. . . . . . Ideology II: Competition is a Sin •

. . . . . . . . Slavoj Zizek

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How can an individual stand for the big Other? One should not think primarily of the leader-figures who directly embody/personify their community (king, president, master), but, rather, of the more mysterious figures of protectors of appearances – like a child whom his otherwise corrupted adult parents and relatives desperately try to keep in ignorance about their deprived lives, or, if a leader, then a leader for whom Potemkin’s villages are raised.

Today, it seems that appearances no longer have to be protected. We all know the innocent child from Andersen’s "The Emperors New Clothes" who publicly proclaims the fact that the emperor is naked – today, in our cynical era, such a strategy no longer works, it lost its disturbing power, since everyone is publicly saying all the time that the emperor is naked (that Western democracies are torturing terrorist suspects, that wars are fought for profit, etc. etc.), and nothing happens, nobody seems to mind, the system just goes on functioning as if the emperor has his clothes on...

When the lovers meet for the last time at the desolate train station in David Lean’s Brief Encounter, their solitude is immediately disturbed by Celia Johnson’s noisy and inquisitive friend who, unaware of the underlying tension between the couple, goes on prattling about ridiculously insignificant everyday accidents. Unable to directly communicate, the couple can just desperately stare in front of themselves. This common prattler is the big Other at its purest: while it appears as an accidental unfortunate intruder, its role is structurally necessary. When, towards the film’s end, we see this scene for the second time, accompanied by Celia Johnson’s voice-over, she tells us that she did not listen to what her friend was saying, not understanding even a word of it – however, precisely as such, this prattling provided the necessary background, a kind of safety-cushion, to the lovers’ last meeting, preventing its self-destructive explosion or, even worse, its turn into banality: the insignificant prattling has to go on in order to prevent the catastrophe, so the intruding friend arrives exactly the right moment. That is to say, on the one hand, it is this very presence of the naďve prattler which "understands nothing" of the true tension of the situation that enables the lovers to maintain a minimum of control over their predicament, since they feel compelled to "maintain the proper appearances" in front of this gaze. On the other hand, one should recall that, in a couple of words the lovers succeed exchanging in privacy prior to being interrupted, they come to the edge of confronting the unpleasant question: if they really love each other so passionately that they cannot live without each other, why don’t they simply divorce their spouses and part together? The prattler arrives just at the right moment, enabling the lovers to maintain the tragic grandeur of their predicament – without this third intruder, they would have to confront the banality and the vulgar compromise nature of their predicament. The shift to be made in a proper dialectical analysis is thus the one from the condition of impossibility to the condition of possibility: what appears as the "condition of impossibility," as the obstacle, is a position, enabling, condition to what it appears to threaten.

Two further As If’s in Brief Encounter; first, one in Roald-Dahl-style: what if Celia Johnson were all of a sudden to discover that Trevor Howard is a bachelor who concocted the story of his marriage and two children to add a melodramatic-tragic flavor to the affair, and to avoid the prospect of long-term commitment? Then, one in Bridges-of-the-Madison-County-style: what if, at the end, Celia Johnson were to discover that her husband all the time knew in all detail about the ongoing affair, just pretending not to know anything in order to safeguard the appearances and/or not to hurt, not to put additional pressure on, his wife?

When someone is in a traumatic shock, possessed by the wish just to disappear, to fall into the void, the superficial external intrusion, like someone near him going on in his prattle, is the only thing that stands between him and the abyss of self-destruction: what appears as a ridiculous intrusion is a life-saving device. So when, alone with her companion in a carriage compartment, Celia Johnson complains about the incessant prattle and even expresses the desire to kill the intruder ("I wish you would stop talking. /.../ I wish you were dead now. No, that was silly and unkind. But I wish you would stop talking."), we can well imagine what would have happened if the intruding acquaintance were effectively to stop talking: either Celia Johnson would immediately collapsed, or she would be compelled to utter a humiliating plead: "Please, just go on talking, no matter what you are saying..."

