing, I think I have been a champion of sign language."

Next day brought a new surprising twist: media reported that Jantjie has been arrested at least five times since the mid-1990s, but he allegedly dodged jail time because he was mentally unfit to stand trial. He was accused of rape, theft, housebreaking and malicious damage to property; his most recent brush with the law occurred in 2003 when he faced murder, attempted murder and kidnapping charges.

Reactions to this weird episode were a mixture of amusement (which was more and more suppressed as undignified) and outrage. There were, of course, security concerns: how was it possible, with all the control measures, for such a person to be in close proximity to world leaders? What lurked behind these concerns was the feeling that Thamsanqa Jantjie's appearance was a kind of miracle – as if he had popped up from nowhere, or from another dimension of reality. This feeling seemed further confirmed by the repeated assurances from deaf organisations that his signs had no meaning, that they corresponded to no existing sign language, as if to quell the suspicion that, maybe, there was some hidden message delivered through his gestures – what if he was signalling to aliens in an unknown language? Jantjie's very appearance seemed to point in this direction: there was no vivacity in his gestures, no traces of being involved in a practical joke – he was going through his gestures with expressionless, almost robotic calm.

Jantjie's performance was not meaningless – precisely because it delivered no particular meaning (the gestures were meaningless), it directly rendered meaning as such – the pretence of meaning. Those of us who hear well and do not understand sign language assumed that his gestures had meaning, although we were not able to understand them. And this brings us to the crux of the matter: are sign language translators for the deaf really meant for those who cannot hear the spoken word? Are they not much more intended for us – it makes us (who can hear) feel good to see the interpreter, giving us a satisfaction that we are doing the right thing, taking care of the underprivileged and hindered.

I remember how, in the first "free" elections in Slovenia in 1990, in a TV broadcast by one of the leftist parties, the politician delivering the message was accompanied by a sign language interpreter (a gentle young woman). We all knew that the true addressees of her translation were not the deaf but we, the ordinary voters: the true message was that the party stood for the marginalised and handicapped.

It was like great charity spectacles which are not really about children with cancer or flood victims, but about making us, the public, aware that we are doing something great, displaying solidarity.

Now we can see why Jantjie's gesticulations generated such an uncanny effect once it became clear that they were meaningless: what he confronted us with was the truth about sign language translations for the deaf – it doesn't really matter if there are any deaf people among the public who need the translation; the translator is there to make us, who do not understand sign language, feel good.

And was this also not the truth about the whole of the Mandela memorial ceremony? All the crocodile tears of the dignitaries were a self-congratulatory exercise, and Jangtjie translated them into what they effectively were: nonsense. What the world leaders were celebrating was the successful postponement of the true crisis which will explode when poor, black South Africans effectively become a collective political agent. They were the Absent One to whom Jantjie was signalling, and his message was: the dignitaries really don't care about you. Through his fake translation, Jantjie rendered palpable the fake of the entire ceremony.

-Slavoj Zizek, "Guardian article"

Monday, December 30, 2013

Eighteenth Century London? Or Modern Day New York?

I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse
- William Blake, "London" (1792)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Make Me Stronger!

You are my best enemy
My greatest enigma
That I can't catch
You are the one that I redoubt
After that I run
Without catching my breath

You are the one that I despise
Warned conspirator
You aim my agony
You are the shade of the sun
An ink that never dries
An imperfect tattoo

You are the vice of my virtues
The one that surrenders
When I feel lost
You are my battlefield
My fatal intoxications
Fruits of my mood

You are my heart-drier
My peril remains
The source of my pain
You are the one that I drowned
Undeath and rapid
Ready to start

Ready to start

You are my best enemy[x4]

You are my best enemy
An ink that never dries
An imperfect tattoo
Ready to start
Ready to start
Ready to start...

