International Journal of Zizek Studies Vol. 2 Num. 4 (2008)

A new issue of IJZS, which contains a much talked about article by Levi Bryant that expands upon Lacan’s “discourse of the Capitalist” and explores Zizek’s contributions toward a Lacanian critique of ideology, making some interesting suggestions about Zizek’s own account of his thought.

In what way is the thought of Slavoj Žižek to be distinguished from that of Jacques Lacan? This paper argues that the thought of Lacan and Žižek are to be distinguished at the level of the formal structure of discourse. Although Žižek often situates his own theoretical project in terms of the discourse of the analyst, his work occupies an uneasy place in this position insofar as the discourse of the analyst is directed at the singularity of the subject’s symptom, rather than shared political causes. Drawing on his ‘Milan Discourse’ where Lacan presents the discourse of the capitalist, this paper argues that Žižek discourse inhabits the universe of capitalism, rather than the universe of mastery. Through the development of a modified version of Lacan’s discourse of the capitalist, it is shown that it is possible to derive three additional discourses– the discourse of biopower, the discourse of immaterial labor, and the discourse of critical theory –from the initial discourse of the capitalist. A psychoanalytic approach to these discourses using Lacanian discourse theory goes beyond standard accounts of biopolotical production and immaterial labor by revealing the function of the unconscious and real at work in these discourses, thereby opening new possibilities of engagement. Žižek’s theoretical project is shown to be an important cartography of this new universe of discourse, revealing both how the discourses inhabiting this universe contain certain constitutive deadlocks and devising strategies for engagement where the foe– due to the disappearance of the master and new forms of capitalism that can no longer be properly situated in terms of the discourse of the university –is no longer entirely clear.

 It’s the only article I’ve read so far, but I hope to read a couple more and have more to say besides brief associations by the end of the weekend. One thing I’d like to explore in Levi’s article, and hope to see brought up on other blogs, are the formal homologies between the four permutations of the different universes of discourse (i.e. the relationship between different discourses that share a term in a particular position in the formula)

9 thoughts on “International Journal of Zizek Studies Vol. 2 Num. 4 (2008)

  1. On my own blog I’m attempting to show how Dogen Zenji is using the Dharma Wheel in Buddhist thought, Lacan’s four discourses, to point to the Buddha’s Truth of the self that suffers. I’m seeing the “Middle Way” in the description of the Truths to be the unsaid Fifth Truth as in the fifth discourse that Lacan was working on as the Matheme, the other side of truth. Any feedback could help me.

  2. It’s an interesting idea, but my thought is that this sort of application will work best in one of the other six possible “universes of discourse.” Lacan only mapped out (what Bryant calls) “the universe of mastery,” and the fifth discourse, “the discourse of the capitalist,” is one of another set of four discourses in what Bryan calls “the universe of capitalism.”

    There are four other completely unconsidered universes though, and my thought is that there is a certain homology between discourses that share certain terms in certain positions. So, in every “universe” there is a discourse with the objet a in the position of agency, which you might call in every such instance the “analytic discourse.” If the Buddha Dharma can be articulated in this manner, I think it will be in one of or all of the permutations of this analytic discourse.

    The other reason I wouldn’t connect Lacan’s fifth discourse with the middle way is that this discourse is one of excess and marked dis-satisfaction.

  3. My understanding of the Four discourses is that it is the I that assumes a different position on the wheel of discourse as it is the I that speaks in relation to a perception of the reflected object a. One of the positions being a perception of a split subject wanting to fill a lack and the illusion of mastery comes from that desire which also lacks. Could Zizek be expressing the lack inherent in in the Capitalist discourse exposing the avoidance of the one that desires by eliminating the Other and assuming it’s role? On the other account. I’m just reading the Four Noble Truths as a structure of a split subject supposed to know. The Fifth being the postion “it” speaks from. The Middle way being the action done that it can’t describe beforehand. “Where it was there I shall be.” What do you think.

  4. Well, I’m not sure how you’re working in the subject-supposed-to-know. The “discourse of the Capitalist” is also an invention of Lacan, though yes the objet a, that which eludes integration into the system, is in the position of truth for this discourse. It is analogous to the discourse of the hysteric in that the position of agency is occupied by the split-subject (something different from the subject-supposed-to-know), though the product of this discourse is lack or excess (the objet a), the subject is addressing/interrogating knowledge, and the truth of the discourse, the excluded element, is the master-signifier. If we are to start talking about the middle-way in terms of Lacan or vice versa, we will end up focusing on how the objet a (the ever-present kernel of the real in fantasy) is experienced as a lack or excess. From the Buddhist perspective, and the perspective of theorists like Bryant who have problems with giving ontological priority of lack, the issue is how to experience the Real as neither a lack or excess. When Zizek speaks of being interested not in the reality behind illusion, but the reality in illusion itself, I hear Dogen talking about greatly realizing delusion.