Is this unfortunate intruder not a kind of envoy of (a stand-in for) the absent husband, his representative (in the sense of Lacan’s paradoxical statement that woman is one of the Names-of-the-Father)? She intervenes at exactly the right moment to prevent the drift into self-annihilation (as in the famous scene in Vertigo where the phone rings precisely at the right moment, stopping the dangerous drift of Scottie and Madeleine into too much of erotic contact).

The husband and the prattler are effectively two aspects of one and the same entity, the big Other, the addressee of Celia Johnson’s confession. The husband is the ideal confessor, dependable, open, understanding, but the one who should not know about what is to be confessed and thus cannot be told the truth – he should be protected from truth, he is the subject supposed NOT to know: "Dear Fred. There’s so much that I want to say to you. You’re the only one in the world with the wisdom and gentleness to understand it. /…/ As it is, you are the only one in the world that I can never tell. Never, never. /.../ I don’t want you to be hurt." The prattler as the unreliable gossiping acquaintance is the wrong person at the right time and place: Celia Johnson wants to confess to her, but cannot: "I wish I could trust you. I wish you were a wise, kind friend instead of a gossiping acquaintance I’ve known casually for years and never particularly cared for."

Brief Encounter is a cult film among gays, on account of the way it recalls the atmosphere of gay couples secretly meeting in the darkness of the train stations at night; however, what if its libidinal structure is more that of a lesbian affair (in which, as we know from Lacan, the Third who guarantees it is the paternal figure)?

The supreme example of what Lacan called the "empty speech," the speech whose denotative value (explicit content) is suspended on behalf of its functioning as an index of intersubjective relations between speaker and hearer, is the Stalinist jargon, the object of the science of "Kremlinology":

Before the Soviet-era archives opened wide, foreign scholars trying to make out what had happened, and what might come to pass, took abuse for relying upon hearsay: so-and-so had heard from so-and-so, who in turn had heard from someone in the camps, who was sure that ... [insert fantastic particulars here]. Critics of such hearsay-scholarship had a point. But what few people seem to realize, even now, is that the salient issue might not be the reliability in Stalin's Soviet Union of word of mouth and political divination, but its pervasiveness. Kremlinology arose not at Harvard, but in and around the Kremlin. /.../ this was how the entire regime operated, and it was what everyone in the Soviet Union did to a degree, the more so the higher up. Amid the inter-ministerial warfare and Moebius-strip intrigues, Stalinist life and death remained opaque, no matter where you stood or whom you knew. It was at the same time formulaic and indeterminate.

In April 1939, /the nominal head of Comintern Georgi/ Dimitrov frets over his sudden omission in Pravda's coverage of one honor presidium and in Izvestiya's of another. His agitation eases when he learns that his portraits were borne aloft at the May Day parade, which quieted the ominous chitchat about him. But then it happened again. ‘For the first time on International Women's Day I was not elected to the honor presidium,’ he records on March 8, 1941. ‘That, of course, is no accident.’ Ah, but what did it mean? Dimitrov - who could scarcely have been closer to the Kremlin - was an inveterate Kremlinologist, studying Mausoleum choreography, divining omens, drowning in rumors. [1]

Another comical detail along these lines: the public prosecutor in the show trial against the "United Trotskyte-Zinovievite Centre" published a list of those that this "Centre" was planning to assassinate (Stalin, Kirov, Zhdanov…); this list became "a bizarre honor since inclusion signified proximity to Stalin." [2] Although Molotov was on good personal terms with Stalin, he was shocked to discover that he is not on the list: what did this sign mean? Just a warning from Stalin, or an indication that soon it will be his turn to be arrested? Indeed, the secret of the Egyptians were secrets also for the Egyptians themselves. It was the Stalinist Soviet Union which was the true "empire of signs."

