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Posts Tagged ‘Slavoj Zizek’

all but the kitchen sink, maybe…

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2009 at 5:31 pm

today i am again reading derrida on husserl

and today


it sounds like zizek.

it could have been the evening.  i’ve been meeting weekly over dinner with a very interesting group of people who are thinking and talking and aiming toward sustainability and there is no easy way to ease into the way, tonight, it felt like church.  small groups really.  the kind that meet in houses, the kind that evangelicalism loves to foster…

either that or an AA meeting.

which is not to say i didn’t enjoy it.  that i won’t go back or that somehow all those lose ends and addictions didn’t look just like mine.

at least part of what is at work in groups like these is a new way of filling the community forming gap that has long been bridged by churches, nuclear family models, arts organizations, schools.  but today, pick your community-building institution of choice and you will find it either struggling, obsolete, oppressive or bankrupt.

enter sustainability.  the movement steps into all the shoes we thought we’d lost… it is, as you’ve heard me rant before, what zizek calls the next utopian movement, the next opiate for the masses.

but if we stop there, we’re just recycling.

what struck me as new tonight was the arrival of derrida and husserl to this same bread-baking table.  the convergence looks, loosely, like this:

in an early text on Husserl (1967), Derrida works out the ways in which presentation is always re-presentation.  in other words, Husserl hung more than a robe on the separation of what we might (liberally) term church and state.  but that is getting way ahead.

sticking slowly with Derrida, Speech and Phenomena outlines the way in which Husserl invokes two arguments related to inward speech, (think: the conversations you have with yourself in the shower, or on your way to work that occur entirely ‘in your head’ like: “today i’ll try to eat lunch before three” or “i really should have taken out the trash,”).  The first is that inward speech is imaginary and representational, rather than communicative or indicating.  The second states that self-communication is useless and redundant as the self is immediately present to itself and thus needs nothing spoken to it.

While Derrida uses page after page to do so with more skill and care than i can here apply, the work being done in unmasking logocentrism begins by outlining the implicit assumptions above inward speech to show that by the nature of the sign/signification itself, presentation is always representation.  The same move is made with regard to the implicit speech/writing distinction Husserl rely’s on, defaulting while also pulling at the tradition.  At issue in both moves is an understanding of presence that Derrida is about to derail.  Looking back to Saussure for the switch, Derrida writes:

Phonic signs (“acoustical images” in Saussure’s sense, or the phenomenological voice) are heard [entendus = “heard” and also “understood”] by the subject who proffers them in the absolute proximity of their present.  The subject does not have to pass forth beyond himself to be immediately affected by his expressive activity.  My words are “alive” because they seem not to leave me: not to fall outside me, outside my breath, at a visable distance; not to cease to belong to me, to be at my disposition “without further props.”   Derrida, speech and phenomena

Of course the false unity of self-presence is what Derrida goes into and after by showing, in the paragraphs to follow the quote above, that both writing and signification, presume and function via distance, repetition and even death.  Derrida actually works this connection out first by explaining the way in which signification, language really operates via 1) repetition and 2) difference.  in other words, as we’ve examined in past posts, in order for the sign ‘woman’ to be recognizable over time and when assigned/applied to different women, the word ‘woman’ must be repeatable – i.e., not tied to or used up when applied to an absolute singularity or particularity, and also, it must be able to sign over difference, over change – as one woman is short and 35 years old with brown hair, speaking chinese, another will be tall and 58 years old, bald from chemotherapy, speaking english and yet we can still call each a woman.  as the sign ‘woman’ is transported and translated from one usage to the next, it is a repetition of itself that always carries difference within it.  language itself is the function of this repetition of difference, spoken, written or other-wise, pure presence or as Husserl calls it, ideality, is a myth.

this is moving way too quickly, once again, but as i’m not the first to explicate Speech and Phenomena, or supplementarity/differance/iterability as this movement of difference and repetition is later termed in the Derridian corpus, i will ask you to forgive the rapidity and turn to the source material for greater depth and adequate slowness.  save that,

we are back to zizek.

or zizek is still with derrida.

Derrida’s work on logocentrism is an unmasking of the fallible phallus of presence.  zizek, by the same token, via kant, takes a similar course of action in his work on/against/up/through Christianity.  claiming to be always more christian than the christians Zizek takes the death of jesus to be the death of god.  the fallibility of the phallus/master signifier revealed.  for Zizek, it is only at the full frontal stop this death should issue that christians can in fact be christian at all as it is this death that loses people to institute their own laws, states, etc that are not already pure extensions of the masterful godhead.  it is only then that morality has any meaning as it is a series of self-made rules we agree to hold holy, rather than the actual dictate and ontological reality of life as we know it, to which there would be no choice, no following, only rote remote control robotics.

combining these two, or rather, recognizing where Derrida and Zizek are (oddly and yes, you will hear Zizek protest loudly over this!) on the same page: it is death, it is writing, it is presence that fails that allows difference to emerge.  that allows for volition, that allows for political action, that allows for self-forming communities.

while we have been 40 years now with the philosophical/textual implications of this differance, we are only now beginning to see the movement of deconstruction or, if you prefer zizek’s terms, christianity in his radicalized sense, insitu, in operation in lives, objects, networks…

groups like the one i just came from are part of this work.  sustainability is a part of this working through.  inopperative communities without master signifiers, without hierarchy but not without imperatives, hopes, political possibilities and activated actors.  it is a series of works in progress, experiments in ‘unworking’ that we are living in a post-institutional era of institution building.

at least that, amongst other things…



In what is philosophy? on June 17, 2009 at 12:37 am

def. – capable of being sustained.

i just spent the evening in a fascinating series of conversations at Texas French Bread about slow food and sustainable cooking.

the ideas here are nothing new.  in fact, as Ben Willcot (co-owner and chef at TFB) pointed out, local cooking has been the historic trend, interrupted only recently by a 50 year experiment in agri-business.  

yet the questions and problems are age old.   take these two for example:

how not only to think sustainable lifestyles as something other than upper class entertainments, but also, how to act to make healthy local food affordable and feasible for people on all rungs of the economic ladder?

and beyond that, how to make food available to the seriously production and poverty stricken without mass suppliers like monsanto, and all the other food demons who drive prices low enough and build seeds which have been modified enough to survive in harsh climates?  (not ignoring, of course, the way these same companies heinously modify the same seeds for one season reproduction limits, etc…)

the latter question may seem too big and daunting for sustainability to take on.  yet when we start using words like moral, ethical, good and healthy to describe slow food practices, are we not inviting these bigger questions to take center stage?  

in his 2007 talk at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, Slavoj Zizek described sustainability as the next great -ism, following just after theism and communism (though not necessarily divorced from either one).  this ‘opiate of the masses’ is, for Zizek, the next utopian ideal.  broadening that, along with Zizek, I am wondering if sustainability is not simply the next step in late capitalism.  a way to consume still more, but now with a purpose, with a cause… with a warm conscience.  certainly, more than any other social issue i can remember in my short 32 years, if we combine sustainability with global climate change under the title of green living, nothing has had more impact.

yet, it isn’t as if we have had a lack of worthy causes; why, for example, hasn’t global hunger been enough to motivate us to change our eating and spending habits?  surely pictures of starving children on tv have made it clear that there is both a serious need and a way to help.  so, what about sustainability makes this cause so compelling that we are willing to restructure lives, routines, social structures to ‘get on board’ with its suggestions and mandates?  

