Nov 2007

How to Read Lacan
1. Introduction - Bibliography

by SLAVOJ ZIZEK

Lacan started his “return to Freud” with the linguistic reading of the entire psychoanalytic edifice, encapsulated by what is perhaps his single best known formula: “the unconscious is structured as a language.” The predominant perception of the unconscious is that it is the domain of irrational drives, something opposed to the rational conscious self. For Lacan, this notion of the unconscious belongs to the Romantic Lebensphilosophie (philosophy of life) and has nothing to do with Freud.
Lacan himself conferred on Jacques-Alain Miller the task to edit his seminars for publication, designating him as “the (only) one who knows to read me” - in this, he was right: Miller’s numerous writings and his own seminars are by far the best introduction to Lacan. Miller accomplishes the miracle of rendering an obscure page from ecrits completely transparent, so that one is left wondering “how is it that I did not get it myself?”


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How to Read Lacan
2. Empty Gestures and Performatives: Lacan Confronts the CIA Plot

by SLAVOJ ZIZEK

The big Other operates at a symbolic level. What, then, is this symbolic order composed of? When we speak (or listen, for that matter), we never merely interact with others; our speech activity is grounded on our accepting of and relying on a complex network of rules and other kinds of presuppositions. First, there are the grammatical rules I have to master blindly and spontaneously: if I were to bear in mind all the time these rules, my speech would come to a halt. Then there is the background of participating in the same life-world which enables me and my partner in conversation to understand each other. The rules that I follow are marked by a deep split: there are rules (and meanings) that I follow blindly, out of custom, but of which, upon reflection, I can become at least partially aware (such as common grammatical rules), and there are rules that I follow, meanings that haunt me, unbeknownst to me (such as unconscious prohibitions). Then there are rules and meanings I am aware of, but have to act on the outside as if I am not aware of them - dirty or obscene innuendos which one passes over in silence in order to maintain the proper appearances.

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How to Read Lacan
3. The Interpassive Subject: Lacan Turns a Prayer Wheel

by SLAVOJ ZIZEK

What many readers of Lacan fail to notice is how the figure of the subject supposed to know is a secondary phenomenon, an exception, something that emerges against the more fundamental background of the subject supposed to believe, which is the constitutive feature of the symbolic order. According to a well-known anthropological anecdote, the primitives to whom one attributed certain superstitious beliefs (that they descend from a fish or from a bird, for example), when directly asked about these beliefs, answered "Of course not - I'm not that stupid! But I was told that some of our ancestors effectively did believe that...". In short, they transferred their belief onto another.

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How to Read Lacan
4. From Che vuoi? to Fantasy: Lacan with Eyes Wide Shut

by SLAVOJ ZIZEK

Divinity: is what we call "God" not the big Other personified, addressing us as a larger-than-life person, a subject beyond all subjects? In a similar way, we talk about History asking something of us, of our Cause calling us to make the necessary sacrifice. What we get here is an uncanny subject who is not simply another human being, but the Third, the subject who stands above the interaction of real human individuals - and the terrifying enigma is, of course, what does this impenetrable subject want from us (theology refers to this dimension as that of Deus absconditus). For Lacan, we do not have to evoke God to get a taste of this abyssal dimension; it is present in every human being.

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How to Read Lacan
5. Troubles with the Real: Lacan as Viewer of Alien

by SLAVOJ ZIZEK

The conclusion to be drawn is that the Lacanian Real is a much more complex category than the idea of a fixed trans-historical "hard core" that forever eludes symbolization; it has nothing to do with what Immanuel Kant called the "Thing-in-itself," reality the way it is out there, independently of us, prior to being distorted by our perceptions: "/.../ this notion is not at all Kantian. I even insist on this. If there is a notion of the real, it is extremely complex and, because of this, incomprehensible, it cannot be comprehended in a way that would make an All out of it." How, then, are we to find our way and to introduce some clarity into this conundrum of the Reals? Let us begin with Freud's dream on Irma's injection, selected by him to open his magnum opus The Interpretation of Dreams.

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How to Read Lacan
6. Ego Ideal and Superego: Lacan as Viewer of Casablanca

by SLAVOJ ZIZEK

"Nothing forces anyone to enjoy except the superego. The superego is the imperative of jouissance - Enjoy!"
Although jouissance
can be translated as "enjoyment," translators of Lacan often leave it in French in order to render palpable its excessive, properly traumatic character: we are not dealing with simple pleasures, but with a violent intrusion that brings more pain than pleasure. This is how we usually perceive the Freudian superego, the cruel and sadistic ethical agency which bombards us with impossible demands and then gleefully observes our failure to meet them. No wonder, then, that Lacan posited an equation between jouissance and superego: to enjoy is not a matter of following one's spontaneous tendencies; it is rather something we do as a kind of weird and twisted ethical duty.