A story told by Soviet linguist Eric Han-Pira provides a perfect example of the total semantic saturation of this "empire of signs," the semantic saturation which, precisely, relies on the emptying of direct denotative meaning. For many years, when the Soviet media announced the funeral ceremonies of a member of high Nomenklatura, used a cliché formulation: "buried on Red Square by the Kremlin wall." In the 1960s, however, because of the lack of space, most of the newly deceased dignitaries were cremated and urns with their ashes were placed in niches inside the wall itself – yet the same old cliché was used in press statements. This incongruity compelled fifteen members of the Russian Language Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences to write a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, suggesting that the phrase be modified to fit the current reality: "The urn with ashes was placed in the Kremlin wall." Several weeks later, a representative of the Central Committee phoned the Institute, informing them that the Central Committee had discussed their suggestion and decided to keep the old formulation; he gave no reasons for this decision. [3] According to the rules that regulate the Soviet "empire of signs," the CC was right: the change would not be perceived as simply registering the fact that dignitaries are now cremated and their ashes placed in the wall itself; any deviation from the standard formula would be interpreted as a sign, triggering a frenzied interpretive activity. So, since there was no message to be delivered, why change things? One may oppose to this conclusion the possibility of a simple "rational" solution: why not change the formulation and add an explanation that it means nothing, that it just registers a new reality? Such a "rational" approach totally misses the logic of the Soviet "empire of signs": since, in it, EVERYTHING has some meaning, even and ESPECIALLY a denial of meaning, such a denial would trigger an even more frantic interpretive activity – it would be read not only as a meaningful sign within a given, well established, semiotic space, but as a much stronger meta-semantic indication that the very basic rules of this semiotic space are changing, thus causing total perplexity, panic even!

It would be interesting to re-read, from this perspective, the model post-WWII Soviet textbooks on dialectical materialism, Mark Rozental’s The Marxist Dialectical Method, whose first edition appeared in Moscow in 1951. In later reprints, long passages were omitted or rewritten; however, these changes had nothing whatsoever to do with author’s further reflections on immanent philosophical problems – they are all to be read strictly in kremlinological terms, as signals of the shifts in the ideologico-political lines. The book, of course, relies on Stalin’s "systematization" of the four "main features" of dialectical method (the unity of all phenomena; the dynamic nature of reality; the permanent development of reality; the "revolutionary" nature of this development which proceeds through sudden jumps, not only through continuous gradual change), from which, significantly, the "law" of the "negation of negation" is absent. (See Stalin’s "On Dialectical and Historical Materialism.") In the subsequent edition of Rozental’s book, the description of these four "main features" subtly changes: at some point, "negation of negation" is silently readmitted, etc. etc. These changes are kremlinological signals of the shifts in ideological-political constellation, the shifts of de-Stalinization which, paradoxically, began under Stalin himself under his instigation (see his two late essays on linguistics and economy, which paved the way for recognizing the relative autonomy and independence from class struggle of – some- sciences). The fact that "negation of negation" is posited as a fundamental ontological feature of reality, which appears as a claim about the basic ontological structure of reality, has thus nothing to do with the cognition of reality and all with shifts in ideologico-political constellation.

Is then Kremlinology not a kind of obscene double of Sovietology: the latter studies the Soviet regime objectively, through sociological data, statistics, power shifts, etc., the former as an obscure semiotic system...

Till recently, traces of such semantically totally saturated space survived in the Chinese official discourse; in philosophy, they are sometimes comically combined with other features which bear witness to the "organized" and plannified character of philosophical research. I was told by a friend who visited the philosophy institute in one of (for us, Europeans) anonymous 2-4 millions Chinese cities, that, surprised, he discovered in the entrance hall a large display board, reporting on the achievements of the last 5-years-plan of philosophical research – which ontological, epistemological, aesthetic, etc. topics were clarified. So imagine a conversation with a member of this institute who, when asked about the existence of the table in front of him independently of his mind, he glibly answers: "Sorry, I cannot yet give you the definitive answers: according to our 5-years-plan, this topic will be dealt with only in 2008!"