cynically we could say that sustainability still allows us to spend and buy and consume for ourselves, whereas helping world hunger is the warm fuzzy feeling of doing good without the instant gratification of a new object or  a fresh local zucchini to prove it.

but is that critique just too easy?  doesn’t it miss the positive role that something purportedly negative, like raw consumer capitalism, can play in a world constantly up for re-vision?

but then, in our newfound generosity, could we say the same of monsanto?  do we want to?

on the productive side, there is so much to be said for sustainability.  slow food, buying, growing and greening locally has health benefits as well as economic benefits for local communities across all sectors of wealth and poverty.  it can be part of local (and national) healthcare solutions.  it can be part of local job generation.  it can be part of a life that thinks the means to its ends and lives accordingly.

as to the age old questions of food production costs, it is clear that locally and sustainably farmed food does and will cost more.  so how can we think modes of cost reduction that do not penalize the growers?  could organic food be subsidized just as corporate farming has been subsidized?  could charities be established to help fund partial costs for organic farming, making its produce available to a broader audience?  are these silly questions?  are there more fundamental food issues to be solved?  are there more important food related issues and items to the communities in question?  

in my rush to solve, i know tonight at TFB i got lost in the mire of impossible solutions, instead of importing one of slow foods’ strongest assets: slowness.  perhaps the subject and practice of sustainability allows these conversations and ideas to formulate in ways that we can manage, we can deal with, and, yes, we can even purchase and feel good about…

if that sustains something, if that sustains slowness, perhaps we aren’t too far afield after all?

revolutionary road.rash

In Love, ritual, Subjection on June 15, 2009 at 2:57 pm

revolutionary road, 2008

taken from Robert Yates first book, directed by sam mendes.

uncannily, in the last 5 minutes of the movie i did think to myself… this could have been great.

but the point is: it wasn’t.  or it was.  

or they weren’t.

but were they?


first and foremost the acting was, until the last 5 minutes, horrible.

that aside, the story line was strong.  yet this dangerous distinction between actor and script is precisely what comes up and out in revolutionary road (and if i thought mendes would go so far as to ask for intentionally bad, removed and unconvincing acting my admiration for the film would surely mount, barring that…)  here’s the recap:

frank and april.  we see them young and in love and then we see them married and miserable.  the inbetween comes later, albeit still inbetween: through flashbacks we learn that in the mid-50’s this couple moves from the city to a lovely home in the suburbs.  he commutes, she raises the (oddly mainly absent) kids.  things sour by the minute (or by the 10 minutes as this tedium is plainly tedious) as both frank and april realize they aren’t two stars on the rise who are just play acting suburban life in the meantime… they struggle with each other, their lifestyle, their positions and their hopes from within the unhappy hopelessness of hyper-domesticated, consumerist suburbia.  

the film then reads like zizek reading lacan.  franks’ manhood (the primary point of the entire screenplay) is temporarily revived by his wife’s proposal that he quit his job and, yes, ‘find himself’ while they all move to paris and she works for the state department or whatnot.  but of course, when the firm he’s been working for offers him a raise to make his father proud, frank falters, sleeps with his secretary again and uses his own wife april’s new pregnancy as a way out of the move to paris.  with bizarre and telling scenes centering on a mad truth sayer, mendes moves the film along as the not-so-latent conflicts of frank and april wheeler’s lives rise to the surface.  when frank is revealed to be less than a man and april all but accused of castration, you can almost hear lacan singing in the background.  yes, it was the 50’s, yes april was forced to live her dreams of self-actualization through her husband, and yes, she broke his balls in an attempt to find her own through him.

as the movie and another suburban husband begin to tune out, what the viewers are left to tune into is an abortion ending in death.  a marriage gone awry.  a suburban neighborhood functioning through studied exclusion.  and the question is: does mendes really want to attribute all of this to a lack in the master signifier?  

while questions about frank’s manhood litter the script, the title and the correspondingly named street setting for most of the film could allude to a larger failed struggle: that of the revolutionary against the status quo.  against property (family, house, legacy and children), april’s idealism is soon read as naïve and even crazy.  Without a model, an understandable shared name for what she was proposing, no one could make sense of her ‘resistance’ to suburbia except, temporarily, her husband.  sharing a vision, an idealogy, a politics, brought them together.  made them productive (thus the 3rd child).  brought them back to being in love.

but in the end we are left to think april was the puppet inside the dwarf.  her belief (her role as phallus) stiffened her husband’s resolve and made everything possible.  when that same husband lost his courage, or simply decided his wife’s desire was not really his own… everything fell apart.  all the love was gone, and in the end, throwing (pumping, actually) the 3rd baby out with the bath water, april tried to erase all signs of the naive revolution she had lived for and killed herself in the process.

what to make of all of this beyond the pat failings of suburban life in the 1950’s?  and what does this do to any notions of a functioning ‘as if’..?  while frank and april lived ‘as if’ change and hope were possible, change and hope did indeed occur.  they laughed, they loved, they shared a secret that said they were special, their marriage revived, franks work was inspired…  yet while i’ve toyed with the ‘as if’ via ritual as a way out of the presumptions of sincerity culture (see Adam Seligman and my previous posts here...) clearly frank’s decision to live ‘as if’ his job, his marriage and his life were enough didn’t match up to the couple’s first subjunctive vision of finding themselves in paris.

in the sublime object of ideology, zizek works through lacan, pascal and kierkegaard to think the ‘as if’ in the function of ideology.  

what we call ‘social reality’ is in the last resort an ethical construction; it is supported by a certain as if (we act as if we believe in the almightiness of bureaucracy, as if the president incarnates the will of the People, as if the Party expresses the objective interest of the working class…). as soon as belief (which, let us remind ourselves again, is definitely not to be conceived at a psychological level: it is embodied materialized, in the effective functioning of the social field) is lost, the very texture of the social field disintegrates.  zizek, the sublime object, p. 36

this is where zizek’s claim that ‘appearances matter’ takes root: as kierkegaard’s wager makes clear, the appearance of belief is belief already in operation.  there is no essential kernel of faith (hope or revolution) that can persist apart from appearances, practices, rituals… 

the only real obedience, then, is an ‘external’ one: obedience out of conviction is not real obedience…

zizek, the sublime object, p. 37

yet up against the superficiality we read back into and through the 1950’s, statements about externality and appearances (let alone obedience!) really grate against our sincere sensibilities.  aware of this, zizek writes:

what distinguishes this Pascalian ‘custom’ from insipid behaviorist wisdom (‘the content of your belief is conditioned by your factual behavior’) is the paradoxial status of a belief before belief: by following a custom, the subject believes without knowing it, so that the final conversion is merely a formal act by means of which we recognize what we have already believed.  in other words, what the behaviorist reading of Pascalian ‘custom’ misses is the crucial fact that the external custom is always a material support for the subject’s unconscious.

after taking an incredibly long way around, i would like to contend that the point zizek makes is one highly pertinent to deleuzian realist/non-realist debates: the site of the subject is external.  as jean-luc nancy states, it is exstasis, it is on the surface because there is only surface.  by this reading, by judith butler’s reading and by the work of late foucault as seen through judith butler, with the subject as surface, the wheeler’s of revolutionary road were special. they were also just like everyone else.  they are great, they were miserable.  there is no hidden sincere inner kernel to their relationship:  when it was shit it was shit, when it was loving, it was loving.  

refreshing isn’t it, to think we are what we do, rather than we are the sum of our internal sincere convictions…

hell is other people

In Friendship, Love, Subjection, what is philosophy? on May 23, 2009 at 10:24 pm

(This is, at present, the first chapter of my PhD dissertation for the European Graduate School, 2009)


Hell is other people.[1]   – Jean Paul Sartre

Before the island – and Capri will never be Patmos – there will have been a Promised Land.  How to improvise and allow oneself to be surprised in speaking of it?[2] Jacques Derrida

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”[3]Friedrich Nietzsche

You know the story – “God is Dead” and, tritely put: Without him, life is meaningless, absurd.  Everything is permissible, nothing is permitted.  In this wasteland, it’s just a short trip to the concept of hell, but I’d like to contend in what follows, that it’s a trip we rarely take.

