Notes on: Zizek S (2004) Organs Without Bodies, London: Routledge.

Dave Harris

I haven’t taken detailed notes on this tome, so this is what I think as well as what I think Zizek thinks. I had my own major purpose in wanting to oppose the 'anarcho-desiring' readings. The notes are a bit muddled and repetitive as I have revisited the discussion several times.

Is not Zizek one of the more irritating writers with his endless scholarly questions? A Slovak Socrates? Does it not get right on your tits, especially when the sentence is so long that you get surprised by the question mark at the end and have to go back to the start to remind yourself what the question actually was? And is not the freewheeling discussion of modern brain science, architecture, film and classical philosophy, on the most familiar terms, as if we all knew what the fark he was on about, that combination of erudition and mystification, refuge in obfuscating detail, elitism and populism, so characteristic of the modern semi-detached celebrity intellectual?

The clever philosophical bit, which is largely inaccessible to me except for occasional glimpses of some parts of it, argues that Deleuze has not broken with or effectively criticized Hegel and Lacan, despite his claims. Indeed Zizek persistently denies Deleuze's particularity, constantly rewords him in more familiar terms -- even marxist ones -- and illustrates his points with mundane examples from films.  Roughly, the argument seems to be that the Deleuzian emphasis on flow and process misunderstands both as opponents of flow -- Deleuze (eventually) mistakenly says Hegel reifies through letting matter freeze the flow of Spirit, while Lacan sees desire as always attached to objects which implies desire as a lack. Deleuze is then left having to explain how flows actually do manifest themselves and how we know that concrete realities are really examples of flow. Apparently he takes from Leibniz and Spinoza the idea of immediate , as unmediated, understanding. This also means he cannot be critical of any actual manifestations or knowledges though (see below) -- this is why he can be taken as defending digital capitalism even though he would not want that at all. Better is Lacan's notion of organs as the concrete manifesters and knowers, so to speak, which were seen all along as operating machinically (in Seminar XI, apparently) .  We should translate this as  organs traversing the open matter of bodies seeking objects -- organs without bodies (OWB) not BWO.

Lots of the other ideas are old hat too, apparently. This is partly because, the book begins by arguing, that Deleuze, and maybe all philosophical commentators (tactically) misunderstand the people they are reading. This happens because the context of writing is very different and we have learned new things since our heroes wrote. It is also the case that it is actually very difficult completely to break out of the major philosophical frameworks, any more than particular modernities can escape the overwhelmingly role of capitalist modernity. [You can invert bits of capitalist modernity but not break with it – and all that Althusserian stuff]. A misunderstanding might be a tactical move to try to escape. Zizek is not vulgar enough to also suggest it is a wise career move to dethrone those who are central to the academic canon and its institutionalization in university careers but, after a simplification of Bourdieu, I am (for what that is worth).

The ‘organ without a body’ par excellence is the Lacanian phallus, apparently. Zizek says that the phallus is an abstract symbol of power, like the sceptre of a king. Possessing it means to exercise a power regardless of the actual person (or body) that you happen to be. Incidentally, ‘symbolic castration’ for Lacan also means the opposite of what is usually thought – the separation of the phallus from the body means entry into the symbolic order. You gain power, but at the expense of the sort of impersonality we just talked about.

In terms of politics, the argument goes like this.  Deleuze is right to distinguish between the virtual and the actual, and to reject all the normal connections between the two levels.  However, he is then systematically ambiguous about which one comes first, as it were.  Even DeLanda shows this ambiguity.  The first connection, perhaps the easiest one to understand, is that actuality is understood as frozen, coagulated, or reified virtuality, but there is a second one as well, which works the other way around, so that it is the virtual that is produced out of the actual.  In particular, the issue turns on what produces multiplicities, and DeLanda argues that there must be some causal mechanism.  In this sense, multiplicities are 'incorporeal effects of corporeal causes'[Zizek 23, quoting DeLanda].  These mysterious incorporeal causes are quasi causality.  Thus at the virtual level, we find pure capacities to be affected in the multiplicities, produced by a pure capacity to affect.

Deleuze tries to manage the difference between the virtual and the actual using another couple, the opposition between production and representation, with the virtual as the productive forces [Zizek blames the influence of Guattari].  The Deleuze before the collaboration with Guattari saw the major issues of ontology as the split between the virtual (the BwO, the flows of intensity, the singularities and the fibres) and the actual multiplicities of recognizable things like human subjects. This ontology, Zizek argues, is politically indifferent – there is no political commentary on good or bad forms of objectivity or subjectivity, just an account of the origins of objectivity and subjectivity. Incidentally, says Zizek, this is why Deleuze likes cinema – it ‘“liberates” gaze, images, movement and ultimately time itself from their attribution to a given subject’ (20). In the Logic of Sense, multiplicities are causally sterile, and we can see this in the discussion of cinema as pointing to the sterile flow of images, produced by material causes.  [And so we can criticize these representations, but the production mechanisms are neutral?].  Deleuze has to decide whether events are simply produced by the flow of becoming, or whether they are the result of 'positive bodily identities'[like modes of production or social classes?].  This in turn leads to a problem of how we might explain these bodies and their relation to the virtual field.

