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

.........Slavoj Zizek

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And what is a Chorus? You will be told that it's you yourselves. Or perhaps that it isn't you. But that's not the point. Means are involved here, emotional means. In my view, the Chorus is people who are moved.
Therefore, look closely before telling yourself that emotions are engaged in this purification. They are engaged, along with others, when at the end they have to be pacified by some artifice or other. But that doesn't mean to say that they are directly engaged. On the one hand, they no doubt are, and you are there in the form of a material to be made use of; on the other hand, that material is also completely indifferent. When you go to the theatre in the evening, you are preoccupied by the affairs of the day, by the pen that you lost, by the check that you will have to sign the next day. You shouldn't give yourselves too much credit. Your emotions are taken charge of by the healthy order displayed on the stage. The Chorus takes care of them. The emotional commentary is done for you. [1]

Although the scene described here by Lacan is a very common one - people at a theatre enjoying the performance of a Greek tragedy - his reading of it makes it clear that something strange is going on: it is as if some figure of the other - in this case, the Chorus - can take over from us and experience for us our innermost and most spontaneous feelings and attitudes, inclusive of crying and laughing. In some societies, the same role is played by so-called "weepers" (women hired to cry at funerals): they can do the spectacle of morning for the relatives of the deceased, who can dedicate his time to more profitable endeavors (like taking care of how to split the inheritance). Similarly in the Tibetan praying wheels, I put a piece of paper with the prayer written on it into the wheel, turn it around mechanically (or, even more practically, let the wind turn it around), and the wheel is praying for me - as the Stalinists would have put it, "objectively" I am praying, even if my thoughts are occupied with the most obscene sexual fantasies. To dispel the illusion that such things can only happen in "primitive" societies, think about the canned laughter on a TV-screen (the reaction of laughter to a comic scene which is included into the soundtrack itself): even if I do not laugh, but simply stare at the screen, tired after a hard days work, I nonetheless feel relieved after the show, as if the TV did the laughing for me.

To grasp properly this strange process, one should supplement the fashionable notion of interactivity, with its uncanny double, interpassivity. [2] It is commonplace to emphasize how, with new electronic media, the passive consumption of a text or a work of art is over: I no longer merely stare at the screen, I increasingly interact with it, entering into a dialogic relationship with it (from choosing the programs, through participating in debates in a Virtual Community, to directly determining the outcome of the plot in so-called "interactive narratives"). Those who praise the democratic potential of new media, generally focus on precisely these features: on how cyberspace opens up the possibility for the large majority of people to break out of the role of the passive observer following the spectacle staged by others, and to participate actively not only in the spectacle, but more and more in establishing the rules of the spectacle.

The other side of this interactivity is interpassivity. The obverse of interacting with the object (instead of just passively following the show) is the situation in which the object itself takes from me, deprives me of, my own passivity, so that it is the object itself which enjoys the show instead of me, relieving me of the duty to enjoy myself. Almost every VCR aficionado who compulsively records movies (myself among them), is well aware that the immediate effect of owning a VCR is that one effectively watches less films than in the good old days of a simple TV set. One never has time for TV, so, instead of losing a precious evening, one simply tapes the film and stores it for a future viewing (for which, of course, there is almost never time). Although I do not actually watch the films, the very awareness that the films I love are stored in my video library gives me a profound satisfaction and, occasionally, enables me to simply relax and indulge in the exquisite art of far'niente - as if the VCR is in a way watching them for me, in my place. VCR stands here for the big Other, the medium of symbolic registration. It seems that, today, even pornography functions more and more in an interpassive way: X-rated movies are no longer primarily the means destined to excite the user for his (or her) solitary masturbatory activity - just staring at the screen where "the action takes place" is sufficient, it is enough for me to observe how others enjoy in the place of me.