Or it’s a trip we always take.  Or, more accurately, a trip we always takes.

If I could only back up and explain.  It’s a bit of a long story, but if you’ll ride with me (as you already are, as you already have, as we already do the moment we commit to read) perhaps we’ll find the ticket to, well… I’d like to say to hell and back but there aren’t any round trips to this sort of work.  We can’t even say its a one-way, because the very point is that one, One, has long since been dead.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  I’m getting ahead of us. 

So where were we…

Hell is other people.  – Jacques Derrida

I’m not sure if he ever said it, or wrote it, just like that.  But I would like to propose, that in many ways ‘hell is other people’ is much of what Derrida was ever writing.  I’m not talking about his style (and then I am) and I’m definitely not talking about the way he’s been read in much of analytic American annals, (if we can call that reading at all).  What I’m proposing is not even my own (as we’ll see through Kant and common sense, nothing ever is): but… what if Derrida took us all straight to hell and we still haven’t read the memo?  Or again, rather, we still hasn’t read the memo?  And now here, at this second profanation of [we] I’ll have to start explaining or you’re left to wonder whether I’m trying to make we into something more than it is.  Something more than it is.  It is.  I am.  You are.  Isn’t it interesting how being makes its way into any conversation? 

Which brings us to:

Hell is other people.  – Martin Heidegger

Well he didn’t actually say that either.  Not in that way.  Heidegger called it mit-sein.  Being-with.  We’ll get to Heidegger and his being-with in more detail in a later chapter.  For now it might be enough to say that Heidegger, Derrida’s advisor and mentor, was part of we’s undoing and far be it from me not to give Heidegger his due.  Do. Due. Debt is what we’re getting at.  Debt is what we are getting at precisely because this hell isn’t about repayment at all.  It isn’t punishment, torture or purification.  What it is, what we are, as Heidegger spells out in Being and Time, is an originary being-with, without moral judgment, though judgment itself (specifically Kant’s critique thereof) does, awkwardly, hold everything to the stake.

So once again, but never the same:

Hell is other people.  – Kevin Hart

From Heidegger’s being-with to Derrida’s being without.  In a lovely little article entitled ‘Without Derrida’ Hart, in ten short pages, takes us straight to hell in a hand basket[4].  No, not really a hand basket, and it would be a shame to call it straight, but by imposing, importing and imparting a few clever frames, Derrida takes Immanuel Kant, and all of us along with him, to hell in a hand basket.   At least that is the story I’m trying to tell. 

Onto and into that story.  It’s a story involving many characters, no author and no less than one critical slip in judgment.  It is my hope that together, we’ll find hell at the end.  For us, quite frankly, the point is that there is no other way.

So off we go:

We’ll begin at the end, with Kevin Hart & Derrida’s first visit to Yale.  Which of course brings others in its (his, their?) wake.  In other words, Derrida brings friends (more on friendship after more on mit-sein), with Kant being the first fellow in question to inaugurate the ‘we’, if you will.  And, I suppose, even if you won’t.

According to Hart: Derrida arrives at Yale in 1975 with a word: sans.  He brings it in a frame.  Or he brings it from a frame.  The truth is (to be found in painting) this frame comes in through Derrida’s recently published “Parergon” from late 1974[5].  For Hart, this frame is the frame of a portrait, the portrait of Immanuel Kant reflecting back into Derrida’s own peinture.  And of that portraiture…

Immanuel Kant.  A man of many talons and talents, we are here interested in him for the way that he and Derrida introduce an impossibly important and imported ‘we’. [6]  For Kant, the we slips in through a dis.cussion on dis.interest.  Kant calls it the ‘Analytic of the Beautiful’…  “But it is readily apparent that this is merely a mistaken confusion of words…”[7]

Kant did his best to help clarify the confusion: beauty, pleasure, desire, interest, disinterest – who but Immanuel could keep them all straight?  And straight was quite the goal.  No overlapping, no confusion and no crossings of any kind.  With everything at stake, “…the solution of this problem is key to the critique of taste, and so is worthy of all attention.”[8]  ‘Worthy of all attention?’  Has taste ever had so much (dis)interest directed its way? 


“Taste is the faculty of judging an object or a mode of representation by means of a delight or aversion apart from any interest.  The object of such a delight is called beautiful.”[9]

 You know the drill.  For Kant, for a thing to be called beautiful it must be of no interest to the one calling it such.  The dis.interested party must not be in want, in desire, in need of the thing called beautiful in anyway.[10]

“This definition of the beautiful is derivable from the foregoing definition of it as an object of delight apart from any interest.  So where anyone is conscious that his delight in an object is with him independent of interest, it is inevitable that he should judge the object as one containing a ground of delight for all human beings.  For, since the delight is not based on any inclination of the subject (or on any other deliberate interest), but the judging subject feels himself completely free in respect of the liking which he accords to the object, he can find as reason for his delight no personal conditions to which his own subjective self might alone be party.  Hence he must regard it as resting on what he may also presuppose in every other person; and therefore he must believe that he has reason for expecting a similar delight from everyone.  Accordingly he will speak of the beautiful as if beauty were a feature of the object  and the judgement were logical (forming a cognition of the object by concepts of it); although it is only aesthetic, and contains merely a reference of representation of the object to the subject; – because it still bears this resemblance to the logical judgement, that it may be presupposed to be valid for everyone. “[11]

In this long paragraph we have the onset of the Derridian/Kantian ‘we’ sneaking in with the analytic of the beautiful.  In the first place, Kant again reiterates that taste is exhibited by those who can name the beautiful, without personal interest therein.  Yet this move, were it simply a subjective preference would equate beauty with pleasure as something individual, pleasing and clearing interested.  To distinguish beauty from pleasure Kant introduces the universally subjective – that which each individual recognizes as beautiful and in recognizing it as such assumes it to be beautiful for all subjects who are without interest in the thing in question. The turn here is that the subject will “…speak of the beautiful as if beauty were a feature of the object  and the judgement were logical (forming a cognition of the object by concepts of it); although it is only aesthetic, and contains merely a reference of representation of the object to the subject;..” What evolves in this mode of thinking is common sense – the community of tasteful subjects who agree to talk about the object as if beauty was a feature of that object.  “The judgement of taste expects agreement from everyone; and a person who describes something as beautiful insists that everyone ought to give the object in question his approval and follow suit in describing it as beautiful.”[12]

 Here, at ‘ought’ we are now ready to make the leap, to Derrida, to religion and morality, to the ‘we’ we’ve been tracking all along.