Pierre Corneille, Medée II/6: "Souvent je ne sais quoi qu’on ne peut exprimer / Nous surprend, nous emporte et nous force d’aimer." ("Often an I-don’t-know-what which one cannot express / surprises us, takes us with it and compels us to love.") Is this not the objet petit a at its purest – on condition that one supplements it with the alternate version: "... and compels us to hate"?

On Badiou: The central problem of Parsifal is that of a ceremony (ritual): how is it possible to perform a ritual in the conditions where there is no transcendence to guarantee it? As an aesthetic spectacle?

The enigma is here: what are the limits and contours of a ceremony? Is the ceremony only that which Amfortas is unable to perform, or is part of the ceremony also the spectacle of his complaint and resistance and final acceptance to perform the ceremony? In other words, are Amfortas’ two great complaints not highly ceremonial, ritualized? Is not even the "unexpected" arrival of Parsifal to replace him (who, nonetheless, arrives just in time, i.e., in the just moment, when the tension is at its highest) part of a ritual?

Do we not find a ritual also in Tristan, in the great duet that takes most of the Act II? The long introductory part consists of the emotional rambling of the couple, and the ritual proper begins with So sterben wir um ungetrennt... with its sudden shift to a declamatory/declaratory mode – from this point on, it is no longer the two individuals who sing/talk, it is a ceremonial Other which takes over. One should always bear in mind this feature which perturbs the opposition between the domains of the Day (symbolic obligations) and the Night (endless passion): the highest point of Lust, the immersion into the Night, is itself highly ritualized, it takes the form of its opposite, of a stylizied ritual.

And is this problem of a ceremony (liturgy) not also the problem of all revolutionary processes, from the French Revolution with its spectacles of the people, to the October Revolution? Let us recall the staged performance of "Storming the Winter Palace" in Petrograd, on the third anniversary of the October Revolution, on 7 November 1920. Tens of thousands of workers, soldiers, students and artists worked round the clock, living on kasha (the tasteless wheat porridge), tea and frozen apples, and preparing the performance at the very place where the event "really took place" three years earlier; their work was coordinated by the Army officers, as well as by the avant-garde artists, musicians and directors, from Malevich to Meyerhold. Although this was acting and not "reality," the soldiers and sailors were playing themselves - many of them not only actually participated in the event of 1917, but were also simultaneously involved in the real battles of the Civil War that were raging in the near vicinity of Petrograd, a city under siege and suffering from severe shortages of food. A contemporary commented on the performance: "The future historian will record how, throughout one of the bloodiest and most brutal revolutions, all of Russia was acting"; [4] and the formalist theoretician Viktor Shklovsky noted that "some kind of elemental process is taking place where the living fabric of life is being transformed into the theatrical." [5]

Why is this liturgy necessary? Precisely because of the precedence of non-sense over sense: liturgy is the symbolic frame within which the zero-level of sense is articulated. The zero-experience of sense is not the experience of a determinate sense, but the absence of sense, more precisely: the frustrating experience of being sure that something has a sense, but not knowing what this sense is. This vague presence of a non-specific sense is sense "as such," sense at its purest – it is primary, not secondary, i.e., all determinate sense comes second, it is an attempt to fill in the oppressive presence-absence of the that-ness of sense without its what-ness. There is thus no opposition between liturgy (ceremony) and historical opening: far from being an obstacle to change, liturgy keeps the space for radical change open, insofar as it sustains the signifying non-sense which calls for new inventions of (determinate) sense.

