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.