Much has been made of ‘ought’ and battles over is vs ought rage in countless domains.  Yet for us, for we, Kant’s ought is the source of a critical slip both for and from Kant, from a presumed disinterest to a very clear and mounting interest.  What I mean is, ought is an imperative.  It is the force of weight, of duty, even moral obligation, applied to a given thing or idea.  But in the universe Kant has been describing to us, one of disinterested taste proclamations, there is no object, no quality of an object which could induce a moral ‘ought’ of any kind.  The reason being that the beautiful, as we noted above is simply agreed to be such by a community of agreeable taste definers.  Essentially the ought arises from this agreeable ‘we’ precisely because it cannot and must not arise from the object called beautiful in order for it to be called such.

While the beginnings of Derrida’s introduction of this impossible ‘we’ first appear in the “Parergon” (1974), Derrida again introduces this we in “Faith and Knowledge” (2002).  Clearing up what we called above a ‘“… merely a mistaken confusion of words…”[13] Derrida takes the brunt of Kant’s aesthetic critique and applies it to the realm where it has always been best suited: that of morality and religion.  Derrida begins this shift from framing to the frame with a question:

Are we ready to measure without flinching the implications and consequences of the Kantian thesis?  The latter seems strong, simple and dizzying: the Christian religion would be the only truly ‘moral religion…[14]

In the 28-year lapse between the introduction of the Kantian we in the “Parergon” and its most forceful iteration in Acts of Religion, Derrida’s readers indeed answered his question of readiness in the negative.  “Are we ready to measure…”  Perhaps we didn’t hear.  Perhaps we still can’t hear: accustomed to listening for one clear Voice in the wilderness, perhaps voices, a chorus, the chora, split even amongst themselves are something for which our ears still need tuning.   So perhaps if we hear it again:  In the lengthy quote below, Derrida applies the form of Kant’s analytic of the Beautiful to the questions of morality.  No longer are we looking at a community who must, in common sense, uphold the beauty of what is beautiful in agreement, we are now looking at how community itself again must assume the non-identity of not only the beautiful, but the good as well. As Hart writes it:

If the Kantian principle of purposiveness without purpose denies the convertibility of the transcendentals, detaching beauty from truth and the good, the Kantian philosophy of religion fastens onto the good and, severing it from divine love, refigures it as duty.  Derrida adjusts this enlightenment model by a swift and simple move, one learned by combining lessons from Hyppolite and Blanchot: the absolutely singular is no longer God but the other person, leaving both ethics and religion to function in terms of faith alone, without a vision of the good.[15]

Derrida fleshes this out this ‘swift and simple’ move in the following quote, taken from Acts of Religion:

1. In the definition of “reflecting faith” and of what binds the idea of pure morality indissolubly to Christian revelation, Kant recurs to the logic of a simple principle, that which we cited a moment ago verbatim: in order to conduct oneself in a moral manner, one must act as though God did not exist or no longer concerned himself with our salvation.  This shows who is moral and who is therefore Christian, assuming that a Christian owes it to himself to be moral: no longer turn towards God at the moment of acting in good faith; act as though God had abandoned us.  In enabling us to think (but also to suspend in theory) the existence of God, the freedom or the immortality of the soul, the union of virtue and of happiness, the concept of “postulate” of practical reason guarantees this radical dissociation and assumes ultimately rational and philosophical responsibility, the consequence here in this world, in experience, of this abandonment.  Is this not another way of saying that Christianity can only answer to its moral calling and morality, to its Christian calling if it endures in this world, in phenomenal history, the death of God, well beyond the figures of the Passion?  That Christianity is the death of God thus announced and recalled by Kant to the modernity of the Enlightenment?…

2. With regard to this logic, to its formal rigour and to its possibilities, does not Heidegger move in a different direction?…[16]

While we will deal with Heidegger in a bit, centuries past the enlightenment we are still not ready to hear about morality[17], we are still blocking the repercussions of ‘common sense.’[18] 

Yet it is this very common sense we are asked by Derrida’s Kant to hear as ‘we’.  A very different way of being together, being in common, as Hannah Arendt clearly states it:

Common sense for Kant did not mean a sense common to all of us, but strictly that sense which fits us into a community with others, makes us members of it and enables us to communicate things given by our five private senses… Common sense, by virtue of its imaginative capacity, can have present in itself all those who actually are absent.  It can think, as Kant says, in the place of everybody else, so that when somebody makes the judgment, this is beautiful, he does not mean merely to say this pleases me… but he claims assent from others because in judging he has already taken them into account and hence hopes that his judgments will carry a certain general, though perhaps not universal, validity.[19]

Hannah Arendt, positioned herself to both receive and question the repercussions of this common sense.  It is in her work that we can most clearly re-cycle to our beginning thread… And at the risk of overstating, to continue the iterations we’ve been making:

Hell is other people. – Hannah Arendt.

While Sartre depicted this condition, in “No Exit”, as group torture, I am trying to evoke something slightly more banal (though utterly outside or yes, ‘beyond good and evil’) in repeating his famous phrase.  Hell is other people: or, outside of and without God, a domain traditionally known as hell precisely for its Divine Lack, for Kant and Derrida, (as for Sartre, Heidegger and Arendt albeit differently) there is nothing more and nothing less than other people.  We.  Us.  A socially constructed group to be sure, we have invented our.selves in common sense.  As post-structuralism has amply and avidly pointed out, this constructed un.founding opens the possibility of resistance and freedom (think Judith Butler) but also reveals ‘the unbearable lightness of being’ when, as Arendt’s work points out we are all that is responsible for our own most heinous histories. 

“How strange and how frightening it suddenly appeared that the very terms we use to designate these things  “morality,” with its Latin origin, and “ethics,” with its Greek origin – should never have meant more than usages and habits.  And also that two thousand five hundred years of thought, in literature, philosophy and religion, should not have brought forth another word, notwithstanding all the highflown phrases, all assertions and preachings about the existence of a conscience which speaks with an identical voice to all men.  What had happened?  Did we finally awake from a dream?”[20]

Indeed, what has happened?  From the dream of heaven, of redemption and even now from common sense, are  ‘we’ yet awake to… simply, us?   Nothing more, nothing less?  The Kantian community of common sense, where both terms (common and sense) must be put to the question is again, as we will see in the chapters to follow, under needful redefinition on many fronts.  Yet what of this ‘we’ who might finally be ready to wake?  Are we ready yet, to hear? 

Are we?

Are we ready?

Are we yet?


[1] Sartre, Jean-Paul.  No Exit and three other plays.  Random House, New York.  1943.

[2] Derrida, Jacques.  “Faith and Knowledge,” Acts of Religion.  trans Gil Anidjar, Routledge: New York, 2002.  p 48.

[3] Nietzsche, Friedrich.  Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  Penguin Press, New York.  1978.

[4] Hart, Kevin.  “Without Derrida”…

[5] The full text can now be found in:  Derrida, Jacques.  The Truth in Painting.  University of Chicago Press, 1987.

[6] While others (Marx) might have marked the mass filled ‘we’ as political capital, subordinating community to class, and yet others (Hegel) visualized ‘we’ as the embodiment of history moving through space and time, subordinating relationality to idea, still others (Freud, Lacan) saw we as all that stands outside the individual and signifies its death/castration.  Both pre- and pro- ceding this lineage, poignantly, albeit problematically, the Derridian-Kantian ‘we’ is subordinate only to the already given death of god.  In other words, whereas ‘we’ is a hollow function or means for Marx, Hegel and psychoanalysis, we, us, relationality is the sole end of and for Derrida’s Kant. 

