Just because people ask you for something doesn’t mean that’s what they really want you to give them.
Lacan, Seminar XIII, March 23, 1966
Can one lead a good life in a bad life? Adorno Prize Lecture
I am most honoured to be here on this occasion to receive the Adorno Prize. I would like this evening to talk to you about a question that Adorno posed, one that is still alive for us today. It is a question to which I return time and again, one that continues to make itself felt in a recurrent way. There is no easy way to answer the question, and certainly no easy way to escape its claim upon us.
If there are 2 people in this world that should get together and talk it is Molly Anne Rothenberg and Jodi Dean. Quite simply because they’re two of the most astute english speaking commentators on Žižek bar none. Dean’s presentation at the last conference on re-imagining communism proved she understands Žižek better than Žižek. But also because the acuity of their (Molly and Jodi’s) contesting (yes contesting, though not a lot contesting, hmmm a little contesting), theoretical perspectives would make for TOTAL INTRIGUE. Molly Anne Rothenberg’s scintillating book compares well to Jodi Dean’s treatment of subjective destitution and the discourse of the analyst, (see Dean’s book on Žižek’s Politics). The latter to the former, Dean to Rothenberg, is what Occupy Wall St. is to a Sunday afternoon demo in front of The Gap. Ok, I’m being a bit unfair to Molly, but only because her last chapter is so exasperating. For one thing she moves from talking about a Mobius subject (also called: the excessive subject, subject*) to a ‘neosubject’ which is confusing. Also, Rothenberg can’t quite pull off her wonderous and breathtaking “imagine yourself in a garage” analogy again, though she tries, this time in her treatment of the early Guattari, about a horse. But the horse in the stall metaphor kinda stalls. It’s Dean that could have brought Rothenberg’s last chapter to the finish line and hopefully that is not to slight the differences between them.
Ror Malone, Kareen. “Reading Desire and Tracing the Subject in Lacan and Butler: The Problem of Ethics Without Meta-Language.” Theoretical Psychology Critical Contributions. Selected Proceedings of the Ninth Biennial Conference of The International Society for Theoretical Psychology. Calgary, Alberta, Canada. June 3 – 8, 2001. Eds. Stephenson, Niamh. and H. Lorraine Radtke, René Jorna, Henderikus J. Stam. Concord: Captus Press Inc, 2003. 233-241.
From the abstract:
The “end” of meta-language refers to the necessity of crafting a more precise notion of the interactions that define the “extra-discursive,” authority, and the “reality” secured by language (e.g., norms). It is at the intersection of these dimensions that one may ascertain a form of agency that is both embedded within culture yet able to subvert or take an ethical position in relation to its norms. Language and loss the “inter-dit” in Lacanian interpretation, and Butler’s concept of rhetoricity are implicated as avenues through which one can understand the emergence of this sort of agency and ethics.
This article works basically as a primer on Lacan’s definition of the signifier: “a signifier represents a subject for another signifier” for her colleagues in various academic psychology departments who may still cling to ego-psychological notions of the subject that Lacan dismisses with his re-reading of Freud. Ror Malone makes some interesting points about the “real” in Lacan, but unfortunately, as with any articles that tries to address a diverse audience of practioners in psychology and theorists in other fields, it remains caught between two stools, one is that it is somewhat too broadly descriptive of core Lacanian concepts, only scratching the surface on the real, on the other hand it probably fails to convince the positivists in the field who have yet to grasp the novelty of Freud’s discovery at the turn of the 20th century.
After reading Molly Anne Rothenberg’s book and her critique of Foucault and Butler, I’m intrigued by this problematic of immanentism. It happens when relations take place entirely within, that is, without any causal agent developing from the outside, without being effected by an ‘outside.’
… a subject produced by morality must find his or her relation to morality. One cannot will away this paradoxical condition for moral deliberation and for the task of giving an account of oneself. Even if morality supplies a set of norms that produce a subject in his or her intelligibility, it also remains a set of norms and rules that a subject must negotiate in a living and reflective way (10).
Molly Anne Rothenberg says if the subject is produced by a morality, in what sense can it develop a relation to that morality, how can it distance itself such that it can be properly reflective of its relationship with a morality? This is the problem of immanence and why Rothenberg moves to a version of extimate causality, with its emphasis on the non-coincident subject, but unlike Foucaultian immanentism, there is a space, an opening, in the subject’s ‘non-coincidence’ that allows it recognize it’s own relationship and defensive posturing with relationship to his/her own excess and yet instead of playing a game of ‘hot potato’ instead, absorb the excess via a identification with the sinthome. Thus becoming in Rothenberg’s words (I think), a sinthomic subject. That is, a subject that takes on the place of where jouissance formerly was, now the subject [Here I am] emerges.