Another example of interpassivity: we all know the embarrassing scene in which a person tells a tasteless bad joke and then, when nobody around him laughs, himself burst out into a noisy laughter, repeating "That was funny!" or something similar, that is to say, acts out himself the expected reaction of the public. The situation here is similar, but nonetheless different, from that of canned laughter: the agent which laughs instead of us (i.e., through whom we, the bored and embarrassed public, nonetheless laugh), is not the anonymous big Other of the invisible artificial public, but the narrator of the joke himself. His compulsive laughter is similar to the sounds like "Oops!" which we feel obliged to utter when we stumble or do something stupid. The mystery of this last case is that it is also possible for another person who merely witnesses our blunder to say "Oops!" for us, and it works. The function of the "Oops!" is to enact the symbolic registration of the stupid stumbling: the virtual big Other has to be informed about it. Recall the typical tricky situation in which all the people in a closed group know some dirty detail (and they also know that all others know it), but when one of them inadvertently blurts out this detail, they nonetheless all feel embarrassed - why? If no one learned anything new, why do all feel embarrassed? Because they can no longer pretend that (act as if) they do not know it - in other words, because, now, the big Other knows it. Therein resides the lesson of Hans Christian Andersen's "Emperor's New Clothes": one should never underestimate the power of appearances. Sometimes, when we inadvertently disturb the appearances, the thing itself behind appearances also falls apart.

This interpassivity is the opposite of Hegel's notion of List der Vernunft (cunning of Reason), where I am active through the other: I can remain passive, sitting comfortably in the background, while the Other does it for me. Instead of hitting the metal with a hammer, the machine can do it for me, instead of turning the mill myself, water can do it: I achieve my goal by way of interposing between me and the object on which I work another natural object. The same can happen at the interpersonal level: instead of directly attacking my enemy, I instigate a fight between him and another person, so that I can comfortably observe the two of them destroying each other. (This is how, for Hegel, the absolute Idea reigns throughout history. It remains outside of the conflict, letting human passions do the work for it in their mutual struggles. The historical necessity of the passage from republic to empire in the ancient Rome realized itself by using as its instrument Julius Caesar's passions and ambitions.) In the case of interpassivity, on the contrary, I am passive through the other: I concede to the other the passive aspect (enjoying) of my experience, while I can remain actively engaged (I can continue to work in the evening, while the VCR passively enjoys for me; I can make financial arrangements for the deceased's fortune while the weepers mourn for me). This brings us to the notion of false activity: people not only act in order to change something, they can also act in order to prevent something from happening, so that nothing will change. Therein resides the typical strategy of the obsessional neurotic: he is frantically active in order to prevent the real thing from happening. Say, in a group situation in which some tension threatens to explode, the obsessional talks all the time in order to prevent the awkward moment of silence which would compel the participants to openly confront the underlying tension. In psychoanalytic treatment, obsessional neurotics talk constantly, overflowing the analyst with anecdotes, dreams, insights: their incessant activity is sustained by the underlying fear that, if they stop talking for a moment, the analyst will ask them the question that truly matters - in other words, they talk in order to keep the analyst immobile.

Even in much of today's progressive politics, the danger is not passivity, but pseudo-activity, the urge to be active and to participate. People intervene all the time, attempting to "do something," academics participate in meaningless debates; the truly difficult thing is to step back and to withdraw from it. Those in power often prefer even a critical participation to silence - just to engage us in a dialogue, to make it sure that our ominous passivity is broken. Against such an interpassive mode in which we are active all the time to make sure that nothing will really change, the first truly critical step is to withdraw into passivity and to refuse to participate. This first step clears the ground for a true activity, for an act that will effectively change the coordinates of the constellation.

Something akin to this false activity is encountered in the Protestant notion of Predestination. The paradox of Predestination is that the theology which claims that our fate is determined in advance and that our redemption does not depend on our acts, served as the legitimization of capitalism, the social system which triggered the most frantic productive activity in the history of humanity. The very fact that things are decided in advance - that our attitude to Fate is that of a passive victim - instigates us to engage ourselves in incessant frenetic activity. We act all the time in order to sustain the big Other's (in this case: God's) fixity.

