Repeating Lenin

I got to get neck-deep in Zizek this last month in a last-minute paper for a class that should have been written long before the end of the quarter. While trying to hash-out some sort of thesis, I became interested in Zizek’s call to “repeat Lenin,” which is made most comprehensively in the essay-book by the same name (here, in its shorter, strictly essay-format, available through Zizek’s EGS-profile).

The gist of it is this: what Lenin did for Marx was to take his revolutionary theory and turn it into a theory for the Revolution, though the revolution Lenin enacted (the October or Bolshevik Revolution) was necessarily failed because it could only really be accomplished as a second attempt in light of that initial failure. Repeating Lenin is thus not the naively-stupid suggestion that we re-create the Soviet Union, though Zizek does not make great efforts to dissuade us of that possibility, and at one point suggests that our inability to understand the revolutionary logic of Lenin and his government may have more to do with ideological failures of our own time rather than actual failures of the Revolution, but rather the willingness to do the impossible.

In this sense, political revolution for Zizek is the Lacanian act: in either case what we must do (very much in the sense that Zizek argues “doing” is as important if not more important than “knowing” when it comes to ideological critique) is that which implies our stepping through the ideological fantasy we otherwise imagine guarantees our actions to have certain meaning. In other words, Zizek is carving another path to understanding “what it means” to “traverse the fantasy.”In recognizing Lenin’s revolution as failed, we are immediately able to grasp the reason for its failure, a reason that comes to us from the future as the symptom, or rather as our present repression of the revolution. The revolutionary gesture would then be to identify with the symptom, such that we the failed revolution in the past can attain a full ontological status as has-been-already-failed rather than the unconscious pre-ontological status as repressed.

What I took note of when reading this and other essays– and they all seem to be built out of the same stock 5000-7000 words– is the proximity between them and two of Zizek’s more overtly theological books, The Fragile Absolute and The Puppet and the Dwarf. In these books, and the essays orbiting them, Zizek seems also to be suggesting a repetition of something in the Christian tradition that he identifies as coming from Paul more than Jesus. We come to see “Christian intolerant, violent Love” as “Leninist intolerance” and “fundamentalist intolerance” as basic expressions of the same kind of action Zizek sees as possessing a perverse, subversive even, core for social, perhaps spiritual revolution.

What I am wondering is what this adds to a discussion about faith, especially when the fundamentalist invokes it. Does psychoanalysis not subvert the transparency of scientific positivist knowledge, and suggest, via Lacan’s dictum that reality is structured like a fiction, that to take any symbolic fiction so seriously as the scientist does his science and the fundamentalist does his religion is an equal matter of faith, and that only one who sees through both fictions equally is in a position to choose without dangerously making the imaginary identification with whatever fiction it may be? This is just like an old Ch’an Buddhist parable told by a master. He says that before he studied the buddha-dhamma, he would say that mountains are mountains and that rivers are rivers; that once he had studied some of the buddha-dhamma he would say that mountains are not mountains and rivers are not rivers; but now that he had attained the most high Enlightenment he says that mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers.

The point I’d like to make is that if, as Zizek has said, only the atheist can truly believe, in that only the true atheist sees through the symbolic fiction such that he can really decide without imagining that any of it is Real, what are we to make of the so-called New Atheists (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Harris) and their renewed rhetoric of faith and reason. I would like to suggest that they take a cue from theologian, Karen Armstrong, in assessing not the idea of God as infantile, but the very gesture towards God (the divine) being anything like or compatible with an idea as the infantile and dangerous belief of our times– paralleled, obviously, by the scientific (positivist) gesture that “reality” has a form like that of the scientific idea.

The ideological gesture– if the phrase couldn’t have a more accurate example– is the same in the church, as it is in the lab, as it is on FOXNews, as it is at every White-House press conference: our idea is the guarantee of that which the idea represents. The truly radical stance is not a variation on this form, where we replace God with reality or History or whatever, but where we refuse the very (phallic) form as a guarantor.

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