  5. Nicely put points, mister.
    Doesn’t the “I”, position of agency, become the Master signifier in Capitalist discourse according to the enjoyment of the other? I lost my train of thought on that one so it was a sloppy way to put it, but what would you do with it?
    I understand the object a to be what is thought to be able to fill the perceived lack that constantly changes names. The lack being the excess. That is the way I’m presenting Lacan and the Middle Way as the Middle way is always moving. Like the zen saying,”Whole and complete, lacking nothing.” Seeing the lack as more than just lack would be the illusion according to Buddhist insight. I think Zizek has said this before as well.
    I see that yes, Zizek is interested in the reality in illusion because that would be saying that illusion has a structure in relation to the one that is seeing(using) it. Since the reality behind illusion is desire for the object a. ???

  6. Thank you for your kinds words.

    There is an appendix at the end of Bryant’s article that gives a pretty good summary explanation about how the discourse mathemes work. Regarding agency though, he says:

    Lacan claims that the position of the agent is a position of semblance, as any agent is ultimately governed or made to act by the unconscious or what Lacan refers to as the “truth” of the discourse. The position of truth is thus the real agent of discourse. It is simultaneously what the discourse must veil or hide, what the discourse must exclude, in order to function, while also being that which drives the discourse or functions as the “engine” of the discourse. (41)

    In the discourse of the capitalist, the Master-signifier is the truth or excluded element of the discourse, which Bryant illustrates with the many ways in which Big Causes and Truth (with a capital T) have been called into question in the last 100-150 or so years. Could you explain what you mean by “according to the enjoyment of the other” too?

    The objet a is what is thought to fill in what is missing, but it does so only as a function of fantasy, as the lost object (that never existed anyway). In this way it is both what is sought and the reason why (being absent) it has to be sought in the first place. The view of lack as excess, as a kind of disturbance that need merely be eradicated for the already harmonious whole to do its thing in peace, is problematic though. I won’t say a whole lot on it here, since Bryant does a good job in his article, but from a Buddhist perspective it falls into the same trap of “if only just this one thing were different.”

    The moment we realize with frustration that “that’s not it!” isn’t simply one of finding that a square peg doesn’t fit into a round hole, but struggling with how even a square peg isn’t always a square peg. However, and it will take some time for me to do the reading again to have something coherent to say, Zizek’s talks about totality in a way that I think gets around the problems he finds with popular conceptions of totality as a kind of natural already constituted whole, of which he pegs Western Buddhism as a main culprit. You get a sense of this in how the conceives of Jesus on the Cross as actually intimately related to God in the very distance that seems to stand between Him and God when He cries “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” In otherwords, it is a proper stance towards finitude that delivers or gives us access to infinitude.

    I hope this helps. I think you’re on the right track associating the middle-way with the slipperiness of the objet a, but that it’s not just the objet a we are after, but a proper relation to it (i.e. one that does not reproduce through it the illusion of lack or excess). The illusion, cast in Buddhist terms, is that emptiness is a lack or excess—a lack, in the straight-word sense of the lost-object that (we think) completes us, or excessive in the sense that if not for this sense of emptiness than things would be fine. These two extremes are none other than the way of asceticism and way of indulgence that we get in the Buddha’s story. It is confronting the reality in illusion, the great realization in delusion, or the (kernal of the) Real at the heart of the Symbolic that is aim of Way-Seeking Mind.

  7. Asceticism and indulgence are complimentary as apposed to extremes. The ascetic has to constantly have the object of indulgence in mind in order to not partake. Indulgence is filling trying to fill the lack and asceticism is filling the lack also by wanting to get rid of it. The Middle Way is what is impossible to imagine or put in words. Asceticism being the second pair of Truths and indulgence being the first pair. The unseen split in the “I” puts a bar between each of the pairs to get the discourse matheme positions. They rotate around the point in the middle that is the Real And each discourse is the interplay of the Imaginary and the symbolic circling around the point they can’t perceive. I see a way seeking mind as the mind that seeks the real life. Lacan is echoing the Buddha, in my mind, so I’m trying to keep incorporating. Zizek does a good job in criticizing Buddhism at large for misrepresenting the Buddha’s Truths as propping up the self that wants to not be. I’ll answer the question you had of the other tomorrow. (I’m taking my wife on a date in a half hour!)
    Thank for your very cool insights.
    More on the other stuff when I finish reading the article.
    Good night,

  8. The Capitalist discourse has the structure of the perverted master in that the desire that has no limit is projected onto the other(the worker) as needing to be the limit that is not himself while allowing the worker to innovate how to get beyond limited production practices which supports the capitalists desire for unlimited surplus. The Capitalist “tricks the embodied other” into thinking he’s one of them by aspiring to be like him someday. In addition to or another way to say it.
    The perverted master ignores his limit and transfers it to another to deal with in his place while he remains in the place of not having limits which is assuming the place of the Other for the other. This is the perversion since there is no Other for an other.
    This to me is one of the gifts of Zizek. He can just rattle this stuff off, or it appears. I have to agonize over it to get it out.

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