Such a displacement of our most intimate feelings and attitudes to some figure of the Other is at the very core of Lacan's notion of big Other; it can affect not only feelings but also beliefs and knowledge - the Other can also believe and know for me. In order to designate this displacement of the subject's knowledge onto another, Lacan coined the notion of the subject supposed to know. In the TV-series Columbo, the crime - the act of murder - is shown in detail in advance, so that the enigma to be resolved is not that of whodunit?, but of how the detective will establish the link between the deceitful surface (the "manifest content" of the crime scene, to use the term from Freud's theory of dreams) and the truth about the crime (its "latent thought"): how he will prove to the culprit his or her guilt. The success of Columbo attests to the fact that the true source of interest in the detective's work is the process of deciphering itself, not its result. Even more crucial than this feature is the fact that not only do we, the spectators, know in advance who did it (since we directly see it), but, inexplicably, the detective Columbo himself immediately knows it: the moment he visits the scene of the crime and encounters the culprit, he is absolutely certain, he simply knows that the culprit did it. His subsequent efforts do not concern the enigma "who did it?", but how he should prove this to the culprit. This strange reversal of the normal order has theological connotations: in an authentic religious belief, I first believe in God and then, on the ground of my belief, become susceptible to the proofs of the truth of my faith; here also, Columbo first knows with a mysterious, but nonetheless absolutely infallible certainty, who did it, and then, on the basis of this inexplicable knowledge, proceeds to gather proofs.

In a slightly different way, this is how the psychoanalyst as the "subject supposed to know" functions in the treatment: once the patient is engaged in the treatment, he has the same absolute certainty that the analyst knows his secret (which only means that the patient is a priori "guilty" of hiding a secret, that there is a secret meaning to be drawn from his acts). The analyst is not an empiricist, probing the patient with different hypotheses, searching for proofs; instead, he embodies the absolute certainty (which Lacan compares with the certainty of Descartes' cogito ergo sum) of the patient's unconscious desire. For Lacan, this strange transposition of what I already know in my unconscious onto the figure of the analyst is at the core of the phenomenon of transference in the treatment: I can only arrive at the unconscious meaning of my symptoms if I presuppose that the analyst already knows their meaning. The difference between Freud and Lacan is that, while Freud focused on the psychic dynamics of transference as an intersubjective relationship (the patient transfers onto the figure of the analyst his feelings about his father, so that when he seems to talk about the analyst, he 'really' talks about his father), Lacan extrapolated from the empirical wealth of transferential phenomena the formal structure of the presupposed meaning.

The more general rule that transference exemplifies is that, often, the invention of some new content can only occur in the illusory form of returning to the past original truth. To go back to Protestantism, Luther accomplished the greatest revolution in the history of Christianity thinking that he was merely unearthing the truth obfuscated by centuries of Catholic degeneration. The same goes for the national revival: when ethnic groups constitute themselves as nation-states, they as a rule formulate this constitution as the "retrieval of the ancient and forgotten ethnic roots". What they are not aware of is how their 'return to' constitutes the very object to which it returns: in the very act of returning to tradition, they are inventing it. As every historian knows, Scottish kilts (in the form they are known today) were invented in the course of the 19th century.

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. [3] 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. Are we not doing the same with our children? We go through the ritual of Santa Claus, since our children (are supposed to) believe in it and we do not want to disappoint them; they pretend to believe not to disappoint us and our belief in their naivety (and to get presents, of course). Is this need to find another who "really believes," also not that which propels us in our need to stigmatize the other as a religious or ethnic fundamentalist? In an uncanny way, some beliefs always seem to function at a distance: in order for the belief to function, there has to be some ultimate guarantor of it, some true believer, yet this guarantor is always deferred, displaced, never present in persona. How, then, is belief possible? How is this vicious cycle of deferred belief cut short? The point, of course, is that, for the belief to be operative, the subject who directly believes needs not to exist at all: it is enough precisely to presuppose his existence, to believe in it, either in the guise of the mythological founding figure who is not part of our reality, or in the guise of the impersonal "one" ("one believes...").

