Wednesday, January 29, 2014


All concrete versions of this "subject supposed to believe" (from small children for whose sake parents pretend to believe in Santa Claus, to the "ordinary working people" for whose sake Communist intellectuals pretend to believe in Socialism) are stand-ins for the big Other. So, what one should answer to the conservative platitude according to which every honest man has a profound need to believe in something, is that every honest man has a profound need to find another subject who would believe in his place…


The two notions, that of the subject supposed to believe and that of the subject supposed to know, are not symmetrical since belief and knowledge themselves are not symmetrical: at its most radical, the status of the (Lacanian) big Other qua symbolic institution, is that of belief (trust), not that of knowledge, since belief is symbolic and knowledge is real (the big Other involves, and relies on, a fundamental "trust"). The two subjects are thus not symmetrical since belief and knowledge themselves are not symmetrical: belief is always minimally "reflective," a "belief in the belief of the other" ("I still believe in Communism" is the equivalent of saying "I believe there are still people who believe in Communism"), while knowledge is precisely not knowledge about the fact that there is another who knows. For this reason, I can BELIEVE through the other, but I cannot KNOW through the other. That is to say, due to the inherent reflectivity of belief, when another believes in my place, I myself believe through him; knowledge is not reflective in the same way, i.e. when the other is supposed to know, I do not know through him.


Belief can only thrive in the shadowy domain between outright falsity and positive truth.


And is the primordial version of this substitution by means of which "somebody else does it for me," not the very substitution of a signifier for the subject? In such a substitution resides the basic, constitutive feature of the symbolic order: a signifier is precisely an object-thing which substitutes me, which acts in my place. The so-called primitive religions in which another human being can take upon himself my suffering, my punishment (but also my laughter, my enjoyment…), i.e. in which one can suffer and pay the price for a sin through the Other (up to prayer wheels which do the praying for you), are not as stupid and "primitive" as they may seem — they harbor a momentous liberating potential. By way of surrendering my innermost content, inclusive of my dreams and anxieties, to the Other, a space opens up in which I am free to breathe: when the Other laughs for me, I am free to take a rest; when the Other is sacrificed instead of me, I am free to go on living with the awareness that I did pay for my guilt; etc.etc. The efficiency of this operation of substitution resides in the Hegelian reflective reversal: when the Other is sacrificed for me, I sacrifice myself through the Other; when the Other acts for me, I myself act through the Other; when the Other enjoys for me, I myself enjoy through the Other. Like, in the good old joke about the difference between Soviet-style bureaucratic Socialism and the Yugoslav self-management Socialism: in Russia, members of the nomenklatura, the representatives of the ordinary people, drive themselves in expensive limousines, while in Yugoslavia, ordinary people themselves ride in limousines through their representatives. This liberating potential of mechanical rituals is also clearly discernible in our modern experience: every intellectual knows of the redeeming value of being temporarily subjected to the military drill, to the requirements of a "primitive" physical job, or to some similar externally regulated labour — the very awareness that the Other regulates the process in which I participate, sets my mind free to roam, since I know I am not involved. The Foucauldian motif of the interconnection between discipline and subjective freedom thus appears in a different light: by submitting myself to some disciplinatory machine, I, as it were, transfer to the Other the responsibility to maintain the smooth run of things, and thus gain the precious space in which to exercise my freedom…

The one who originally "does it for me" is the signifier itself in its external materiality, from the "canned prayer" in the Tibetan prayer wheel to the "canned laughter" on our TV: the basic feature of the symbolic order qua "big Other," is that it is never simply a tool or means of communication, since it "decenters" the subject from within, in the sense of accomplishing his act for him. This gap between the subject and the signifier which "does it for him," is clearly discernible in common everyday experience: when a person slips, another person standing next to him and merely observing the accident, can accompany it with "Oops!" or something similar. The mystery of this everyday occurrence is that, when the other does it for me, instead of me, the symbolic efficiency of it is exactly the same as in the case of my doing it directly. Therein resides the paradox of the notion of the "performative," or speech act: in the very gesture of accomplishing an act by way of uttering words, I am deprived of authorship, the "big Other" (the symbolic institution) speaks through me. It is no wonder then, that there is something puppet-like about the persons whose professional function is tessentially performative (judges, kings…): they are reduced to a living embodiment of the symbolic institution, i.e. their sole duty is to "dot the i's" mechanically, to confer on some content elaborated by others, the institutional cachet. The later Lacan is fully justified in reserving the term "act" for something much more suicidal and real than a speech act.