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How to Read Lacan
7. "God is Dead, but He Doesn't Know It": Lacan Plays with Bobok

by SLAVOJ ZIZEK

Traditionally, psychoanalysis was expected to allow the patient to overcome the obstacles which prevented him/her the access to normal sexual satisfaction: if you are not able to "get it," go to the analyst who will enable you to get rid of your inhibitions. Today, however, we are bombarded from all sides by different versions of the injunction "Enjoy!", from direct enjoyment in sexual performance to enjoyment in professional achievement or in spiritual awakening. Jouissance today effectively functions as a strange ethical duty: individuals feel guilty not for violating moral inhibitions by way of engaging in illicit pleasures, but for not being able to enjoy. In this situation, psychoanalysis is the only discourse in which you are allowed not to enjoy - not prohibited to enjoy, but just relieved of the pressure to enjoy.

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How to Read Lacan
8. The Perverse Subject of Politics: Lacan as a Reader of Mohammad Bouyeri

by SLAVOJ ZIZEK

For Lacan, a pervert is not defined by the content of what he is doing (his weird sexual practices). Perversion, at its most fundamental, resides in the formal structure of how the pervert relates to truth and speech. The pervert claims direct access to some figure of the big Other (from God or history to the desire of his partner), so that, dispelling all the ambiguity of language, he is able to act directly as the instrument of the big Other's will. In this sense, both Osama bin Laden and President Bush, although politically opponents, share the structures of a pervert. They both act upon the presupposition that their acts are directly ordered and guided by divine will.

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Woman is One of the Names-of-the-Father
or How Not to Misread Lacan's Formulas of Sexuation


zizwoman

by SLAVOJ ZIZEK

The usual way of misreading Lacan's formulas of sexuation 1 is to reduce the difference of the masculine and the feminine side to the two formulas that define the masculine position, as if masculine is the universal phallic function and feminine the exception, the excess, the surplus that eludes the grasp of the phallic function. Such a reading completely misses Lacan's point, which is that this very position of the Woman as exception-say, in the guise of the Lady in courtly love-is a masculine fantasy par excellence. As the exemplary case of the exception constitutive of the phallic function, one usually mentions the fantasmatic, obscene figure of the primordial father-jouisseur who was not encumbered by any prohibition and was as such able fully to enjoy all women. Does, however, the figure of the Lady in courtly love not fully fit these determinations of the primordial father? Is she not also a capricious Master who wants it all, i.e., who, herself not bound by any Law, charges her knight-servant with arbitrary and outrageous ordeals?

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Lacan: at What Point is He Hegelian?

by SLAVOJ ZIZEK

It is only after clarifying the relationship between the Hegelian dialectic and the logic of the signifier that one is in the position to situate the 'Hegelianism' in Lacan. Let us take the three successive stages of the progression of the concept of the Symbolic in Lacan.

The first stage, that of 'The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis', places the accent on the intersubjective dimension of speech: speech as the medium of the intersubjective recognition of desire. The predominant themes in this stage are symbolization as historicization and symbolic realization: symptoms, traumas, are the blank, empty, non-historicizable spaces of the subject's symbolic universe.

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The Most Sublime of Hysterics: Hegel with Lacan

by SLAVOJ ZIZEK

Let us be precise: it is not a matter of understanding the link between the failure of the act and its symbolization by reducing it to an alleged 'imaginary compensation' ('when the act, the effective intervention into reality, fails, one attempts to make up for this loss by a symbolic compensation, in keeping with the deeper meaning of such events') - for example, when the powerless victim of natural forces divinizes them, understands them as personified spiritual forces ... In such a rapid passage from the act to its 'deeper meaning', we miss the intermediate articulation which is the essence of its symbolization: the very moment of defeat, before it is redeemed by an 'imaginary compensation' and one obtains a 'deeper meaning', becomes in itself a positive gesture, a moment that would be denned by the distinction between the Symbolic in the strict sense and what one calls 'symbolic signification', or simply the symbolic order.

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Connections of the Freudian Field to Philosophy and Popular Culture

by SLAVOJ ZIZEK

It's not an accident that (and I'm reasoning in a very naive way here) those political systems that cling to the fantasy in the sense of some harmonious society - for example, in Nazism, of a 'community ; of the people', etc., or, in Stalinism, building 'new men', a new harmonious socialist society - in order to maintain this fantasy, had, at | the same time, to develop to the extreme the other fantasy: obsession with the Jewish blood, obsession with traitors, with what the other is doing, etc. So what is crucial, I think, is that the fantasy is necessarily split in this way. I am tempted to say that with fantasy it is almost the way it is with ideology: there are always two fantasies.

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Kant and Sade: the Ideal Couple

by SLAVOJ ZIZEK

Of all the couples in the history of modern thought (Freud and Lacan, Marx and Lenin...), Kant and Sade is perhaps the most problematic: the statement "Kant is Sade" is the "infinite judgement" of modern ethics, positing the sign of equation between the two radical opposites, i.e. asserting that the sublime disinterested ethical attitude is somehow identical to, or overlaps with, the unrestrained indulgence in pleasurable violence. A lot-everything, perhaps-is at stake here: is there a line from Kantian formalist ethics to the cold-blooded Auschwitz killing machine? Are concentration camps and killing and genocides as a neutral business the inherent outcome of the enlightened insistence on the autonomy of Reason? Is there at least a legitimate lineage from Sade to Fascist torturing, as is implied by Pasolini's film version of Saló, which transposes it into the dark days of Mussolini's Saló republic? Lacan developed this link first in his Seminar on The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, and then in the Écrits "Kant with Sade" of 1963.

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