This, at least, seems to be the predominant status of beliefs today, in our era that claims for itself the title "post-ideological." Niels Bohr, who already aptly answered Einstein's 'God doesn't play dice' ('Don't tell God what to do!'), also provided the perfect example of how a fetishist disavowal of belief works in ideology: seeing a horse-shoe on his door, the surprised visitor said that he doesn't believe in the superstition that it brings luck, to which Bohr snapped back: 'I also do not believe in it; I have it there because I was told that it works also if one does not believe in it!' Perhaps, this is why "culture" is emerging as the central life-world category. With regard to religion, we no longer 'really believe', we just follow (some of the) religious rituals and mores as part of the respect for the 'life-style' of the community to which we belong (non-believing Jews obeying kosher rules 'out of respect for tradition'). 'I do not really believe in it, it is just part of my culture' seems to be the predominant mode of the displaced belief, characteristic of our times. "Culture" is the name for all those things we practice without really believing in them, without taking them quite seriously. This is why we dismiss fundamentalist believers as 'barbarians', as anti-cultural, as a threat to culture - they dare to take seriously their beliefs.

It may seem that we are dealing here with the phenomenon described long ago by Blaise Pascal in his advice to non-believers who would like to believe, but cannot bring themselves to accomplish the leap of faith: "Kneal down, pray, act as if you believe, and belief will come by itself." Or, as Alcoholics Anonymous put it today more succinctly: 'Fake it until you make it.' Today, however, in our fidelity to a cultural life-style, we prefer to turn the Pascalean logic around: "You believe too much, too directly? You find your belief too oppressing in its raw immediacy? Then kneel down, act as if you believe, and you will get rid of your belief - you will no longer have to believe yourself, since your belief will be objectified in your act of praying!" That is to say, what if one kneels down and prays not so much to regain one's own belief but, on the opposite, to get rid of one's beliefs, of their over-proximity, to acquire a breathing space of a minimal distance towards them? To believe - to believe directly, without the mediation of a ritual - is a heavy oppressive burden which, happily, through exerting a ritual, one has a chance of transferring onto another. [4]

This brings us to the next feature of the symbolic order: its non-psychological character. When I believe through another or have my beliefs externalized in the ritual I mechanically follow, when I laugh the TV set emanating canned laughter or do the work of mourning through weepers, I accomplish a task concerning my inner feelings and beliefs without really mobilizing these inner states. Therein resides the enigmatic status of what we call "politeness": when, upon meeting an acquaintance, I say "Glad to see you! How are you today?", it is clear to both of us that, in a way, I do not mean it seriously (if my acquaintance suspects that I am really interested, he may even be unpleasantly surprised, as though I were aiming at something too intimate and of no concern to me - or, to paraphrase the old Freudian joke, "Why are you saying you're glad to see me, when you're really glad to see me?"). However, it would nonetheless be wrong to designate my act as hypocritical, since, in another way, I do mean it: the polite exchange does establish a kind of pact between the two of us; in the same sense as I do "sincerely" laugh through the canned laughter (the proof of it being the fact that I effectively do feel relieved afterwards).