Zizek says that Deleuze needs to juggle like this to avoid reductionism [the example is the emergence of Italian neorealism which not only has empirical causes like world war two, but displays an 'excess', something which is caused to emerge as an event, and this is the quasi cause.  Quasi causes supplement normal causes, at a second or meta level, as an excess found in effects, which exceeds their normal causes [as in emergence].  In turn, these should be understood as 'pure, transcendental, capacities to affect' (24).  The two approaches are not alternatives, or dualities, but relate together.  Nonsense produces the autonomy of sense.  Zizek argues here that this is exactly what the pure signifier without signified does, the phallic for Lacan.

The thing is that Deleuze favours the reification approach, extending it to be applied to the objectivist illusion of reality, and this manages the apparently more neutral readings, the result of the virtual process of becoming.  In the essays on immanence, becoming is seen as some vitalist principle.  Zizek wants to oppose to this notion the idea of a meaningless series of processes, described only by mathematics, 'the meaningless Real…  the vast infinite coldness of the Void', a multiplicity without being reduced to any purposeful One.  In favouring reification, Deleuze gives more than he wants to acknowledge to Marxist notions, and we can, for critical purposes, translate the virtual and the actual into superstructure and infrastructure, with all the familiar dilemmas about political implications which follow.  Marx's own discussion on revolutionary enthusiasm implies that we should see this as occupying a place in the virtual, as 'the emancipatory imaginary, as a dream waiting to be realized', again an excess over the actual political events. 

This notion of an excess actually is quite important in subsequent discussions.  For one thing, it is the only way of breaking the apparently insuperable logical link between causes and effects: if causes are sufficient, we can see them as somehow anticipating effects, and this completely screws up the normal notion of causes proceeding effects.  Indeed, it is impossible to separate causes and effects logically either [I assume the distinction between sufficient and necessary causes is one way of trying to do this].  However, if we have excesses introduced by some metacause, this helps us see how effects can display emergent properties: we can still retain the notion of tight causality or materialism by thinking of two types of causes [although I can see difficulties explaining how they are related].  The same argument helps us to explain how anything new can emerge in a strictly materialist or causal analysis.  Rancière picks this up in his own critique of Marxist materialism.  In dialectical materialism, it is only the side of ideas that can generate anything new, at least until the Revolution happens and that shakes up the dice again.

On a more mundane level, the problem for materialists is that they have to bring in some additional level of argument or analysis if they are to explain anything new, or indeed advocate anything new in the form of politics. Ranciere says this is why Marx turned to the arts, and it is also Guattari's strategy of exploring other semiotic systems, including the asignifying, in order to develop transversal links.  The reason that science can sometimes also produce something new is because the excesses generated by the metacause can sometimes take the form of cognitive resources, permitting a reflection back on the mundane causes and how they work.  This has long been a theme, says Zizek, in things like Kantian philosophy, where we are caused to do things, but we have this additional capacity to reflect on those causes, and choose between them to some extent.  This must be the sort of novelty that is generated by the diagram or the abstract machine in Guattari: these can act autonomously to provide new objects and new thoughts in consciousness.

What this amounts to is that a politically engaged Deleuze, like earlier Marxists, has to decide how deterministic material factors are.  He rejects tightly deterministic mechanical materialism, and dialectical materialism as an interweaving of material and idealistic elements.  What he is left with is the problem of managing the excess provided by the superstructure.  He cannot then operate simply at the level of the superstructure, in making political choices, because he wants to insist that there is still a level of real struggle behind the shadowy forms.  He does not want to retain materialism as a fallback position, in case politics go wrong, and sees his analysis as necessary to understand real, full materialism, not the mechanical type, but there are clearly 'two different political logics and practices' that emerge.  The productive notion of becoming produces all the left wing stuff about molecular groups undermining molar strata , and multitudes opposing the System.  The more neutral approach looks apolitical, although Zizek thinks there is a political programme too, even if Deleuze was not aware of it.

Deleuze is teased a bit for his flirtation with becoming-machine, I recall. Zizek points out the devastating implications for recent work on brains and computers that suggests that we are likely to have to face the fact that everything we hold to be human really is a function of brain chemistry. Presumably, our efforts to become machines will seem nostalgic rather than daringly experimental and exploratory, implying that there was once something non-machinic in human being all along – a soul? Apart from anything else, our prized capacity for making ethical decisions would evaporate.