This mystery of the symbolic order is exemplified by the enigmatic status of what we call "politeness": when, upon meeting an acquaintance, I say "Glad to see you! How are you today?", it is clear to both of us that, in a way, I "do not mean it seriously" (if my partner suspects that I am really interested, he may even be unpleasantly surprised, as though I were aiming at something too intimate and of no concern to me — or, to paraphrase the old Freudian joke, "Why are you saying you're glad to see me, when you're really glad to see me!?"). However, it would nonetheless be wrong to designate my act as simply "hypocritical," since, in another way, I do mean it: the polite exchange does establish a kind of pact between the two of us; in the same sense as I do "sincerely" laugh through the canned laughter (the proof of it being the fact that I effectively do "feel relieved" afterwards).

If we radicalize in this way the relationship of substitution (i.e. the first aspect of the notion of fetishism), then the connection between the two aspects, the opposition "persons versus things," their relation of substitution ("things instead of people," or one person instead of another, or a signifier instead of the signified…), and the opposition "structure versus one of its elements," becomes clear: the differential/formal structure occluded by the element-fetish, can only emerge if the gesture of substitution has already occurred. In other words, the structure is always, by definition, a signifying structure, a structure of signifiers which are substituted for the signified content, not a structure of the signified. For the differential/formal structure to emerge, the real has to redouble itself in the symbolic register; a reduplicatio has to occur, on account of which things no longer count as what they directly "are," but only with regard to their symbolic place. This primordial substitution of the big Other, the Symbolic Order, for the Real of the immediate life-substance (in Lacanian terms: of A — le grand Autre — for J — jouissance), gives rise to $, to the "barred subject" who is then "represented" by the signifiers, i.e. on whose behalf signifiers "act," who acts through signifiers…
- Slavoj Zizek, "The Interpassive Subject"

Monday, January 27, 2014


Though the mills of God grind slowly;
Yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience he stands waiting,
With exactness grinds he all.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Pont or Point de Capiton?

Point de Capiton or “quilting point” “anchoring point” is the interaction of the signifier and the signified which they are knotted together, fixed and stablized. In the daily symbolic world of discourse, the continuous unstable sliding of the signifier is separated from that of the signified. If not with the point de caption, there would not be a fixed position to situate the dissemination of meanings. On those quilting points, the meaning is distributed, disseminated and stablized just like an upholstery button stitching on the material.

“It’s the point of convergence that enables everything that happens in this discourse to be situated retroactively and prospectively.” (Lacan, Seminar III, 267-8)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

21st Century Warfare - Wall Street v. Arab Street?

It is already a journalistic cliche that a new form of war is now emerging: a high-tech war in which precision bombing, and so on, does the job, without any direct intervention by ground forces (if they are needed at all, this can be left to 'local allies'). Old notions of face-to-face combat, courage, and so on, are becoming obsolete. We should note the structural homology between this new warfare-at-a-distance, where the 'soldier' (a computer specialist) pushes buttons hundreds of miles away, and the decisions of managerial bodies which affect millions (IMF specialists dictating the conditions a Third World country has to meet in order to deserve financial aid; WTO regulations; corporate boards deciding about necessary 'restructuring'): in both cases, abstraction is inscribed into a very 'real' situation - decisions are made which will affect thousands, sometimes causing terrifying havoc and destruction, but the link between these 'structural' decisions and the painful reality of millions is broken; the 'specialists' taking the decisions are unable to imagine the consequences, since they measure the effects of these decisions in abstract terms (a country can be 'financially sane' even if millions in it are starving).