What this means is that the emotions I perform through the mask (false persona) that I adopt can in a strange way be more authentic and truthful than what I really feel in myself. When I construct a false image of myself which stands for me in a virtual community in which I participate (in sexual games, for example, a shy man often assumes the screen persona of an attractive promiscuous woman), the emotions I feel and feign as part of my screen persona are not simply false: although (what I experience as) my true self does not feel them, they are nonetheless in a sense true. Say, what if, deep in myself, I am a sadist pervert who dreams of beating other men and raping women; in my real-life interaction with other people, I am not allowed to enact this true self, so I adopt a more humble and polite persona - is it not that, in this case, my true self is much closer to what I adopt as a fictional screen-persona, while the self of my real-life interactions is a mask concealing the violence of my true self? Paradoxically, it is the very fact that I am aware that, in cyberspace, I move within a fiction, which allows me to express in it my true self - this is what, among other things, Lacan means when he claims that "truth has the structure of a fiction." These coordinates allow us to delineate succinctly what is false in the reality TV shows: the "real life" we get in them is as real as decaf coffee. In short, even if these shows are "for real," people still act in them - they simply play themselves. The standard disclaimer in a novel ("characters in this text are a fiction, every resemblance with the real life characters is purely contingent") holds also for the participants of the reality soaps: what we see there are fictional characters, even if they play themselves for the real. The best comment on reality TV is the ironic version of this disclaimer recently used by a Slovene author: "All characters in the following narrative are fictional, not real - but so are the characters of most of the people I know in real life, so this disclaimer doesn't amount to much..."

In one of the Marx brothers' films, Groucho, when caught in a lie, answers angrily: "Whom do you believe, your eyes or my words?" This apparently absurd logic renders perfectly the functioning of the symbolic order in which the symbolic mask matters more than the direct reality of the individual who wears this mask. This functioning involves the structure of what Freud called "fetishist disavowal": "I know very well that things are the way I see them, that the person in front of me is a corrupted weakling, but I nonetheless treat him respectfully, since he wears the insignia of a judge, so that when he speaks, it is the law itself which speaks through him". So, in a way, I effectively believe his words, not my eyes. This is where the cynic who believes only hard facts falls short: when a judge speaks, there is in a way more truth in his words (the words of the institution of law) than in the direct reality of the person of judge; if one limits oneself to what one sees, one simply misses the point. This paradox is what Lacan aims at with his les non-dupes errent (those in the know err): those who do not let themselves be caught in the symbolic fiction and continue to believe their eyes only are the ones who err most. What a cynic who believes only his eyes misses is the efficiency of the symbolic fiction, the way this fiction structures our reality. A corrupted priest who preaches about goodness may be a hypocrite, but if people endow his words with the authority of the church, they may instigate them to perform good deeds.

This gap between my direct psychological identity and my symbolic identity (the symbolic mask or title I wear, defining what I am for and in the big Other) is what Lacan (for complex reasons that we can here ignore) calls "symbolic castration," with the phallus as its signifier. [5] Why is phallus for Lacan a signifier and not simply the organ of insemination? In the traditional rituals of investiture, the objects which symbolize power also put the subject who acquires them into the position of exercising power - if a king holds in his hands the scepter and wears the crown, his words will be taken as the words of a king. Such insignia are external, not part of my nature: I don them; I wear them in order to exert power. As such, they "castrate" me, by introducing a gap between what I immediately am and the function that I exercise (i.e., I am never fully at the level of my function). This is what the infamous "symbolic castration" means: the castration which occurs by the very fact of me being caught in the symbolic order, assuming a symbolic mask or title. Castration is the gap between what I immediately am and the symbolic title which confers on me a certain status and authority. In this precise sense, far from being the opposite of power, it is synonymous with power; it is that which confers power on me. So one has to think of the phallus not as the organ which immediately expresses the vital force of my being, but, as such an insignia, as a mask which I put on in the same way a king or judge puts on his insignia - phallus is a kind of organ without a body which I put on, which gets attached to my body, without ever becoming its organic part, forever sticking out as its incoherent, excessive supplement.

Because of this gap, the subject cannot ever fully and immediately identify with his symbolic mask or title; the subject's questioning of his symbolic title is what hysteria [6] is about: "Why am I what you're saying that I am?" Or, to quote Shakespeare's Juliet: "Why am I that name?" There is a truth in the wordplay between "hysteria" and "historia": the subject's symbolic identity is always historically determined, dependent upon a specific ideological constellation. We are dealing here with what Louis Althusser called "ideological interpellation": the symbolic identity conferred on us is the result of the way the ruling ideology "interpellates" us - as citizens, democrats or Christians. Hysteria emerges when a subject starts to question or to feel discomfort in his or her symbolic identity: "You say I am your beloved - what is there in me that makes me that? What do you see in me that causes you to desire me in that way?" Richard II is Shakespeare's ultimate play about hystericization (in contrast to Hamlet, the ultimate play about obsessionalization). Its topic is the progressive questioning by the King of his own "kingness" - what is it that makes me a king? What remains of me if the symbolic title "king" is taken away from me?