So where do the radical politics of Anti Oedipus and Empire come from. Not from personal conviction – ‘not a single one of Deleuze’s own texts is in any way directly [weasel] political; Deleuze “in himself” is a highly elitist author, indifferent towards politics’ (20). Deleuze turned towards Guattari, who was political, because his philosophy had bumped into an impasse or deadlock [only a deadlock for a public intellectual I still think] . Zizek says he is not the only one and mentions Habermas’s escape from the dead end in 'Hotel Despond' of Dialectic of the Enlightenment by among other things, identifying some contradictions and signs of hope – Zizek mentions the split between instrumental and communicative reason, but there is also the turn towards the ideal speech act as the basis for emancipation.

In Deleuze’s case, he was able to break the deadlock by equating the split between virtual and actual with the more traditional split between production and representation. This leads to the politics of representation – the multiple and flowing productive forces are (mis)represented as, say the Oedipal triangle. Deleuze tried to suggest both splits are involved in the difference between being and becoming ‘although they are fundamentally incompatible’ (20). For Zizek, production occurs as a process from the virtual to the actual. [For my money, this is always undertheorised by philosophers because it needs some sort of sociological account of production as it actually is, rather than as some ideal universal human accomplishment? It strikes me that this is the residual idealism of Negri et al (although I haven’t read much yet) –desire turns somehow into politics, yet this is as tricky and complex a process as class consciousness turning into class politics in classical Marxism. I think this is what Zizek is saying is the problem with Empire – see below. He later offers Lenin’s critique of ‘production’ in a philosophical sense needing to be complemented by a thorough materialist analysis of ‘collectively organized experience having a social basis’, 22]. Guattari’s politics seemed to break the deadlock, hence the collaboration. Ironically, Zizek says, modern quantum physics preserves the value of the first logic – the virtual-actual one – since it shows how matter really does appear from immaterial actions, and means we do not now have to accept the prime reality of the human body [I think, although serious ethical and other problems lurk as above].

The dilemma appears in philosophical form in DeLanda, apparently, in terms of the discussion of the ‘sense-event’. This represents the technical philosophy, where generative processes at the virtual level produce effects – but these are inherently neutral (or ‘sterile and impassive’ for DeLanda). On the other hand actual ‘positive’ sensible (and political) beings are also produced by combinations of intensities.

The dilemma or aporia or something philosophical is akin to the one identified with Habermas (by Bubner  I think) – you cannot combine a Kantian critique (on the emergence of knowledge as such from certain conditions) with an Hegelian one (on the domination of certain ideas and knowledges in an actual historical period). So if you are explaining how knowledge arises from general human interests, this will not help you argue why one interest is dominating the others – you need some extra level of (political or social) analysis to do that, not abstract philosophy alone. Or -- to analyze German fascism as an interesting possibility arising from human creativity, or as a mere discourse is to miss out a rather important sociological and political dimension: how come it proved popular enough to lead people to genocide? Why wasn’t philosophical critique of the vacuity and reifying tendencies of the ideas of ‘blood’ and ‘soil’ enough to stop it? I think this is the general figure behind my overall view that philosophers should not just equate or identify their ideas with politics, although so many of them are tempted to do so, and I have another go with it below.

I’d like to think that, in my own way, I had sniffed out something like this in Anti-Oedipus myself. I was, and still am, puzzled by becoming. On the one hand it seems that a singularity is responsible (recognized eventually in mathematical form as an abstract machine): on the other desire is responsible via a desiring machine. Are they the same or is there some kind of human exception being argued here? The same goes for becoming-animal in A Thousand Plateaus. It is an ontological possibility if I have understood it correctly, not a mere metaphor D&G tell us – you come down off your plateau or stratum, get back to the bwo and sidle along it to a zone of proximity until you share components etc. Only humans do this though – no animals try to become-human. Is this just because humans have some accidental combination of dimensions that produce the necessary reflexivity etc? Or is reflexivity something special, maybe even something Hegelian (which maybe Zizek is arguing), where we uniquely become conscious of our nature etc.?

Of course, the whole thing is only really a problem for philosophers who think there should be no contradictions or shifts of perspective between the different stages, or no significant ones. Admitting the limits of ontology would mean abandoning the really interesting political problems to other academic specialisms. Since the whole point is to use ontology to colonise these other disciplines, the game would be up.

