northanger (northanger) wrote,
northanger
northanger

"If the big Other does not know, it is 'as good as if it were nothing'"


Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher

{44–45} Here, Zizek's elaboration of Lacan's concept of the 'big Other' is crucial. The big Other is the collective fiction, the symbolic structure, presupposed by any social field. The big Other can never be encountered in itself; instead, we only ever confront its stand-ins… One important dimension of the big Other is that it does not know everything. It is this constitutive ignorance of the big Other that allows public relations to function. Indeed, the big Other could be defined as the consumer of PR and propaganda, the virtual figure which is required to believe even when no individual can. To use one of Zizek's examples: who was it, for instance, who didn’t know that Really Existing Socialism (RES) was shabby and corrupt? Not any of the people, who were all too aware of its shortcomings; nor any of the government administrators, who couldn’t but know. No, it was the big Other who was the one deemed not to know – who wasn’t allowed to know – the quotidian reality of RES. Yet the distinction between what the big Other knows, i.e. what is officially accepted, and what is widely known and experienced by actual individuals, is very far from being 'merely' emptily formal; it is the discrepancy between the two that allows 'ordinary' social reality to function. When the illusion that the big Other did not know can no longer be maintained, the incorporeal fabric holding the social system together disintegrates. This is why Krushchev's speech in 1965, in which he 'admitted' the failings of the Soviet state, was so momentous. It is not as if anyone in the party was unaware of the atrocities and corruption carried out in its name, but Krushchev's announcement made it impossible to believe any more that the big Other was ignorant of them.

Ghosts of Substance Past: Schelling, Lacan, and the Denaturalization of Nature
from, Lacan: The Silent Partners, Edited by Slavoj Žižek
Adrian Johnston, 34-55

{34} …Given that human nature, as the specific nature with which psychoanalysis occupies itself, is shot through with non-natural influences, analysts are restricted to handling manifestations of a denaturalized nature.3 And, of course, the reason why human nature is (from an analytic perspective) invariably denaturalized is that individuals are submerged in a world of images and signifiers from their earliest beginnings onwards. What is more, Lacan repeatedly emphasizes that the big Other, as a non-natural symbolic order, precedes the birth of the individual, preparing in advance a place for him or her in a system obeying rules other than the laws of nature. Thanks to these representational mediators and their central role in the processes of subjectification, the Lacanian subject exists as a (non-)being alienated from its corporeal-material substratum.

But what allows for these Imaginary-Symbolic structures to take root in the first place? What permits them to colonize bodies, to overwrite the being of individuals and thereby denaturalize their natures? Why are these structures, often involving modifications apparently moving in directions contrary to the presumed default trajectories of the libidinal economy, not rejected by this economy in a manner analogous to failed organ transplants? An incredibly important theoretical issue of direct concern to Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalytic metapsychology is at stake here: the very conditions of possibility for the genesis of the subject, for the ontogenetic emergence of a being situated on the plane of antiphusis. One might be tempted to respond to these questions by insisting that, as far as Freud and Lacan are concerned, an external imposition, coming from an Other (whether this Other be the Freudian Oedipal family unit or the Lacanian symbolic order), is solely responsible for fashioning unnatural subjectivity out of natural animality, for transubstantiating an organic being with instincts and needs into a speaking being with drives and desires. The (symbolic) 'castration' dictated by the social-structural Umwelt is, according to this response, a transformative traumatic blow descending upon the individual from elsewhere. However, human nature must be, in its intrinsic essence, configured in such a way as to be receptive to this blow and its repercussions. In other words, it must be in the nature to be open and capable of undergoing the dynamics of denaturalization involved in the process of subjectification. A psychoanalytically influenced theory of the subject that fails to furnish a basic delineation of human nature as the precondition for the genesis of subjectivity is groundless, incapable of explaining a foundational dimension of its object of enquiry.
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{48} In Lacanian terms, one could say that the freedom of autonomous subjectivity is provided the chance briefly to emerge at those junctures where the Real and/or the Symbolic become (temporarily) barred – more specifically, when the libidinal economy and/or the big Other become internally inconsistent, unable to solidly dictate a course to be followed (when neither Trieb nor Umwelt moves with clear, directed authority due to the interference of conflictual disharmonies between or within themselves…

Alain Badiou's Theory of the Subject: The Recommencement of Dialectical Materialism?
from, Lacan: The Silent Partners, Edited by Slavoj Žižek
Bruno Bosteels, 115-168

{125} In everyday language, Althusser suggests that the unconscious and ideology are articulated as a machine and its combustible: the unconscious 'runs on' ideology just as an engine 'runs on' fuel. Ideological formations allow the unconscious, through repetition, to seize on to the lived experience of individuals.