[7] Kant, Immanuel.  The Critique of Judgement, Oxford University Press, 2007, p.39. 

[8] Kant, Immanuel.  P.48

[9] Kant, Immanuel, p. 42

[10] Kant, Immanuel: “Only when people’s needs have been satisfied can we tell who among the crowd has taste or not.”  …p. 42

[11] Ibid, page

[12] Kant, p. 69

[13] Kant, Immanuel.  The Critique of Judgement, …p.39. 

[14] 1 Derrida, Jacques.  “Faith and Knowledge,” Acts of Religion.  trans Gil Anidjar, Routledge: New York, 2002.  p 50.

[15] Hart, Kevin.  “Without Derrida” The European Legacy.  Routledge.  Vol 12, no. 4, pp. 419-429.  2007.

[16] 2 Derrida, Jacques.  “Faith and Knowledge,” Acts of Religion.  trans Gil Anidjar, Routledge: New York, 2002. p 50-51 [brackets] mine.

[17] Think Zizek as ‘more Christian than the Christians”.  Lacanian Ink #33 talk, at Tilton Gallery, May 23rd.

[18] Think Deleuze on common sense and good sense (in “The Image of Thought” from Difference and Repetition) as stultifying blocks to the possibility of thinking. 

[19] Arendt, Hannah.  Responsibility and Judgement… p 139, 140.

[20] Arendt, Hannah.  Responsibility and Judgement,  Random House: New York, 2003.  p 50.

the capital subject is redundant

In Love, philosophy as biography, Subjection on May 10, 2009 at 12:15 pm

there was an argument of sorts yesterday.  yet i think we can agree, at least, that I was not there.

i will not be here either.  but perhaps we can say i will have been here?

honestly, now, i don’t remember the question.  i said something about a chicken.  jill stauffer says (to the chicken or the egg) …the chicken comes from the future.  in that case i was and may be again, that chicken.  we do agree, i think, that even so i’ll never know it.

repetition repetition

so today i propose to reinsert myself in and through repetition.  perhaps that was the fault?  perhaps as jean-luc marion and alain badiou contend i cannot show up if i only show up once.  maybe i(t) should be said twice: repetition. repetition.  (already preceeded by “once more, once more”..?) perhaps, however, as peter eisenmann realized when he began to sign his names and projects twice, it is an underwriting of what refuses to be underwritten… or as Derrida points out in the copyright has no insurer.

no in.surance.

so .i. re-

petition: trans. to make a request or supplication to; spec. to address a written petition to an authority in respect of a particular cause; to make a formal application to a court.  

(oxford english dictionary)

which court, which authority?  are we not already speaking of a certain sort of religion?

…however little may be known of religion in the singular, we do know that it is always a response and responsibility that it is always a response and responsibility that is prescribed, not chosen freely in an act of pure and abstractly autonomous will.  there is no doubt that it implies freedom, will and responsibility but let us try to think this; will and freedom without autonomy.  Whether it is a question of sacredness, sacrificiality or of faith, the other makes the law, the law is other: to give ourselves back, and up, to the other.  To every other and to the utterly other.

(Derrida, Jacques.  “Faith and Knowledge,” Acts of Religion.  p 71)

will and freedom without autonomy.  we know where this goes.  kant at least.  calvin most definitely.  can we escape this?  is it the ‘you’ that promises escape and what of promising?  

it hurts, but stay here with me.  i am(is) always a false promise.  i am always an outside.  a temporary convergence, you could say a binding, or even a gathering… 

Assuring oneself of a provenance of etymologies.  the best illustration would be given by the divergence concerning the two possible etymological sources of the word religio: (a) relegere, from leger (“harvest, gather”): Ciceronian tradition continued by W. Otto, J.-B Hofmann, Benveniste; (b) religare, from ligare (“to tie, bind”).  this tradition would go from lactantius and tertullian to kobbert, ernout-meillet, pauly wissowa.  in addition to the fact that etymology never provides a law and only provides material for thinking on the condition that it allows itself to be thought as well, we shall attempt later to define the implication or tendency <charge> common to the two sources of meaning thus distinguished.  beyond a case of simple synonyms, the two semantic sources perhaps overlap.  they would even repeat one another not far from what in truth would be the origin of repetition, which is to say, the division of the same.            

(Derrida, Jacques.  “Faith and Knowledge,” Acts of Religion, p. 71 bold: mine)

and of course the bold is never mine.  it isn’t derrida’s either.  and it is.  he shares it with another.  (and if i had a footnote in this format perhaps we could think jean-luc nancy’s sharing: at once a division amongst and a common between.  like sharing grapes.  but without a footnote..?  here in the body, is that possible?)

religare, relegere.  to bind and to gather.  

in the definition of “reflecting faith” and of what binds the idea of pure morality indissolubly to Christian revealation, Kant recurs to the logic of a simple principle, that which we cited a moment ago verbatim: in order to conduct oneself in a moral manner, one must act as though God did not exist or no longer concerned himself with our salvation.  

(Derrida, Jacques.  “Faith and Knowledge,” Acts of Religion, p. 51)

here i have stumbled into something perhaps i should not have seen.  an intimacy between Derrida and Zizek so profound, an intimacy that moves from profundity to surface, all surface.  

My desperate problem is how to draw, how to extract the Christian notion of redemption from this financial transaction logic.  This is what I’m desperately looking for.    (Zizek, Slavoj.  On Divine Self-Limitation and Revolutionary Love, an Interview at Syracuse University)


When Marx holds the critique of religion to be the premise of all ideology-critique, when he holds religion to be the ideology par excellence, even for the matrix of all ideology and of the very movement of fetishization, does his position not fall, whether he  would have wanted it or not, within the parergonal framework of this kind of rational criticism?  Or rather, more plausible but also more difficult to demonstrate, does he not already deconstruct the fundamentally Christian axiomatics of Kant? This could be one of our questions, the most obscure one no doubt, because it is not at all certain that the very principles of the Marxist critique do not still appeal to a hererogeneity between faith and knowledge, between practical justice and cognition.  This heterogeneity, by the way, may ultimately not be irreducible to the inspiration or to the spirit of Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone.  All the more since these figures of evil discredit, as much as the accredit, the “credit” which is the act of faith.  The exclude as much as they explain, they demand perhpas more than ever this recourse to religion, to the principle of faith, even if it is only that of a radically fiduciary form of the “reflecting faith” already mentioned. 