Then at last we get to it. Deleuze is the ‘ideologist of digital capitalism’ (184) [actually, in the cautious hesitant prose of Zizek, we would be justified in calling him that]. The general way in which this works seems to be that what Deleuze thinks is daring and avant-garde has become routinized in capitalism – flows and rhizomes describe the routine global flows of capital (or credit) from one tax haven to another; the virtual has become actualized as the Web; Capital is the ‘concrete universal’ (185) setting the tone for all the other concretes; portfolio careers and serial lifestyles are the nomadic subjectivity that once seemed so important; pornography shows us bodies as partial objects or intensities connected by a general desiring machine; kids experience real becoming-machine when they play with toy transformers; surfers know all about inserting themselves into the flow. Although he never intended it that way, Deleuze ends up dignifying the spread of electronic finance capitalism, which can now argue, if it could be bothered, that it is somehow in the forefront of some marvellous philosophically-sanctioned process of ‘becoming’, that it is interested in liberation from old constraints, and so on.  As Chiapello and Fairclough’s analysis of modern management ‘justificatory regimes’ notes:


[modern managers claim to inhabit] a world that is organized by networks which are connectionist and reticular in nature.... Life is conceived as a series of projects, the more they differ from one another, the more valuable they are. What is relevant is to be always pursuing some sort of activity, never to be without a project, without ideas, to be always looking forward to, and preparing for, something along with other persons, who are brought together by the drive for activity (Chiapello and Fairclough,  2002, p.191)


 This is no different from the way in which ordinary people must grasp philosophy, or ordinary Protestants must grasp Calvinist theology, I argued in another section, as a popular version of an impossible doctrine.

For me this is typically what happens to philosophers. They acquire popular opinions from other intellectuals, journalists and the like, then work on them in the abstract, feeding them through philosophical ‘methods’ of various kinds. This pursues a kind of idealist critique, winnowing out poorly-formulated statements, residual logical contradictions and implausible claims, connecting arguments with those of earlier authorities, but not a real one. The resulting abstraction is then ‘applied’ to the real world (as it must be if philosophy is not to become an entirely private scholastic dispute but must take a public form, as in France) – and – it fits! [This is a garbled version of what Adorno means by ‘identity thinking’, but it is also based on Colletti’s classic commentary on the young Marx: this is how Hegel came to accommodate his philosophy to the Prussian State as embodying some ideal, rather than showing the grubby effects of power struggles and class interests and the rest].

Anyway, off we go with Zizek to explore the implications of revolutionary reservoirs of desire. They look awfully like fascism, Zizek says, conceived early on [eg in critical theory] as about emotions rather than rational arguments. Incidentally, Deleuze sees far too much as fascism or as lots of little fascisms, as some eternal tendency – Zizek belongs to those who see German fascism as a particular conjuncture or articulation [big debate among marxists about this]? The trouble with revolutionary energies when released is that they are good at clearing the decks, but no good at the mundane business of creating alternatives.

Negri and Hardt are attacked like this. What would the multitude actually do when it decapitated capitalism? Indeed, could it ever summon up a practical programme to decapitate capitalism or is that not the idea anyway? The argument reminds me of the ‘stamocap’ line in European (briefly parliamentary) marxism of the 1970s. Since the State had merged with monopoly capitalism, it had left everyone out –we all now had a common material interest in demolishing stamocap. This led to lots of enthusiasm for new social movements and unconventional politics like Greenery. The problem was merely to somehow unite all these single-interest groups into one broad front movement. At one stage, the schoolmasterly gramscian, Stuart Hall, thought people like him might be able to offer the right sort of leadership and do the necessary work of ‘articulating’ a common programme [fat chance!]. Negri and Hardt face the problem of reconciling those who wish to reassert their rights to a local territory with those who are pressing for deterritorialization in the name of a global citizenship. They argue for the inevitable displacement of capitalism under the weight of its own contradictions (the old familiar marxist one of necessary social interactions leading to the insight that no-one actually needs bosses or leaders any more). But they end Empire with a list of demands and assertions of rights – demands from whom and rights against whom, asks Zizek?

Zizek’s examples range from the Zapatistas to  Mao, taking in Stalin and a lengthy aside on Eisenstein and Ivan the Terrible (these blokes just can’t resist a bit of literary or cinematic commentary). Briefly:

