Saturday, April 18, 2015

Lapsing into Silence

Subject as an 'answer of the Real'

What, then, is the status of this subject before subjectivation? The Lacanian answer would be, roughly speaking, that before subjectivation as identification, before ideological interpellation, before assuming a certain subject position, the subject is the subject of a question. At first sight, it may seem that we are here again in the middle of traditional philosophical problematics: subject as a force of negativity which can question every given, objective status of things, introducing the positivity of openness of the questioning... in a word, the subject is a question. But the Lacanian position is the exact opposite: the subject is not a question, it is an answer, the answer of the Real to the question being asked by the big Other, the symbolic order. It is not the subject which is asking the question; the subject is the void of the impossibility of answering the question of the Other.

To explain this, let us refer to an interesting book by Aron Bodenheimer: "Why? On the Obscenity of Questioning." Its fundamental thesis is that there is something obscene in the very form of asking a question, without regard to its content. It is the form of the question as such which is obscene: the question lays open, exposes, denudes its addressee, it invades the sphere of intimacy; this is why the basic, elementary reaction to a question is shame on the bodily level, blushing and lowering our eyes, like a child of whom we ask, 'What were you doing?' It is clear in our everyday experience that such a questioning of children is a priori incriminating, provoking a sensation of guilt: 'What were you doing? Where were you? What does this white spot mean?' Even if I can offer an answer which is objectively true and at the same time delivers me from guilt ('I was studying with my friend,' for example) the guilt is already admitted on the level of desire; every answer is an excuse. With a prompt answer like 'I was studying with my friend,' I am confirming precisely that I did not really want to do so, that my desire was to stroll about, or something of that nature...

Questioning is the basic procedure of the totalitarian intersubjective relationship: one need not refer to such exemplary cases as police interogation or religious confession; it is quite sufficient to recall the usual abuse of the enemy in the real-socialist press: how much more threatening is the question 'What is really hiding behind... [the demands for freedom of the press, for democracy]? Who is really pulling the strings of the so-called new social movements? Who is really speaking through them?' than the vulgar, direct positive affirmation: 'Those who demand the freedom of the press really want to open the space for the activity of counter-socialist powers and in this way diminish the hegemony of the working class...' Totalitarian power is not a dogmatism which has all the answers; it is, on the contrary, the instance which has all the questions.

The basic indecency of the question consists in its drive to put into words what should be left unspoken, as in the well known dialogue: 'What were you doing? You know what!' 'Yes, but I want you to tell me!' Which is the instance in the other, in its addressee, that the question is aiming at? It aims at a point at which the answer is not possible, where the word is lacking, where the subject is exposed in his impotence. We can illustrate this by the inverse type of question, not the question of the authority to its subjects but the question of the subject-child to his father: the stake of such a question is always to catch the other who embodies authority in his impotence, in his inability, in his lack.
- Slavoj Zizek, "The Sublime Object of Ideology"

1 comment:

  1. Why is this video particularly appropriate to this piece of text? If you read the textual paragraph that follows (not quoted), you would know.