Derrida, Jacques.  “Faith and Knowledge,” Acts of Religion, p. 53)

996 words into this essay, this repetition, I am racking up quite a debt. but the point is that “I” is only ever a racking up, a ratcheting up of a debt that cannot be paid.  faith, credit, fiduciary terms: we are talking about promise.  unfulfillable promise.  a promise to respond, to respond.ability. this is the bottom line to any subject.  these are the terms of any subjectivity.  and this is a bank filled with empty accounts.  blank ledgers, even if not blank slates.  

given such poverty – why talk in these terms?  why speak in terms of debt or guilt, … in any of these broke.n discourses?  

perhaps that is why i can rarely speak.  i work in words to, what… nudge? invade from the inside? (didn’t deleuze call it buggery?) perhaps. i am . viral.  parasitical?  penicillin? 

insertions, injections, implosions… subjectivity, like capitalism, promises the impossible and untenable (undesirable) universal. it/they promise and project, hedging bets on markets that fall through working hands like grains of sand.silicon.sand.  the ‘as if’, the creation of smooth space proposes a life that is. elsewhere.  ‘this can’t be all that there is’.  yet if we can let capitalism run its full course, could we not let the subject do (when it already is never and exactly) the same?

safely beyond the risk of repeating myself…

In ritual, Subjection on May 6, 2009 at 7:59 pm

between fish’s review of terry eagleton’s ‘Reason, Faith and Revolution’ , larval subject’s discussion thereof yesterday and today, not to mention The Politics of Love, (with Hardt, Zizek, Westphal, Hent De Vries and others speaking) which I recently attended in Syracuse you might say we’re taking part in an a.tent.ion revival of and to all things theological.  from lacan and zizek on the neighbor, the undead, the truly terrifying in aspects of Christianity to Simon Critchley and Alain Badiou’s interests in the revolution generating potential of faiths… we are, i suppose, all on our knees… looking for an answer, or 3.

on my knees (or on my back?) as it is and as it were, i’m still working through ritual.  searching, undecided – you could call me a sunshine soldier of sorts… for today, i’m pushing on and look forward to your comments on Seligman et al’s book Ritual and its Consequences: An essay on the limits of sincerity.  

chapter 2: ‘ambiguity, ambivalence and boundaries’

first boundaries – it could be said and has been said that western civilization is fundamentally built on an ongoing extermination of its others (see: exterminate all the brutes, by sven lindqvist).  if anything, or rather, among many things, what lindqvists’ work points out is that for any communities we might hope to foster or construct or…, an awareness not only of the other but an at least more permeable and less genocidal boundary between ‘us and them’ would be the first order of business.   Seligman, et al enter this debate as follows:

…in this chapter we address those capacities of the human mind that allow the ‘as if’ world of ritual to come into being and to persist.  the ‘as if’ quality in turn allows ritual to deal with the ambiguities and ambivalence in interactions with unseen and influential beings, especially deities.  In dealing with ambiguities, ritual engages boundaries: boundaries are crossed, violated, blurred, and then, in an oscillating way, reaffirmed, reestablished, and strengthened. Among the paradoxes that attend the performance of ritual is the paradox that ritual plays out a completion, a closure that solves the problem at hand.  Yet, at the same time the very nature of the repetitiveness of ritual implicitly shows that the problem is not solved once and for all, that all is not complete and perfect.  (Ritual and It’s Consequences, p. 43)

there is much to attend to in this quote, but let’s begin with the deities, quasi-mysterious unseen and yet influential.  from here we could go in still many more directions, but to keep this within an immanent framework, i am proposing a link between these deities and Zizek’s concept of the neighbor, and/or Lacan’s Big Other, even potentially to Levinas’ ‘third’.  this is a gloss on something i’ll develop more deeply later, but when we think radical otherness, surely ‘god’ is at the top of that list.  modes of relating to that radical other that have instituted in religious contexts may (though certainly they do not necessarily) provide options for relating to the Other next door.  more needs to be done here, clearly…

too quickly, then, our next move through the above Seligman et al quote is to see the way that ritual engages boundaries.  and not simply known boundaries.  through blurring and oscillating known boundaries, incompletion arises as given and repetition echos and enhances this incompletion and openness.  weeks (months from now?) when this dissertation moves on to Derrida and iterability, this may become more (ironically) clear.

taking ritual out of its traditional background in religious practice, Seligman et al look to clinical psychoanalysis and the social sciences for examples of ritualized boundary play:  jokes, riddles, storytelling, lying, mythmaking and art are just such play-grounds at work.  recalling bed-time story time between a father and child helps layout both what is operative and what exceeds ritual in the process of boundary setting, testing and ongoing dissolution:

The little boy sits on his father’s lap, holding his favorite stuffed animal, while the father reads a story to him, the child having gone through the ritual of which book to read (it always turns out to be only one or two out of a large number of possibilities).  The father reads “Jack and the Beanstalk” and must read it the same way each time, but either father or child can make some variation if the other consents to it, usually done in a slightly teasing or playful manner.   The little boy and/or father might accentuate in  voice or gesture one or another of the characters… but it has to be in a particular way, with a particular verbal and nonverbal formula.  a videotape would show also the repertory of bodily gestures, the alternating enfoldings and then separations of the bodies of father and son, the fidgeting and touching of different body parts at different points int he story, the variations in how closely the stuffed lion is held…   (Ritual and its consequences, p. 48)

yes, it is a sweet, common enough story… but the authors’ suggestions are these:

if one were to observe and study this bedtime ritual over time, it would become clear how much is being enacted between father and son: issues of giants and little boys, tiny things that can grow big and straight and strong, little boys who can act like the father, mothers who encourage their little boy’s efforts at “manhood,” and the virtues of cleverness as a weapon of the weak…  (Ritual and its Consequences, p. 48)

ok, i can hardly stand much more of this beanstalk variety/virility… but even with the ‘point’ being…, emphasis falls here: over time the little boy learns to play his role in the story and his father’s, new rituals arise from set frames and these new rituals challenge what was ‘the only way’ before.  ambiguity and ambivalence are worked through, allowing the child to imagine himself as self and other.  

other make-believes make the scene as well.  but not all ritualizing social examples are childhood sweetness and light.  ritual and repetition often have overtones of trauma built into their mention for good reason.  freud’s fort-da begins here, but post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sexual abuse are potentially ritualizing traumas as well.  in these cases, loss and/or abuse are re-cycled through repetition compulsions, fetishizations, and both verbal and non-verbal ritualized interchange.  

as we enter these critical domains of split and fracture, i am going to pause, post and re-group.  i look forward to your feedback.


the importance of please and thank you.

In Subjection on May 4, 2009 at 1:46 pm

springing from larval subjects’ post this morning on/by Terry Eagleton’s ‘come to jesus’ (and, of course, my dissertation) i’m undertaking a close reading (translate: close writing) of Ritual and It’s Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity.

In the opening sentence of the last chapter of his new book, “Reason, Faith and Revolution,” the British critic Terry Eagleton asks, “Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God?” His answer, elaborated in prose that is alternately witty, scabrous and angry, is that the other candidates for guidance — science, reason, liberalism, capitalism — just don’t deliver what is ultimately needed.

for me, this quote just begs the question: what is ultimately needed?  and doesn’t this ‘ultimately’ already cede far too much?

guessing that ‘delivering what is ultimately needed’ means something like, for Badiou, creating the conditions for evental sites, or, for Zizek, overthrowing the money changer’s tables, i.e. making spaces for alternatives to capitalism… then Eagleton is jumping on a very large and already quite loud bandwagon.  i don’t blame him.  but i am increasingly convinced that formal, aestheticized and even radicalized Christianities such as those put forth by the abovementioned philosophers are simply a first step, when we are already on to the next riser.

enter Ritual and its Consequences, by Seligman, Weller, Puett and Simon.