  1.  Zapatistas can’t make up their mind if they are just preserving way of life from capital or actively opposing it. If the latter, they seem to have only a weak symbolic politics of identity (we are all Zapatistas) and a dubious notion of leadership whereby the ‘will of the people’ somehow expresses itself through spokesmen for it, like subcommandante Marcos. Just like Hitler claimed, Zizek reminds us [or Rousseau or American liberalism for Habermas].
  2.  The Bolsheviks did not just pull off a coup but energized genuine revolutionary fervour among the Soviet people, shown in their willingness to act in the reconstructions of the storming of the Winter Palace during the Civil War – letting their lives merge with art. Like all revolutionaries, problems lay in reconstruction. There is debate about when Stalinist retrenchment took place. Zizek, typically, adds to the usual stuff about the end of the New Economic Policy with the installation of socialist realism as official art. This was not a move to institutionalize Stalinist radicalism but designed with the consent of Soviet artists to forestall the more purist ‘proletarian sectionalist’ artists and writers who were insisting on purely proletarian subjects and authors: now, a wider range of heroes could be brought into the Revolution. Including those popularized by Eisenstein like Ivan (and Nevsky, the other princeling from the Teutonic wars).
  3. The chapter ends with Mao and his attempts to turn the usual periodic rebellions into some sort of permanent revolution, by trying to end the usual oscillation between revolutionary energy and exhausted reaction. A cultural revolution is needed not just a political one. Oddly, Zizek does not repeat the usual analysis, tried out earlier with the Zaptistas on the close connection between revolutionary desire and terror, although he mentions Hegel’s remarks about the French Revolution (more or less that, lacking a practical programme, revolutionary zeal gets evermore terroristic and abstract, turning eventually on the revolutionaries themselves).

Anyway, overall,the idea seems to be that revolutionary and carnivalesque upheavals are useful politics, maybe the only kind available. OK they haven't developed into well-worked out alternatives, but if they did they might only be recuperated --capitalism is very flexible at producing new options. Like all utopian ventures, they let us glimpse alternatives even though we know they will fail as serious politics. The spontaneous demo, the cultural outrage and cultural politics in general is politics, and it is likely to become normalized as capitalism decentres and colonizes.There are hints here maybe of Badiou on the unpredictable event and the need for someone or some group to nominate and valorize it as a genuinely universalist challenge to capitalist notions of the common good.

It is now possible to see the importance of some of the earlier argument.  I have dotted around rather in this book, but after thinking about politics, I went back to have a look again at the section on Lacan.  My reasoning was that if politics consists of redescribing particular events in political terms, as carnivals,  critiques of capitalism or its claims for universality, then clearly description itself becomes important.  What we are talking about here is an attempt to symbolise, quite literally if we take seriously the requirement to demonstrate some universal meaning.  In Guattari's terms, we would be talking about political forms of semiotization within an overall symbolic order, but it makes little difference to the main point—we are required to name, describe and explain things if they are to take on an actual form, actual politics in this case.

This made me think again about the points with which Zizek started.  Deleuze has the gap between the virtual and the actual, and fudges explaining the link between them, gives alternative views, is forced to see politics is confined to the virtual as a productive area and so on.  The problem is to explain the emergence of real actuals.  I must agree that he is annoyingly vague about this, toying with Spinoza and his notion that substance must realise itself as part of its own essence, or using the strange phrases like quasi cause or dark precursor.

Zizek's account takes us back to the use of those phrases in Logic of Sense.  He reminds us, that in that earlier work, Deleuze is not completely hostile towards structuralism, and has a discussion about how structuralism also requires an 'empty square' to make progress, some important content that is not yet sense, but which has to be understood using a flexible extension of the linguistic structure.  He also reminds us of the section right at the end where Deleuze focuses on the Freudian mechanism of the phantasy as an example of how sense is produced as a combination of non - sense [biological bodily drives] and sense [the child's emerging use of some basic signifiers, and these include the phallus as an ideal transitory object].  Zizek says that Deleuze turned to Guattari with some relief, realizing that politics can simplify the complexity here, and drive the links between the different levels, which is more or less the reading offered by Hardt, building on the notion of the ethics of joy and all that as a basis for politics.  Guattari's objections to Lacan, themselves personal and political as well as theoretical, helped Deleuze clarify his own position in opposition [so, as usual, I think there are some university micro politics at work here as well]

Zizek says that Deleuze should really have stuck with the idea of the necessary role of the symbolic in producing actualities.  He argues this first by saying that conventional philosophers have always realised that redescribing concrete acts of reality requires some theoretical or ideational input, the symbolic.  Symbolising is an act of solidifying real actuality, helping it cross the threshold into reality.  We don't have to think about this as subjective symbolization, of course, because we can see the symbolic order equally as produced by the virtual.