When Molly Anne Rothenberg states that “In Žižek’s view, the political meaning of one’s acts has nothing to do with one’s “sincerity or hypocrisy” — that is, one’s “subjective self-experience” is irrelevant to the objective truth of one’s actions.” She is pointing out a basic psychoanalytic fact that the subject is split, between the stories it tells itself at the level of conscious life, and the unconscious ‘truth’. For example Žižek in numerous lectures never tires of making this point, and somewhat irrepressibly cites as an example the movie United Flight 93. As is well known the story of United Flight 93 is about the lone plane on September 11, 2001 that did not make it to its destination. It crashed. Žižek makes the point that the calls from the plane to relatives and family all professed love. Žižek, not wanting to sound callous and cruel, voices the proper caveats before stating that those who take from these phone calls the St. Paul expression about the universality of love, how, “when the chips are down” love is all that matters. Žižek’s point being that no, this is a lie. Why? Žižek always makes the point that the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are lies. Citing the refrain he claims to have taken from the mutlicultualists (Žižek is opposed to liberal multiculturalist politics), that says, “An enemy is only someone whose story you haven’t heard.” Žižek claims that this is false and cites the example of Hitler, is this the case that he is merely and enemy because we have not heard his story. Hitler’s own story, Žižek points out (guardedly), is probably sympathetic and ‘nice’, of how he cares about the German people etc. And so to get back to United Flight 93 Žižek claim is that none of these phone calls represent a Lacanian ethical Act. So what would have been an Act? Žižek’s response is to claim that a man knowing that the plane is hurtling towards the ground and is going to crash, phones his wife and tells her, “Listen, our marriage was awful, I hate you, good-bye.” Now the larger point that has to be made is that this is part of an ongoing debate between Žižek and Judith Butler regarding her argument in Giving Account of Oneself that describes becoming fundamentally ‘undone’ by the other. Whereas Žižek would argue that one never can truly know her other (what he labels the neighbor), and this is a good thing, as it ensures, for Žižek, a modicum of distance, discreetness and impersonality that he claims is key to getting along in a human community.
To a subject of drive from a subject of desire
Instead of the subject of desire, Rothenberg argues that Žižek promotes the subject of the drive. From page 177 of her book:
Rather, the subject of the drive institutes a gap between itself and its symbolic subjective dimension. The subject’s identification with objet a re-casts it, not as a set of symbolic properties, but as connected directly to the order of objectivity. Introducing a distance towards one’s own symbolic identity puts one in a position to act in an “objective-ethical” way (OWB 182). Presumably, it is this link to the objective that makes solidarity possible. The manifold differences or symbolic properties of individuals move to the background, while each subject, as identified with the object of the drive, finds its way to the objective order, the only terrain on which meaningful change can occur. Solidarity, then, emerges not from intersubjective relations but rather from the relations of subjects purified of their symbolic identities, subjects who meet on the ground of objectivity, as objects (177).
Molly Anne Rothenberg is here slowly building up her case for the ethical component of the Möbius subject. What she takes from Žižek is this attention to drive as opposed to desire, but more importantly the notion of subjective destitution, of a subtraction from all ontic qualities and a focus on meeting on the ground of objectivity. However, Rothenberg sees this much differently from Žižek, whom she describes as not entirely clear how this formulation distances itself from fascism plain and simple.
Molly Anne Rothenberg’s chapter on Žižek, particularly her discussion of Žižek’s theory of the political Act, deserves a friendly rejoinder from Žižek himself. I get the impression Žižek didn’t read this chapter closely enough before he submitted his foreward to her book to the publisher. His foreward celebrates R’s call for retroversive causality, but it is in the name of this very concept that Rothenberg takes Žižek to task.
When Molly Anne Rothenberg in her book states the Ernesto Laclau disavows fantasy in his social theory, and which for Rothenberg, fantasy plays an important role in the social bond. Yannis Stavrakakis claims that Laclau has under-estimated the role that jouissance plays in the ways in which individuals are subjugated to dominant ideology. Hmm. Stay tuned.