In other words, far from being an obstacle to the living experience of meaning, the presence of such "enigmatic signifiers" which emanate unknown meaning, i.e., this very obstacle to a full transparency of meaning, is what make as given symbolic space truly alive, engaged in a passionate struggle to unearth meaning, it is the ultimate source of its vitality. Once this obstacle is eliminated (or, rather, domesticated), once we get fully accustomed to a symbolic space, so that this space loses its enigmatic opaqueness and starts to function in a totally smooth and transparent way, it in a way dies – as already Hegel knew, a system can die not only on account of external shocks that perturb its functioning, but also on account of its total "habituation": ""Human beings even die as result of habit – that is, if they have become totally habituated to life, and spiritually and physically blunted." [6]

So what about the cases – exemplarily those of a modern subject being confronted by hieroglyphs - in which the signifier of which we know that it has a meaning without knowing what this meaning is, belongs to a past civilization in which its meaning was clearly understood? In such cases (analyzed by Eric Santner), [7] enigmatic signifier is effectively not an index of vitality, but of the fact that a way of life is dead. In a powerful and perspicuous interpretive move, Santner links such experiences to Benjamin’s notion of "natural history" as re-naturalized history: it takes place when historical artifacts loose their meaningful vitality and are perceived as dead objects reclaimed by nature or, in the best case, as monuments of a past dead culture. (For Benjamin, it was in confronting such dead monuments of human history reclaimed by nature that we experience history at its purest.) The paradox here is that this re-naturalization overlaps with its opposite, with de-naturalization: since culture is for us, humans, our "second nature," since we dwell in a living culture, experiencing it as our natural habitat, the re-naturalization of cultural artifacts equals their de-naturalization: deprived of their function within a living totality of meaning, they dwell in an inter-space between nature and culture, between life and death, leading a ghost-like existence, belonging neither to nature nor to culture, appearing as something akin to the monstrosity of natural freaks, like a cow with two heads and three legs.

How, then, are we to distinguish these two modes of enigmatic signifiers: the signifiers which sustain the vitality of a symbolic space (their openness is turned towards the future, they trigger the generation of new meanings), and the signifiers which are the remainders of a dead symbolic space, i.e., whose openness is turned towards the past (they are indeterminate because we no longer know their meaning)? A Kleinian approach would, of course, identify the latter as the ruins of the lost maternal body: we all live in the ruins of the maternal body which, in its incestuous totality, is prohibited on our entrance into culture. (And does Lacan also not define the Name-of-the-Father, this enigmatic-empty signifier par excellence, as the metaphor of the desire of the mother, i.e., as the signifying substitute of the primordially lost incestuous Object?) From this perspective, the signifier of death is primordial with regard to the signifier of vitality: all our productivity turned towards the future, all our attempts to generate new meanings, is ultimately a form of appearance of its opposite, of a longing to regain the lost incestuous Thing – insofar as we dwell in culture, we effectively live among ruins, among the scattered fragments-remainders of the lost jouissance.

What if, however, this entire topic relies on a presupposition (of some lost incestuous Object that one tries to regain) which has to be abandoned? In Lacan’s theory, this abandonment has a precise name: drive. Therein resides the paradox or, rather, ambiguity of objet a: does it function as the object of desire or of drive? When we define objet a as the object which overlaps with its loss, which emerges at the very moment of its loss (so that all its fantasmatic incarnations, from breasts to voice and gaze, are metonymic figurations of the void, of nothing), we remain within the horizon of desire – the true object-cause of desire is the void filled in by its fantasmatic incarnations. While, as Lacan emphasizes, objet a is also the object of drive, the relationship is here thoroughly different: although, in both cases, the link between object and loss is crucial, in the case of objet a as the object-cause of desire, we have an object which is originally lost, which coincides with its own loss, which emerges as lost, while, in the case of objet a as the object of drive, the "object" IS DIRECTLY THE LOSS ITSELF – in the shift from desire to drive, we pass from the lost object to loss itself as an object. That is to say, the weird movement called "drive" is not driven by the "impossible" quest for the lost object; it is a push to directly enact the "loss" – the gap, cut, distance – itself. This is what Lacan means by the "satisfaction of drives": a drive does not bring satisfaction because its object is a stand-in for the Thing, but because a drive as it were turns failure into a triumph – in it, the very failure to reach its goal, the repetition of this failure, the endless circulation around the object, generates a satisfaction of its own. To put it even more pointedly, the object of drive is not related to Thing as a filler of its void: drive is literally a counter-movement to desire, it does not strive towards impossible fullness and, being forced to renounce it, gets stuck onto a partial object as its remainder – drive is quite literally the very "drive" to BREAK the All of continuity in which we are embedded, to introduce a radical imbalance into it, and the difference between drive and desire it precisely that, in desire, this cut, this fixation onto a partial object, is as it were "transcendentalized," transposed into a stand-in for the void of the Thing.