 He then defends Lacan [and Freud] against simplified readings.  For example, we might read the oedipal myth not as a matter of male oppression of infantile desire, but as an example of nomadism: oedipus decisively breaks from the constraints of the nuclear family, and wanders off to develop his own ideas about sociality, even living eventually in a society of exiles and marginals.  Similarly, Lacan is not guilty of the usual readings [but I'm not that convinced] of deliberately using the phallus as the master signifier in order to justify a biological basis for male dominance.  He really sees the phallus as a prime example of deterritorialization, how a bodily organ can become detached from its body and take on symbolic significance.  This detachment is what he means by castration.  An example given by Zizek uses a conventional phallic symbol—the scepter held by a king—to show how the symbol of the phallus can be reterritorialized, but never completely.  What happens is that power for people assume the symbolic role of the phallus to prop up their claims to power, as a part of the masks and theatre of politics.

If we accept this view, we no longer need any of the evasions in Deleuze.  The ramblings about dark precursors can be understood as a process of symbolization which is only understood in its effects once it has been accomplished, an unconscious symbolization, as it were, a prestructuring the relations between series, including virtual and more actual series.  I think myself that it also helps us understand one of the major paradoxes in reading Deleuze: the bloke is obviously a very clever and creative thinker who conceptualizes things in a very active and accomplished way, yet he also claims to be merely a product of virtual forces, like any other subject.  Again, maybe what has gone on here is that he has unconsciously symbolized philosophical and other events?  He can't acknowledge this of course, because he doesn't want to talk about the subjective.

In even more detail...

So the separation whereby the phallus becomes a symbolic object is what Lacan means by symbolic castration—not the real castration symbolically reenacted, but the separation of the individual self from the more publicly shared symbol.  This permits two things to happen—people can now play symbolic roles, and secondly, they can now make sense of their world.  This is the bit that Deleuze discusses in Logic of Sense, the 'passage from bodily depth to the surface event'(78).  We cannot conceive of this is a smooth transition from the material or bodily to the symbolic, as in determinist materialism, nor is there anything in the idealist argument that sense takes place in a separate idealized realm.  We have to think instead of some dialectical materialist process, like that where quantity turns into quality: bodily drives turn into symbols. 

However, the universe of sense then becomes autonomous, independently of bodily drives.  This happens because of 'the inherent impasse of sexuality' (79).  Sexuality is the only thing that can produce the emergence of autonomous thought, unlike any of the other drives, because it is the only drive that is 'simultaneously insufficient and excessive', that is insatiable at the bodily level.  This is where the important notion of sexual desire as involving integral 'lack' emerges—it must do, because it is excessive.  It's not surprising that we find sexual metaphors and innuendoes scattered throughout the symbolic order, that everything reminds the adolescent of sex, even pure maths with its notions of volumes filling empty cylinders, or energies discharged when bodies collide.  Sex provides a surplus so that everything can acquire sexual connotations.  There is no argument here that sex is preponderant for any other reasons, simply its inherent properties.  When we pursue activities which themselves get blocked and fail to achieve their goals, we enter sexuality, as we do when a gesture 'becomes an end in itself', regardless of its instrumental goal, and becomes enjoyable in its own right, even if we endlessly and dysfunctional repeat it.

Sexuality therefore 'can function as a co-sense that supplements the "decentralized" neutral -literal meaning' (80).  We can understand perversion as an inverse of this normal relation, where neutral meanings become sexualized, and this can explain 'the "scientific" disinterested approach to sexuality', or seeing sex as something instrumental as in De Sade [and the example is professional workers in phone sex].  Lacan's notion of symbolic castration also covers these evasive approaches to sexuality, and the intention is to replace this with 'a literal talk about sexuality that would remain "sexualized"'.

So what the phallus symbolizes is not all pervading virile power, but castration in these senses, the desexualization of symbols, the way in which sense is neutralized, at least on the surface.  The all pervading virile power conception is an imago, constructed by subjects to coordinate dispersed endogenous zones.  It is that imago that appears at the mirror stage.  However, this can never be sustained for Lacan, who does not stay with the notion of the coordinating phallus, but goes on to refer to later stages where sexuality informs sense and action, but not in a literal way.  The infantile coordinating phallus never succeeds.  The nearest we get is 'the "universal innuendo"' (81).

The development of this later stage requires that the phallus become a detached signifier, something that actually helps literal sexual meaning to be erased.  Paradoxically this means that 'sexuality can universalize itself only by way of desexualization, only by undergoing a kind of transubstantiation'.  Thus the phallus is 'the fundamental category of dialectical materialism'.  It is 'the "transcendental signifier"—nonsense [non-sense] within the field of sense—that distributes and regulates the series of Sense'.  It is not to be taken as a substantial phallus.  It is the pseudo cause, where sense events appear to be caused by something other than bodily causes.  It also replaces quasi cause in Deleuze's account of productive becoming.