Ritual: clearly a very old concept, predating monotheism, or, if you prefer, potentially pre-conscious.  As the social sciences formulate it, ritual is community building in at least one of two ways: 1) ritual order is ‘an artifice of humanity’ – think: the Confucians – designed to create social cohesion or, 2) ritual is ‘a divine construct, sent to allow humans to live properly in and even help support a divinely created order’ – think: rabbinic literature.  Concurring that both of these formulations short circuit the real strengths of ritual, Seligman, et al propose:

…ritual as a subjunctive – the creation of an order as if it were truly the case.  Or, putting it in different words, the subjunctive creates an order that is self-consciously distinct from other possible social worlds.  (Seligman, et al, p. 20)

Going back to Eagleton and the need for ‘what is ultimately needed’, Ritual and its Consequences sees Eagleton’s bet in Reason, Faith and Revolution and raises it one, proposing that it is not the nature of religion that revolutionaries (or post-marxists, if you prefer…) are seeking but a subjunctive universe, an ‘as if’, which can and does take place outside of religious frameworks.  Take the ritual courtesies of “please” and “thank you” – as Ritual writes it, with these seeming formalities,

…we are inviting our interlocutor to join us in  imagining a particular symbolic universe within which to construe our actions.  When I frame my requests with please and thank you, I am not giving a command (to pass the salt), but I am very much recognizing your agency (your ability to decline my request).  Hence, saying please and thank you communicates in a formal and invariant manner – to both of us – that we understand our interaction as the voluntary actions of free and equal individuals.  “Please” creates the illusion of equality by recognizing the other’s power to decline.  (Seligman, et al, p. 21)

Of course the ‘illusion of equality’ at first rings hollow.  Surely ‘what is ultimately needed’ is not the illusion of equality but real equality itself.  At this crux, we are faced with what will become questions of illusion which will be answered and further problematized in my dissertation on performativity, answered and further problematized in that same work on iterability, yet for now, staying close to Seligman, et al, the illusion of equality brings us near an anecdote I couldn’t have ordered if I’d tried.  This week on the F train, I overheard the following:

no, really, i can’t remember where i read it.  i think it was the new york times, or maybe, no, it was the times, i think: the point is that some people are just more comfortable lying.  they are good liars.  and you know what else – they are also really good competitive swimmers.  really, this was part of it.  they did a study and people who were good liars were also really good swimmers.  they said the correlation is that winning in swimming is, like, impossible. but the people who could lie to themselves and think they’d win actually did better and won more often.  i know, you want to see the survey sample, but still, i read it like, last week.

Between swimmers and liars, though we should very surely make a distinction between lying and illusion-ing, we are back again to the subjunctive, to the world ‘as if’ rather than the daunting unwinnable world ‘as is’.  Competitive swimmers who are good liars are able to illusion and imagine themselves into what was formerly and impossible truth.  They are able to please and thank you into a world where please and thank you is actualized: in short, the commonality between competitive swimmers and illusion is potentiality.  Or as Ritual writes it:

We argue that what constitutes society – what makes the social a sui generis entity, irreducible to any other – is precisely a shared “could be,” a mutual illusion of the sort that all rituals create.  To a great extent, this is what symbols do more than anything else: they represent a “could be”.

Echoing here is the impossible possibility of Derrida, and Zizek and Badiou’s shared injunction that only the impossible is worth doing.  Clearly Seligman, et als formulation is not free and clear, but what this work does expose is a slippage that Eagleton, Zizek, Badiou, Critchley and others may be reifying by merging the subjunctive with the religious.  We’ll keep going here, with this reading of ritual and, in this work in progress, I look forward to your feedback.

my re-Kant

In Love, resurrection, Subjection on April 26, 2009 at 10:53 am

“Only a woman could ask such an evil question,” Zizek said as he laughed and answered me during the Q & A at Tilton Gallery last Thursday.  And maybe it is true.  Had I been a man, perhaps the question wouldn’t have been evil.


Zizek spoke Thursday, in honor of the latest lacanian ink edition, on architecture.  Stating upfront that a) all he knows could by now be old hat, and b) all he hopes for may already be done… he took up the question of post-modernism, a la Frederic Jameson.  Zizek’s interest in buildings is, not surprisingly, focused on the interstitial functional spaces: the space between the walls filled with electrical wires, plumbing and cockroaches, as well as the hallway space, the bathrooms and the closets/pantries.  His dream was to see a space made only of these functionary forms exteriorized. From this brief run through his architectural musings, you can see Zizek was right on both precursory precautionary counts – all he knows of architecture is indeed old hat (his anaylses of Frank Gehry, Liebeskind, etc were standard fare) and his proposal that buildings aetheticize their functionary spaces have already been accomplished in works like the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris. But these comments are no blight – he knew, himself that the content of his talk was not his strongest suit.  

What he is keenest at, what he is known for, is the way he can take the commonplace and find the implicit ideological function within, and he was no less brilliant at this last Thursday than he usually is.  His primary point, if there is every just one point to his work, was that post-modern consumerism and capitalism have shifted through the following three stages, landing for the moment, on the last:  1) initially, consumer goods functioned toward desire fulfillment; think early capitalism as Marx saw it,  this then shifted to 2) a period where goods functioned as status symbols; think the Baby Boomer era, to finally 3) today, when goods function as experience creators; think Starbuck’s Ethos Water.  As Zizek explained, Ethos, including the name and its pseudoethical overtones, is intended not primarily to feed your thirst or to make you look savvy for shopping at Starbucks, but its point is to say: by ‘bringing water to third world peoples with each purchase’ you are buying that warm fuzzy feeling you get when ‘helping others’ while also buying, for $2.50, exoneration and forgetfulness.  Essentially you could call it an aestheticizing of goods/forms, and Zizek claims, this is precisely what you can call post-modernism.


in my last post on Zizek and Badiou, prior to last thursday’s talk but after syracuse, i wandered around in what I thought to be Zizek and Badiou’s shared aestheticization of the form of Christianity.  And here, so blatantly praising and decrying the aestheticization of form in architecture and post-modernism, respectively, Zizek of course drew my breath and made my heart almost stop: sitting 10 feet from him I knew I would need to ask if he would indeed acknowledge his own aestheticizing work as part of this P-word.

Thus the question so evil only a woman could ask it…

“Tonight you have called the aesthticization of form in architecture post-modern, and I am wondering if, by this, you would also agree that your work formalizing Christianity, thinking specifically of the Puppet and the Dwarf, and Alain Badiou’s work, in his book on St. Paul, are post-modern in that they are aiming toward form rather than content?”

To which Zizek replied, “No, you see this as an aestheticization?  My claim is that I am in fact more Christian than the christians.  I was just at a conference in Syracuse…” And instantly I knew he was right.  I had been to the talk at Syracuse and I had sloppily lumped Zizek’s work with Badiou’s in the formalism outcry.  In fact, Zizek said something, many things, both profound and radical about Christianity in that talk.  And  while I will work up the notes for another post, today I must simply re-cant, my previous post.  I stand corrected and happily so: Zizek is not after the form of Christianity but what he would call the dirty little secret that lies within: when Jesus cried out, ‘Father, Father why have you forsaken me?’ God himself became an atheist.  The (Kantian) ramifications are such that we must and do operate in a moral/ethical sphere that inverts Dostoevsky’s famous saying that ‘Without God everything is permissible,’ to say instead, something like only without God is nothing permissible – as morality must take the place of the unknowable and inaccessible absolute.  