And this brings us back to Hegel: what if the lesson of the Hegelian Aufhebung is that the loss itself is to be celebrated? The fundamental operation of Aufhebung is reduction: the sublated thing survives, but in an "abridged" edition, as it were, torn out of its life-world context, reduced to its essential feature, all the movement and wealth of its life reduced to a fixated mark. It is not that, after the abstraction of Reason does its mortifying job with its fixated categories or notional determinations, the speculative "concrete universality" somehow returns us to the fresh greenness of Life: once we pass from empirical reality to its notional Aufhebung, the immediacy of Life is lost forever. There is nothing more foreign to Hegel than the lamentation of the richness of reality that gets lost when we proceed to its conceptual grasping – recall Hegel’s unambiguous celebration of the absolute power of Understanding from his Foreword to Phenomenology: "The action of separating the elements is the exercise of the force of Understanding, the most astonishing and greatest of all powers, or rather the absolute power." This celebration is in no way qualified, i.e., Hegel’s point is not that this power is nonetheless later "sublated" into a subordinate moment of the unifying totality of Reason. The problem with Understanding is rather that it does not unleash this power to the end, that it takes it as external to the thing itself - like, in the above-quoted passage from Phenomenology, the standard notion that it is merely OUR Understanding ("mind") that separates in its imagination what in "reality" belongs together, so that the Understanding’s "absolute power" is merely the power of our imagination which in no way concerns the reality of the thing so analyzed. We pass from Understanding to Reason not when this analyzing, tearing apart, is overcome in a synthesis which brings us back to the wealth of reality, but when this power of "tearing apart" is displaced from "merely our mind" into things themselves, as their inherent power of negativity.

The same mortification occurs in historical memory and monuments of the past where what survives are objects deprived of their living souls – here is Hegel’s comment apropos Ancient Greece: "The statues are now only stones from which the living soul has flown, just as the hymns are words from which belief has gone." [8] As with the passage from substantial God to Holy Spirit, the properly dialectical re-animation is to be sought in this very medium of "grey" notional determinations:

The understanding, through the form of abstract universality, does give /the varieties of the sensuous/, so to speak, a rigidity of being /.../; but, at the same time through this simplification it spiritually animates them and so sharpens them. [9]

This "simplification" is precisely what Lacan, referring to Freud, deployed as the reduction of a thing to le trait unaire (der einzige Zug, the unary feature): we are dealing with a kind of epitomization by means of which the multitude of properties is reduced to a single dominant characteristic, so that we get "a concrete shape in which one determination predominates, the others being present only in blurred outline": [10]

the content is already the actuality reduced to a possibility (zur Moeglichkeit getilgte Wirklichkeit), its immediacy overcome, the embodied shape reduced to abbreviated, simple determinations of thought. [11]