I have no name, no title,
No, not that name was given me at the font,
But 'tis usurp'd: alack the heavy day,
That I have worn so many winters out,
And know not now what name to call myself!
O that I were a mockery king of snow,
Standing before the sun of Bolingbroke,
To melt myself away in water-drops!

In the Slovene translation, the second line is rendered as: "Why am I what I am?" Although this clearly involves too much poetic license, it does render adequately the gist of it: deprived of its symbolic titles, Richard's identity melts like that of a snow king under sun rays.

The problem for the hysteric is how to distinguish what he or she is (his true desire) from what others see and desire in him or her. This brings us to another of Lacan's formulas, that "man's desire is the other's desire." For Lacan, the fundamental impasse of human desire is that it is the other's desire in both subjective and objective genitive: desire for the other, desire to be desired by the other, and, especially, desire for what the other desires. Envy and resentment are a constitutive component of human desire, as already Augustin knew it so well - recall the passage from his Confessions, often quoted by Lacan, which describes a baby jealous of his brother sucking the mother's breast: "I myself have seen and known an infant to be jealous though it could not speak. It became pale, and cast bitter looks on its foster-brother." Based on this insight, Jean-Pierre Dupuy [7] proposed a convincing critique of John Rawls theory of justice: in the Rawls' model of a just society, social inequalities are tolerated only insofar as they also help those at the bottom of the social ladder, and insofar as they are not based on inherited hierarchies, but on natural inequalities, which are considered contingent, not merits. [8] What Rawls doesn't see is how such a society would create conditions for an uncontrolled explosion of resentment: in it, I would know that my lower status is fully justified, and would be deprived of excusing my failure as the result of social injustice.

Rawls proposes a terrifying model of a society in which hierarchy is directly legitimized in natural properties, missing the simple lesson of an anecdote about a Slovene peasant who is told by a good witch: "I will do to you whatever you want, but I warn you, I will do it to your neighbor twice!" The peasant, with a cunning smile, asks her: "Take one of my eyes!" No wonder that even today's conservatives are ready to endorse Rawls's notion of justice: in December 2005, David Cameron, the newly elected leader of the British Conservatives, signaled his intention to turn the Conservative Party into a defender of the underprivileged, declaring how "I think the test of all our policies should be: what does it do for the people who have the least, the people on the bottom rung of the ladder." Even Friedrich Hayek [9]

Lacan shares with Nietzsche and Freud the idea that justice as equality is founded on envy: the envy of the other who has what we do not have, and who enjoys it. The demand for justice is ultimately the demand that the excessive enjoyment of the other should be curtailed, so that everyone's access to enjoyment will be equal. The necessary outcome of this demand, of course, is ascetism: since it is not possible to impose equal enjoyment, what one can impose is the equally shared prohibition. However, one should not forget that today, in our allegedly permissive society, this ascetism assumes precisely the form of its opposite, of the generalized injunction "Enjoy!". We are all under the spell of this injunction, with the outcome that our enjoyment is more hindered than ever - recall the yuppie who combines Narcissistic Self-Fulfillment with utter ascetic discipline of jogging and eating health food. This, perhaps, is what Nietzsche had in mind with his notion of the Last Man - it is only today that we can really discern the contours of the Last Man, in the guise of the predominant hedonistic ascetism. In today's market, we find a whole series of products deprived of their malignant property: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol... and the list goes on. What about virtual sex as sex without sex, the Colin Powell doctrine of warfare with no casualties (on our side, of course) as warfare without warfare, the contemporary redefinition of politics as the art of expert administration as politics without politics, up to today's tolerant liberal multiculturalism as an experience of Other deprived of its Otherness (the idealized Other who dances fascinating dances and has an ecologically sound holistic approach to reality, while features like wife beating remain out of sight)? Virtual reality simply generalizes this procedure of offering a product deprived of its substance: it provides reality itself deprived of its substance, of the resisting hard kernel of the Real - in the same way decaffeinated coffee smells and tastes like real coffee without being the real one, Virtual Reality is experienced as reality without being one. Everything is permitted, you can enjoy everything - on condition that it is deprived of the substance which makes it dangerous.