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Cunning of Unreason

By contrast, as Zizek acknowledges in "The Parallax View", an immanent notion of the Real - a Real always encountered within the Symbolic order as its negative limit - requires faith that the Real upon which one acts is a dimension of the "pre-symbolic X" from which that Symbolic order emerges, so that one's act bears the potential of opening thought to a greater fullness of being. (Zizek 2006: 390 n. 21) The 'faith' that Zizek terms a groundless "methodological idealism" goes beyond the Pauline faith that calls for acts without the support of any "big Other". This idealism is rather the faith, corraborated only fragmentarily and indirectly via practical experiment, that reality is structured in this manner - the condition of possibility of the specific Pauline faith-act that trusts this or that identification with the not-All to be significant. This blindness of act is redoubled insofar as Zizek additionally remains committed to the possibility of a singular act yet-to-come upon the immanent Real, which will radically reconfigure the Symbolic order: for without such an act being performed, without successful instances of re-ordering the Symbolic, there is no evidence that reality is so ordered. And, unless Zizek makes an appeal however implicitly to the kind of theological horizon of "Otherness" for which he criticizes Derridean messianicity (Zizek 2003: 140), he must accept a deep 'blindness' of act, which threatens to undermine its claim to be ethical no less than the naivety of the twin's act threatens to undermine their ethical stance in "The Notebook".
- John McSweeney, "The Cold Cruelty of Ethics: Zizek, Kristof and Reflexive Subjectivation"
London Grammar, "Wasting My Young Years"
- h/t: Jen Nifer

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I am MORE than a Camera

...and therefore more than a mere Spectator
When Interpassivity is NOT enough!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Idyll's of Women

Francis Picabia, "Lady in the Face of Idol"
While in Hanold's mind he believes that his attraction to Gradiva is based on love and veneration, in fact his dedication is to his own attraction. This theme of the veneration of woman in thrall to the master of male desire can be seen in Surrealism as well; thus their fascination with Jensen's tale is not difficult to understand. The machine, like a fantasy image such as that presented in Gradiva, is a means of augmenting one's own power without surrendering agency to another. This is the connection between the image of Gradiva and the myth of the machine: they are not reviled, but "loved" within the bonds of control.
-Alan Foljambe, "Surrealism and the Story of Gradiva: Male Idealization of Women"

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Why Should a Piano Lecture Humanity?

Music to hear, why hear'st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:
Why lov'st thou that which thou receiv'st not gladly,
Or else receiv'st with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tuned sounds,
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering;
Resembling sire and child and happy mother,
Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee: 'Thou single wilt prove none.'
-William Shakespeare, "Sonnet VIII"

On Days of Reckoning, Future

All profits disappear: the gain
Of ease, the hoarded, secret sum;
And now grim digits of old pain
Return to litter up our home.

We hunt the cause of ruin, add,
Subtract, and put ourselves in pawn;
For all our scratching on the pad,
We cannot trace the error down.

What we are seeking is a fare
One way, a chance to be secure:
The lack that keeps us what we are,
The penny that usurps the poor.
- Theodore Roethke

Monday, December 9, 2013

On White Democrat's "Solidarity" with America's Blacks

The Constitutive Lie Behind Democratic Party Solidarity
Politicians and their Constitutive Lies

Despite the fact that their turn to political action stems only from a perceived threat to their imaginary enjoyment, the Michigan State students are at least able to conceive themselves as political beings and enter into a political arena (however isolated that arena might be). To most people, the very words "politics" and "politician" are the equivalent of obscenities, and conceiving of one=self in political terms is anathema. This increasingly popular attitude indicates the ease with which one can conceive oneself as detached from the political sphere, as a apolitical being. We avoid politics because we think we can - and because we see it as both an alien and alienating process. But the attempt to avoid alienation is really just an attempt to avoid the social order: any emergence of the subject in the social order is necessarily alienating, a process in which the subject gains a symbolic identity at the price of his or her being. According to Lacan's formulation in Seminar XI, "when the subject appears somewhere as meaning [ie, as a symbolic identity], he is manifested elsewhere as 'fading,' as disappearance." It is this experience of alienation that the word "politics" evokes today, and in this sense, animus towards "politics" or "politicians" is implicitly animus towards the very idea of a social order. To involve oneself in politics would be to tacitly accept the necessity of one's alienation - a prospect the contemporary subject would like to avoid at all costs, precisely because this alienation makes evident the failure of one's private, imaginary enjoyment. A sense of alienation indicates that the imaginary realm is symbolically mediated, and "politics," insofar as it is alienating, constantly reminds us of this mediation.