The phallic moment crosses or links the series of signifiers and signifieds.  It is the primal connection between signifier and signified.  It also explains the surplus that the signifier possesses, and, considered the other way around, the 'lack' that drives desire and signification [because the signifieds never exhaust the potential of the signifier].  In this way, structural places exceed elements that occupy them, accounting for the empty spaces.  Signifieds are never fully captured by their signifiers, signifieds never have an existence outside of a structure [this is then put into Lacan's terms—there is an empty place in the structure designated by $, and the objet a is 'an excessive object, an object that lacks its place in the structure'.  This can explain the origin of the phantasy 'of an element that will emerge and fill out this place…  And…  Some yet unknown place waiting for it' (82-3), at one and the same time.

Generally, the discussion helps us see how bodies play important roles in human life.  Freud was the first to think of an eroticized body, rather than a purely biological one.  We can understand some neuroses, especially hysteria, as a refusal of the biological body to 'to obey the soul', using the biological body as a medium to express unconscious drives and desires.  We can think of two kinds of body, therefore, the biological one, and the one 'through which the unconscious speaks' (83).  Psychoanalysis never operates with biological bodies, and never with depths but always with surfaces, screens for phantasms.

Phantasy has always had an ambiguous status, never entirely objective, nor entirely subjective, but rather appearing as '"the way things actually, objectively seem to you even if they don't seem that way to you"' (84, quoting Dennett).  We can see the links with unconscious prejudice, or commodity fetishism, and that brand of Marxism that agrees that commodities look like independent magical things quite reasonably as an '"objectively - necessary appearance", to use Marx's own term [Zizek also points out that Marx's discussion goes on to  take the form of a fantastic dialogue between commodities].  We're talking about objective appearances, how things effectively appear, how the categories of political economy look realistic to people, because they are valid.  However, the Freudian unconscious escapes this sort of knowledge, because it consists of beliefs and suppositions of which we are not aware or which we have disavowed.  They take the form of phantasms. It is a bad mistake to try to actualize them.

Again Lacan discusses this by referring to how the subject gets decentred.  It is not just objective unconscious mechanisms that reduce the illusion that we are in charge of our own thoughts, but rather that even our own intimate experiences and perceptions, our most fundamental fantasies, are not ours, since we can never fully grasp them.  The normal conception of subjectivity is challenged—'that of phenomenal (self) experience' (85) with its supports in intense human personal feelings, passion or whatever.  The point of the Freudian unconscious is to show that there are elements which are not accessible even to this powerful conscious subject.  So the normal concept of subjectivity involves a certain emptiness, and the real subject has two dimensions to subjectivity.  The latter can be known only by psychoanalysis, developing 'a paradoxical phenomenology without a subject' (86): the unconscious presents the normal subject with phenomena which it has not created and from which it is excluded.

Thus humans require a 'second nature' in symbolic institutions to provide coordinates for our activity, but this 'symbolic order ultimately always fails', because desire, especially our perception of the desires of others can never be managed.  This is the lack, something which only arises from an excess, 'the excessive presence of traumatic enjoyment'.  We would not require signification at all if our desires were fully regulated, as they are in animals, but signification is still really impossible.  Perhaps human intelligence only developed in the first place in order to decipher these problems, especially 'the enigma of Other's desire' (87).  In this way, metaphysics is to be explained by human eroticism, with sexuality as 'the nonsensical support of sense'[and the example is Wagner confessing to a deep masochistic enjoyment of the works of one of his major rivals despite all sorts of surface criticism].  Examples like this show us how phantasy is still fundamental [not just for infants]. [A really risky example is the open feminist condemnation of violent rape, esp. of the rationalization that women fantasize about being raped.  Such fantasies, evoked and denied, are the very stuff of sexuality for Freud, and so the real trauma of rape arises when these fantasies appear and have to be rigorously disavowed—'the core of our fantasy is unbearable to us' (88)].

The original fantasy arises as a result of a child witnessing the primal scene and having to construct a fantasy to explain it [to my pleasure, the example is the wardrobe scene in Blue Velvet, with the adults acting out a fantasy, something I have always argued].  Unfortunately, fantasies never lead to full rational understanding.  Everyone needs 'some nonsensical phantasmatic frame'(89), and usually when we say we have understood, this means that we can locate it in our own fantasies.

Lacan is not insisting that the phallus is a master signifier, but rather an organ without a body.  Even in intimate sex, there are still phantasmatic supplements, a third party, sometimes the phallus itself [even materialized in dildoes].  It is this always present Other that energizes phantasy and freedom of thought, efforts by the subject to symbolize the gap between self and other, and the self and the Other of the symbolic order.  We can use this gap to launch a critique of of the 'inherent stupidity' of the substantial [actual] symbolic order (89) [the example is the subversion of the song Ol' Man River by Paul Robeson, whose version insisted that we must keep fighting, while the river remains stupid and indifferent, or at least inert, rather than some wise presence.  Zizek says the original song was quite critical though in breaking the conventional image of black laborers as happy and smiling]. 