The dialectical approach is usually perceived as the one which tries to locate the phenomenon-to-be-analyzed into the totality to which it belongs, to bring to light the wealth of its links, and thus to break the spell of fetishizing abstraction: from a dialectical perspective, one should not just see the thing in front of oneself, but this thing as it is embedded in all the wealth of its concrete historical context... This, however, is the most dangerous trap to be avoided: for Hegel, the true problem is the opposite one, the fact that, when we observe a thing, we see TOO MUCH in it, we fall under the spell of the wealth of empirical details which prevents us from clearly perceiving the notional determination which forms the core of the thing. The problem is thus not the one of how to grasp all the wealth of determinations, but, precisely, the one of how to ABSTRACT from them, how to constrain our gaze and teach him to grasp only the notional determination. - Hegel’s formulation is here very precise: the reduction to the signifying "unary feature" reduces/contracts actuality to possibility, in the precise Platonic sense in which the notion (idea) of a thing always has a deontological dimension to it, designating what the thing should become in order to fully be what it is. "Potentiality" is thus not simply the name for the essence of a thing as the potentiality actualized in the multitude of empirical things of this genre (the idea of a chair is a potentiality actualized in empirical chairs). The multitude of the actual properties of a thing is not simply reduced to what the inner core of this thing’s "true reality"; what is more important is that it accentuates (profiles) the thing’s inner potential. When I call someone "my teacher," I thereby outline the horizon of what I expect from him; when I refer to a thing as "chair," I profile the way I intend to use it in my future. When I observe the world around me through the lenses of a language, I perceive its actuality through the lenses of the potentialities hidden, latently present, in it. What this means is that potentiality appears "as such," becomes actual as potentiality, only through language: it is the appellation of a thing that brings to light ("posits") its potentials.

Here a surprising link with Heidegger offers itself. In his reading of "essence" /Wesen/ as a verb ("essencing"), Heidegger provides a de-essentialized notion of essence: while, traditionally, "essence" refers to a stable core that guarantees the identity of a thing, for Heidegger, "essence" is something that depends on the historical context, on the epochal disclosure of being that occurs in/through language as the "house of being." The expression Wesen der Sprache does not means "the essence of language," but the "essencing" done by language,

language bringing things into their essence, language ‘moving us’ so that things matter to us in a particular kind of way, so that paths are made within which we can move among entities, and so that entities can bear on each other as the entities they are. /.../ We share an originary language when the world is articulated in the same style for us, when we ‘listen to language,’ when we ‘let it say its saying to us.’ [12]

For example, for a medieval Christian, the "essence" of gold resides in its incorruptibility and divine sheen, which make it a "divine" metal, while for us, it is either a flexible resource to be used for industrial purposes or the stuff appropriate for aesthetic purposes. (Or, the castrato voice was for the Catholics the very voice of angels prior to the Fall, while for us today is a monstrosity.) There is thus a fundamental violence in this "essencing" ability of language: our world is given a partial twist, it loses its balanced innocence, one partial color gives the tone of the Whole The operation designated by Laclau as that of hegemony is inherent to language.

So when, in his Logique des mondes, in order to designate the moment of pure subjective decision/choice which stabilizes a world, Badiou proposes the concept of "point" as a simple decision in a situation reduced to a choice of Yes or No, he implicitly refers to Lacan’s point de capition, of course – and does this not implicate that there is no "world" outside language, no world whose horizon of meaning is not determined by a symbolic order? The passage to truth is therefore the passage from language ("the limits of my language are the limits of my world") to LETTER, to "mathemes" which run diagonally across a multitude of worlds. The postmodern relativism is precisely the thought of the irreducible multitude of worlds each of them sustained by a specific language-game, so that each world "is" the narrative its members are telling themselves about themselves, with no shared terrain, no common language between them; and the problem of truth is how to establish something that, to refer to terms popular in modal logic, remains the same in all possible worlds.


[1] Stephen Kotkin, "A Conspiracy So Immense", The New Republic Online, 02.13.06.

[2] Simon Montefiore, Stalin. The Court of the Red Tsar, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 2003, p. 168.

[3] Alexei Yurchak’s wonderful Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More, Princeton: Princeton University Press 2006, p. 52.

[4] Susan Buck-Morss, Dreamworld and Catastrophe, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002, p. 144.

[5] ibid

[6] G.W.F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, Par. 151, Addition

[7] Eric Santner, On Creaturely Life, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2006.

[8] G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, p. 455.

[9] G.W.F. Hegel, Science of Logic, p. 611.

[10] G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, p. 17.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Mark Wrathall, How to Read Heidegger, NYC: W.W. Norton, 2006, p. 94-95.

Slavoj Zizek's Bibliography

Slavoj Zizek's Chronology

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