On one level, it is easy to see mass emnity towards politicians in populist terms, as the healthy expression of hatred on behalf of those ruled towards those who rule them. And perhaps, even as recently as twenty years ago, this was the case. Today, however, such a position is no longer tenable. Today we hate politicians not because they are representatives of the ruling class, but because they compromise - or to put it more clearly, because they lie. The lie of the politician is not, as we often see it, an indication of moral failure, but an act that inheres the very idea of social relations. In order to interact with each other socially, we must agree to keep up certain appearances, we must, in short, both accept and proffer widespread deceipt. Social existence demands, for instance, that we inquire politely after the health of people we don't really care about, that we refrain from telling colleagues what we really think of their work, and that we listen to friends with an attentive expression even when we are bored to tears. The continued existence of the social bond is itself deceipt par excellence. The social bond exists only because we collectively believe that it does, and yet it exists with the pretense of being substantive. This lie at the heart of the social bond is the fundamental constitutive lie, the basis for all the polite, social ties that follow from it.

Politicians must engage in this kind of lying all the time - speaking so as not to offend the Other - or else they would never get elected to any office. The politician's lie as such is not a manipulative lie, but a constitutive one, an indication that she/he respects - and is trying to answer - the desire of the Other. Though we might fantasize about a politician who actually tells the truth, such a phenomena is nonetheless structurally impossible: once someone is in the position of running for office, she/he is necessarily wholly invested in ther desire of the Other, so that even telling the truth from this position would be a form of constitutive lie...

...To refuse to accept the constitutive lie and to despise politicians for it is to disavow the power of the Other, insofar as the constitutive lie explicitly acknowledges the Other's hold over us. But this disavowal, like all disavowals, doesn't make that power go away. Historically, subjects have taken up these lies as a part of their social duty. Today, however, they occasion resentment in subjects, because in being forced to lie, we feel explicitly the demands of the Other - and we feel that we are betraying out private, imaginary enjoyment and thus betraying the imperative to enjoy. Which is not to say that we are experiencing an outbreak of mass truth-telling among contemporary subjects. Emnity for the constitutive, necessary lie is not emnity for all kinds of deceipt, just for the deceipt demanded by the social order. Many types of non-constitutive lies proliferate today and don't occasion the same kind of hostility as the politician's lie. Fabricating a background on a resume, cheating on an exam,, making up sources for a research project - none of these lies are forced upon us by the Other, and hence, they do not make apparent the Other's hold over us. When we lie in this way, we are, in a sense, being "true" to ourselves, insofar as we are advancing our own private interests, our private enjoyment. In contrast, the politician's lie represents a threat to this enjoyment, as it forcefully reminds us of our own castration - what we are accustomed to feeling and against which we recoil. When we recoil from the politician's constitutive lie and disavow it, we enact a disavowal of castration, and this disavowal becomes almost di rigueur in the society of commanded enjoyment.

This recoil from the constitutive lie is simply the manifestation of hostility towards the social order and its constitutive hold over us. Such hostility develops because we perceive the social order as a continued threat to our ability to sustain our private enjoyment, not because we are actually revolting against symbolic authority. What we fail to see - and what psycho-analyses takes pains to point out - is that no matter how private we feel this enjoyment to be, it is always located within the symbolic order. The social order is not the enemy of this imaginary enjoyment - nor is it threatened by it. What we imagine as our radicality is actually that which locates us firmly under the sway of symbolic authority. Our experience as subjects today is dramatically misleading: it prompt us to feel, almost inevitably, as if we are radical beings. The society of commanded enjoyment does offer us the opportunity to realize this feeling of radicality in action, though few of us actually do. Instead, we remain content with our isolated, private enjoyment and the image of radicality. But the isolation of private enjoyment and its seeming radicality are never as isolated and radical as all that. Recognizing this is the incipience of a politics with more at stake than my private enjoyment, because politics as such can only begin when we realize just how radical we aren't. The command to enjoy does open up this political possibility. However, we don't engage in a radical political activity as long as we remain confident that we are already radical. Instead, we retreat into apathy, and as we do, the public world erodes.
- Todd McGowan, "The End of Dissatisfaction?: Jacques Lacan and the Emerging Society of Enjoyment"

Friday, December 6, 2013

What If Sharks Could Communicate Ideologies...?

Ideology is the 'self-evident' surface structure whose function is to conceal the underlying 'unbalanced', 'uncanny' structure.
- Slavoj Zizek, "The Plague of Fantasies"

Monday, December 2, 2013

On the New Ethic of the Post-Modern Era

Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.
- Andy Warhol