Another tactic involves stressing the very otherness of the big Other.  This is what lies behind Lacan's notorious discussion of the translation of the desire of the mother into the 'Name-of-the-Father'.  Maternal desire is perceived by the child through her caresses.  However, paternal functions do not intrude into this bliss in the form of symbolic prohibitions.  Instead, the father is the 'solution to the deadlock', solving the problem of trying to decipher mother's desire, especially that which is not focused on the infant.  The father is a symbol that 'alleviates the unbearable anxiety of directly confronting the void of the other's desire'.  However, Lacan said later that this can never actually work these days.  For Zizek this has political consequences—basing politics on 'anti oedipal revolt' will not work either (91).

The 'Real in itself' in Lacan does not indicate a devaluation of the symbolic.  There was an early hegelian phase, where the analyst was supposed to expose the cunning of reason and end with absolute knowledge, but later Lacan argued that the real can never be integrated into the symbolic, via borrowing the Kantian notion of thing in itself.  The thing is never accessible to us, but this only stimulates desire, and sustains the symbolic as the only possible way to find out about the real.  Even later Lacan abandoned this approach by discussing the drive as something emanating from the Real independently of the symbolic order, and widening 'the horizon of our experience' (91).  This means there is something more than castration, which can after all be accessed.  Zizek sees political consequences.  The conception of things in themselves, beyond our grasp, is an argument against totalitarians who claim to be acting in the name of the real, and some support for democracy is provided—multiple subjects compete for this right.  Later Lacan is 'postdemocratic' [all this is discussed in terms of the relations with Kant and Hegel, and is difficult to understand.  Roughly, the hegelian phase coincided with the totality of the symbolic, the kantian one with the transcendental thing beyond the grasp of the symbolic, and a later twist, where 'all signifying traces from the Otherness' are transposed 'into the immanence itself, as its inherent cut'(92). [This is non-politics though not just 'post-democratic'?]

In terms of the famous triad Real - Imaginary - Symbolic, the real itself actually has three modalities—real Real 'the horrifying Thing, the primordial object'; symbolic Real, something consistent which cannot be grasped by everyday experience [things exist only in language?] ; the imaginary Real, something mysterious and unfathomable, alluding to the sublime dimension of ordinary objects.  All exist at the same time.  Similarly, the Symbolic has three modes—the real, where 'the signifier [is] reduced to a senseless formula'; the imaginary, as in Jungian symbols; the symbolic, as in speech and meaningful language.  Finally, guess what,  the Imaginary has three modes—the real, where a fantasy occupies the place of the Real; the imaginary, where an image acts 'as a decoy'; the symbolic, as in Jungian symbols or archetypes.  So the Real is not just the first sense, but it also means consistency, including symbolic consistency, as in the matheme, and of pure appearances as in illusions. 

We can compare this to Badiou in his discussion of minimal pure difference. This is used in turn to account for a 'passion for the real' which defines the 20th century, of purification. Badiou wants to suggest we can exhaust our passin for htre realk in another way though -- subtraction of false realities to get to fundamentals, the 'minimally pure' .  We can add an additional role for science and theory in formalization, which this time strips away subjectivity. 

Again there are political implications.  Badiou's politics begin with total fidelity to the axiom of equality [as some kind of pure arising from subtraction?].  However, Marx has criticized this notion as bourgeois ideology, a concept which provides for actual inequality, and which legitimates capitalist forms of equality, as in the formal equality of workers all over the world as workers.  Badiou knows the dangers of the purification mode of approaching the real, and agrees it produces horrors like the Holocaust, but he still needs this notion to ground the preferred logic of subtraction located in minimal differences, in this case between Being and Event.  Lacan offers a better version with his discussion of two versions of the Real [really obscure stuff here—I think the reason for the superiority of Lacan is because his notions are not so radically separated] There is also an interesting criticism of Levinas's politics, which contrast rather with his philosophy of respect for the other—as is common, when discussing concrete political situations, like Israel and Palestine,  Levinas's has to rely on some pretty common sense understandings after all [to deny Palestinians are really neighbours worthy of respect] . 

At the end, I think Zizek arguing that the problem starts with radical dualism again, and that we will need to understand that Being is not a level separate from and self contained when it comes to the event, but rather that the event is 'a cut/rupture in the order of Being on account of which Being cannot ever form a consistent All'(96).  Apart from anything else, we have to reject Badiou's attempt to use mathematics to describe reality, as the only option, because this makes it difficult to explain the gap between Being and Event [and produces similar problems for Deleuze with which we began].

back to Deleuze page