And today's 'terrorism' is simply the counterpoint to this warfare. The true long-term threat is further acts of mass terror in comparison with which the memory of the WTC collapse will pale - acts that are less spectacular, but much more horrifying, What about bacteriological warfare, what about the use of lethal gas, what about the prospect of DNA terrorism (developing poisons which will affect only people who share a specific genome)? In contrast to Marx, who relied on the notion of the fetish as a solid object whose stable presence obfuscates its social mediation, we should assert that fetishism reached its acme precisely when the fetish itself is 'dematerialized', turned into a fluid 'immaterial' virtual entity; money fetishism will culminate with the passage to its electronic form, when the last traces of its materiality have disappeared - it is only at this stage that it will assume the form of an indestructible spectral presence: I owe you 1,000 dollars, and no matter how many material notes I burn, I still owe you 1,000 dollars - the debt is inscribed somewhere in virtual space...Does not the same also hold for warfare? Far from pointing towards twenty-first-century warfare, the WTC twin towers explosion and collapse in September 2001 were, rather, the last spectacular cry of twentieth-century warfare. What awaits is something much more uncanny: the spectre of an 'immaterial' war where the attack is invisible - viruses, poisons which can be anywhere and nowhere. On the level of visible material reality, nothing happens, no big explosions; yet the known universe starts to collapse, life disintegrates.

We are entering a new era of paranoiac warfare in which the greatest task will be to identify the enemy and his weapons. In this new warfare, the agents assume their acts less and less publicly: not only are 'terrorists' themselves no longer eager to claim responsibility for their acts (even the notorious al-Qaeda did not explicitly appropriate the September 11 attacks, not to mention the mystery about the origins of the anthrax letters); 'anti-terrorist' state measures themselves are clouded in a shroud of secrecy - all this forming an ideal breeding-ground for conspiracy theories and generalized social paranoia.

And is not the obverse of this paranoiac omnipresence of the invisible war its desubstantialization? Just as we drink beer without alcohol or coffee without caffeine, we are now getting war deprived of its substance - a virtual war fought behind computer screens, a war experienced by its participants as a video game, a war with no casualties (on our side, at least). With the spread of the anthrax panic in October 2001, the West got the first taste of this new 'invisible' warfare in which - an aspect we should always bear in mind - we, ordinary citizens, are totally dependent on the authorities for information about what is going on: we see and hear nothing; all we know comes from the official media. A superpower bombing a desolate desert country and, at the same time, hostage to invisible bacteria - this, not the WTC explosions, is the first image of twenty-first century warfare. Instead of a quick acting out, we should confront some difficult questions: what will 'war' mean in the twenty-first century? Who will 'they' be if they are, clearly, neither states nor criminal gangs? Here I cannot resist the temptation to recall the Freudian opposition of the public Law and its obscene superego double: along the same lines, are not 'international terrorist organizations' the obscene double of the big multinational corporations - the ultimate rhizomatic machine, omnipresent, albeit with no territorial base? Are they not the form in which nationalist and/or religious 'fundamentalism' accommodated itself to global capitalism? Do they not embody the ultimate contradiction, with their particular/ exclusive content and their global dynamic functioning.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Welcome to the Desert of the Real"

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Homeland Defensiveness

“Language is not made to be believed but to be obeyed, and to compel obedience newspapers, news, proceed by redundancy, in that they tell us what we ‘must’ think, retain, expect, etc. language is neither informational nor communicational. It is not the communication of information but something quite different: the transmission of order-words, either from one statement to another or within each statement, insofar as each statement accomplishes an act and the act is accomplished in the statement”
― Gilles Deleuze, "A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia"

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Zizek on Multiculturalism

‘If you're trapped in the dream of the Other, you're fucked.’
- Gilles Deleuze

Thursday, January 9, 2014

"A rose, is a rose, is a rose." - Gertrude Stein

"There is no there, there."
- Gertrude Stein

Supposedly, what she was referring to was that after thirty years in Paris she came back to find her house was no longer there, her school was no longer there,her park was no longer there, her synagogue was no longer there. So for her, there was no longer a there there.