There is much more to say here.  For now, I am simply issuing a happy re-Kant and hoping I haven’t lead too many astray.



un.content.ed forms

In Love, resurrection, Subjection on April 21, 2009 at 5:00 pm


it may be an antiquated binary, form vs content.  and while it isn’t quite fair to collude it with the mind/body distinction, it is fair to say that martin heidegger went after both in Being and Time.  dasein, being-in-the-world, the read-to-hand: you know where this is going.  as did nancy after him.  for both of these theorists form is content is form.  in nancy there is skin, there is surface and this is the very content in question as well.  ronell complicates this in crack wars posing bodies of addiction: to literature, to mind, to love… where psychoanalysis meets heidegger meets reagan era politics (not so far behind our new obsession with the mexican border) things get more complicated.

as they should be…?


form vs. content: as zizek often says, ‘i have not lost my thread.’

so zizek’s thread.  we could call it badiou’s, we could call it st. paul’s.  but what we cannot call it is revolutionary.  that’s any easy put down, but a put down is not what i have in mind.  i’m all for derrida, and now recently zizek’s call toward the impossible possibility.  what i can’t stand behind (yet..?) is the move zizek, badiou and others are making toward a formal christianity, a mode of belief in the form, not the content, of a particular religious belief.  again, this is not because i’m for the content.  it is in fact that i am for change, i am for a way of shifting out of where we are and i’m just not sure that formalism is going to be enough to drive the needed change.


the puppet and the dwarf, published in 2003.  slavoj zizek.

st. paul: the foundations of universalism, published in 2003.  alain badiou. 

the political theology of paul, published in 2003.  from lectures given in 1987.  jacob taubes.

a jewish theologian, a lacanian psychoanalyst and a post-marxist mathematician all walk into a bar…


as fast as zizek thinks, it is still probably fair to say that the puppet and the dwarf was conceived at least a year before its publication.  that puts this response (hear: responsibility in all the best ways) somewhere in 2001 and 2002. while many other significant things happened in the world in 2001, 2 actions continue to eclipse the rest of life: the 9/11 attacks and america’s invasion of iraq. in 2002 Jacques Chirac and Jean-Marie Le Pen ran for president of France.  the US created the iraq WMD threat, declared war on iraq, and, finally, froze Bin Laden’s assets.   and this is just what bubbled up to the surface.  suicide bombers went to work.  the US military complex continued to go to work.  and billboards all over the rural south continued to call people to prayer – not for peace, but for justice against the ‘evil doers’ of the world.  

nothing like the death of innocents, particularly the death of foreign muslims, to get us thinking about Christianity.


form vs. content

was it capitalism or otherwise that reared its head before and after 9-11?  what did Zizek and Badiou, among others, see in the world in 2001 and 2002 that brought them to st. paul?  ideology, certainly.  a form that was unaware of its content.  clearly.  but also a content fully in control of manipulating forms: Cheney, Rumsfeld… but then again, maybe not.  as Badiou continues to charge, capitalism is worldless, and you should hear all the echoes of Heidegger here as it is not that capitalism is otherworldly, or that it destroys cultures, but that it destroys the worlding of worlds, the environment of Dasein and mit-Dasein.  it is form without content. force without content.ment.


this is where things get strange.  within the inescapable confines of the worldless world of capitalism, Zizek and Badiou, post-marxists at least, continued to look for a way not out, but on-the-outs with capitalism.  did they need a leader?  did they need a lamp post?  what was the appeal of a jewish pharisee turned christian apostle?  

paul’s own path opens up some possibilites for thinking zizek’s appropriations: saul was  pharisee, a man of the law and the letter, a leader in stonings and persecutions of those who crossed the line.  he has a vision, a transformation ensues and saul becomes saul becomes the leader of the church of the excluded, the mouthpiece of universality  ‘there is neither  jew nor greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female…’

perfect.  in the shadow of a ‘you are for us or you are against us…’ wrapped up in market ideology and religious belief, the post-marxists find one from the inside, paul of tarsus, who is ready to wield both the sword and the pen for the cause.  the only problem is, well, of course… the cause.

i said this would get strange: during a time when religious rhetoric and christian collusions are at their peak, Zizek gets on board.  but he gets on board with a hollowed out version of christianity, one that is purely formal, one that sees a revolutionary dedicated to a cause, living and dying for that very cause… not that he agrees with that cause.  no, he just agrees with the move.  the man overturning the money changer’s tables – yes, ok, in the temple, but it could be, for zizek, anywhere.  the man who says you must hate your mother, ‘if anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-yes, even his own life-he cannot be my disciple…’ – yes, ok, for the love of God, but what is god but a universal, universality = equality… and there you  have it socialism revived as soon as we thrown out the content of both the forms that are paul and jesus.

of course, it isn’t that simple.  and zizek is well aware of the complexity: this is why we love him.

but what do we do with a form without content?  holding this up to revolutions past it is hard to see the french revolution as a move toward formal equality, and not the content thereof.  it is hard to see the american revolution as a driven by a form, but not belief.  even as i write this i am disturbed and displaced the distinction between form and content – so archaic in fact, but even if we withdraw from this divide, if we take up Nancy and Heidegger’s positions, we are even further away from the formal embraces of Zizek and Badiou’s work.


so what next?  as Susan Buck-Morss, Zizek and Badiou move toward the form of religious belief, even a specifically christian religious belief, consider this a sounding from somewhere close by, if not within.  in support, not detraction, but in earnest support – perhaps a tough love toward the above group’s dis.content.ment.  

yes, perhaps.

to cry or to mop over spilled milk…

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Hegel’s man is the type who starts off by crying over split milk (the Unhappy Consciousness confronted by the objective world).  Then he beings to ‘philosophise’ about it, and dries his eye, because he has come to know the situation as it really is.  Marx’s man will immediately point out that this is all very well, but the milk is still on the floor.  He will reach for the mop and do something about it.  Hegel’s man, however, still retains one potent defence.  he will regard the antics of his friend with an amused contempt, and point out to him how silly it is to get one’s knew dirty trying to clean the floor, when all the situation demands is a little high-level reflection.

From Marx’s Paris Writings – John MaGuire

though the floor would get muddled, we could read this with Heidegger’s ‘Letter on Humanism’ introducing not only Martin, but Jean Paul Sartre as well.  And then with Sartre, Beauvoir and already with Heidegger, Arendt.  

Sartre and Marx would mop.  Heidegger and Hegel would stand by and smirk, though hidden cameras might show the mops’ earlier arrivals via Heidegger’s hand.  Oddly, Arendt might call Zizek in, as inevitably he’d be waiting outside, pacing and wondering what Hitchcock would do with all these scenes and actors.

I’m being silly.  and then again, I’m not.  

What can be said about philosophy, about action, about thinking… now.  In a recent talk in NYC, Zizek said he was reading Lacan in order to bring the German Idealists back, knowing full well and admitting that such an action is really far more provocative, risque and risky then any of the art movements who claim to be pushing boarders and buttons in their skin bare works.  But is it really risky?  John Maguire reading Marx might say that until Zizek picks up the mop, he is all thought and no action.  Yet Marx himself, a prolific writer and theorist troubled those milky waters long before Maguire began to write about him.  

I’d like to side with Heidegger in the way he nullified the mind/body thought/action distinction.  Yet isn’t this where Heidegger’s own political alliances (with National Socialism) call us all to question? 

And isn’t the question precisely that of the nature of the call?

In a brilliant analysis of Heidegger’s understanding of the call of conscience, Avital Ronell pulls no punches: her debut text, the Telephone Book  proposes a multiplicity of splits, not of mind and body, or thought and action, but of mind and mind, and mind again.  We know this splitting as schizophrenia and her point is that the one called is never one.  The caller is never singular and someone is always on the line, be it an operator on the switch or a censor on the prowl… the caller and the called are never alone, are never only two, are never less than multiple.

what does this do to Praxis?  are we left either to smirk or to mop?  to we smirk first, and mop later?  do we smirk and find someone else to mop?  

i am asking.  i am acting.  i am asking.