Jenny Holzer's famous truism "Protect me from what I want" renders in a very precise way the fundamental ambiguity of the hysterical position. It can either be read as an ironic reference to the standard male chauvinist wisdom that a woman, when left to herself, gets caught in the self-destructive fury, so that she must be protected from herself by the benevolent male domination: "Protect me from the excessive self-destructive desire in me that I myself am not able to dominate." Or it can be read in a more radical way, as pointing towards the fact that in today's patriarchal society, woman's desire is radically alienated, that she desires what men expect her to desire, that she desires to be desired by men. In this case, "Protect me from what I want" means "What I want, precisely when I seem to formulate my authentic innermost longing, is already imposed on me by the patriarchal order that tells me what to desire, so the first condition of my liberation is that I break up the vicious cycle of my alienated desire and learn to formulate my desire in an autonomous way." Was not this same ambiguity clearly discernible in the way the Western liberal gaze related to the Balkan war in the early 1990s? In a first approach, the Western intervention may seem to answer the implicit call of the Balkan nations "Protect us from what we want!" - from our self-destructive passions that led to ethnic cleansing and gang rapes. What, however, if we read the imagined Balkan call "Protect us from what we want!" in the opposed, second way? To accept fully this inconsistency of our desire, to accept fully that it is desire itself which sabotages its own liberation, is Lacan's bitter lesson.

This brings us back to the subject supposed to know, who is the hysteric's ultimate Other, the target of his or her constant provocations. What the hysteric expects from the subject supposed to know is to provide the solution that would resolve the hysterical deadlock, the final answer to "Who am I? What do I really want?" This is the trap the analyst has to avoid: although, in the course of the treatment, he occupies the place of the one who is supposed to know, his entire strategy is to undermine this place and to make the patient aware that there is no guarantee for one's desire in the big Other.


[1] Jacques Lacan, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, p. 247.

[2] I rely here on Robert Pfaller, Illusionen der Anderen, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 2003.

[3] Michel de Certeau, "What We Do When We Believe," in On Signs, ed. by Marshall Blonsky, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP 1985, p. 200.

[4] The same goes for marriage: the implicit presupposition (or, rather, injunction) of the ideology of marriage is that, precisely, there should be no love in it. The Pascalean formula of marriage is therefore not "You don't love your partner? Then marry him or her, go through the ritual of shared life, and love will emerge by itself!", but, on the contrary: "Are you too much in love with somebody? Then get married, ritualize your love relationship, in order to cure yourself of the excessive passionate attachment, to replace it with the boring daily custom - and if you cannot resist the passion's temptation, there are extra-marital affairs..."

[5] "Signifier" is a technical term which Lacan uses in a very precise way: it is not simply the material aspect of a sign (as opposed to "signified," its meaning), but a feature, a mark, which represents the subject: I am what I am through signifiers which represent me, signifiers constitute my symbolic identity.

[6] Lacan identifies hysteria with neurosis: the other main form of neurosis, obsessional neurosis, is for him a "dialect of hysteria".

[7] Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Avions-nous oublié le mal? Penser la politique après le 11 septembre, Paris: Bayard 2002.

[8] John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Cambridge (Ma): Harvard University Press 1971 (revised edition 1999).

[9] Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1994.

Jacques Lacan's Bibliography in English

Jacques-Alain Miller's Bibliography in English

Slavoj Zizek's Bibliography

Slavoj Zizek's Chronology

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