Here we arrive at the unsolved problem of Althusser's encounter with Lacan and the combination of the latter's return to Freud with his own plea for Marx. In order to understand the historical effectivity of an event, between its blockage and its irruption, dialectical materialism had to explain how a structural cause takes hold of a specific situation, which is 'eventualized' but the effects of conjunctural change.
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{126} With the articulation of ideology and the unconscious, in any case, Althusser hits upon an exception to the rule that humanity poses itself only those problems that it is capable of solving. 'I said that there had to be some links but at the same time I forbade myself to invent them – considering that provisorily this was for me a problem without a solution, for me or perhaps not only for me,' he admits in a personal letter: 'Not every question always implies its answer.'23 Althusser's project thus seems to run aground when he is faced with the question of structure and subject. What is more, in so far as this deadlock is a result of Althusser's dialogue with the discourse of psychoanalysis, there seems to be no easy escape from this impasse by way of a return to Lacan.
- - -
The impossible, though, can sometimes happen, and the impracticable can become real.
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What I do want to signal, however, is how, through these and other personal stories, the logic of overdeterminatin has gradually become the cornerstone for a unified theoretical discourse which today constitutes one of the most powerful doctrines in all theory and philosophy. Miller lays the foundation for this combined doctrine, most clearly in 'Action of the Structure' in Cahiers pour l'Analyse:

We know two discourses of overdetermination: the Marxist one and the Freudian one. Because Louis Althusser today liberates the first from the dangerous burden, which conceives of society as the subject of history, and because Jacques Lacan had liberated the second from the interpretation of the individual as the subject of psychology – it now seems to us possible to join the two. We hold that the discourses of Marx and Freud are susceptible of communicating by means of principled transformations, and of reflecting themselves into a unitary theoretical discourse.27

Miller adds that the principal injunction behind this ambitious project could be Freud's own Wo es war, soll ich werden ('Where it was, I shall come into being') – a succinct condensation, if there ever was one, of the way substance and subject are to be articulated in the new unified theory.
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{127} Three points can be made regarding the real, the subject and ideology, which sum up the basic elements of the new doctrine of structural causality:

1. Just as the symbolic order is structured around the traumatic kernel of the real, a social field is articulated around the real of antagonism, which resists symbolization. Like the theory of relativity, the special theory of foreclosure needs to be generalized. To become consistent, not just a psychotic but any symbolic order needs to foreclose a key element which paradoxically incompletes the structure by being included out. The structure is not-all: there is always a gap, a leftoever, a remainder – or, if we change the perspective slightly, an excess, a surplus, something that sticks out. A social formation is not only overdetermined but constitutively incomplete, fissured, or barred because of the very impossibility of society which embodies itself in its symptomatic exclusions. 'There is no such thing as a sexual relationship,' declared Lacan in Encore, in a formula which Laclau and Mouffe restate, or translate, in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: 'There is no such thing as a social relationship,' or simply: 'Society doesn't exist.'32 The absence, or lack, of an organic society is, then, the point of the real of politics, but precisely by opening the field of the political, this impossible identity is also the condition of possibility of any hegemonic identification. All this may very well seem to be a supplement to the common textbook idea of structuralism as a flattening out of the social field, but in fact the logic of structural causality, which really constitutes the high point of structuralism, never reduced the effects of overdetermination to a closed economy of grid-like places and their differential relations. The aim was, rather, always to detect and encircle the uncanny element which, in the efficacy of its very absence, determines the whole structure of assigned places as such. 'The fundamental problem of all structuralism is that of the term with the double function, inasmuch as it determines the belonging of all other terms to the structure, while itself being excluded from it by the specific operation of its place-holder (its lieu-tenant, to use a concept from Lacan),' writes Badiou in his early review of Althusser describing what, even today, remains the principal task of the critique of ideology for someone like Žižek: 'Pinpoint the place occupied by the term indicating the specific exclusion, the pertinent lack, i.e., the determination or "structurality" of the structure.'33 As an absent or decentered cause, the determining instance may well have shifted in keeping with the increased attention for Lacan's later works, so that the real is now to the symbolic what the symbolic was to the imaginary before, but after all, we remain firmly within the framework of the common doctrine of structural causality. As Žižek himself concludes in The Sublime Object of Ideology: 'The paradox of the Lacanian Real, then, is that it is an entity which, although it does not exist (in the sense of "really existing", taking place in reality), has a series of properties
~~~
{164} 33. … For Žižek, however, 'the basic gesture of "structuralism" is to reduce the imaginary richness to a formal network of symbolic relations: what escapes the structuralist perspective is that this formal structure is itself tied by an umbilical cord to some radically contingent material element which, in its pure particularity, "is" the structure, embodies it. Why? Because the big Other, the symbolic order, is always barré, failed, crossed-out, mutilated, and the contingent material element embodies this internal blockage, limit, of the symbolic structure' (The Sublime Object of Ideology, p. 183).
Tags: althusser, badiou, big a, big other, capitalist realism, cr, k-punk, lacan
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