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Something is Missing

with 8 comments

From Slavoj Zizek’s “The Eclipse of Meaning: On Lacan and Deconstruction”:

This gap that forever separates the lost Thing from symbolic semblances which are never ‘that‘ defines the contours of the ethics of desire: ‘do not give way as to your desire’ can only mean ‘do not put up with any of the substitutions of the Thing, keep open the gap of desire’. In our everyday lives, we constantly fall prey to imaginary lures which promise the healing of the original/constitutive wound of symbolization, from Woman with whom full sexual relationship will be possible, to the totalitarian political ideal of a fully realized community. In contrast, the fundamental maxim of the ethics of desire is simply desire as such: one has to maintain desire in its dissatisfaction. What we have here is a kind of heroism of the lack: the aim of the psychoanalytic cure is to induce the subject to assume his constitutive lack heroically; to endure the splitting which propels desire.

From Robert Aitken and Kazuaki Tanahashi’s translation of Dogen zen-ji’s “Genjo-koan”:

When dharma does not fill your whole body and mind, you think it is already sufficient. When dharma fills your body and mind, you understand that something is missing.

Is Dogen preaching a similar heroism of the lack? This is so different from the Western Buddhism that Zizek critiques, which clings to the pseudo-Gelassenheit, “let it be” attitude, and sometimes exerts itself as the commandment to tolerate or in the liberal apology for ‘the market’. The ‘liberal pragmatic’ outlook and charge of many Western Buddhists, compared with ‘religious fanaticism’, is an ideological caricature that veils class-struggle. However, Zizek’s emphasis has been on the obfuscating qualities of this ideological veil, not too unlike Marx’s critique of ‘false consciousness’, while neglecting the revelatory dimension of such a veil, which by definition functions on account of both concealing and unconcealing.

The question to put to Zizek’s critique of Western Buddhism IS NOT what can it do for the Left, but what can it not do for itself? What is missing—not as a specific object, but in terms of the splitting and rendering asunder that propels desire? Moreover, what do popular conceptions of ‘balance’ and ‘harmony’ put in the place of this lack, this missing-something, so as to maintain a certain semblance?

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Written by Joe

March 2, 2009 at 11:34 pm

8 Responses

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  1. It seems both quotes are examples of the conflict between the Universal/Singular and the Universal/Particular in all of us. Only no good can come from a Universal/Particular imposing it’s will on other particulars while thinking it’s special.
    The conflict shows a split in the Universal where there is none. There is really only a mis-recognized split due to the Singular/Particular not seeing itself for what it is, a Body/Mind. And Universally there is No-Body/Mind.
    I’ve always thought that Zizek is more Buddhism savvy than he’s given credit for so in my mind he’s provoking a response from Western Buddhism to step up and lead the way instead of follow and be co-opted by the “Culture”. It seems that the response is most often that he’s be’ing a jerk or ignorant, which is unfortunate.
    In Dogen’s time Buddhism was co-opted the same as now, it’s just that now the Emperor is different.

    Ted Bagley

    March 3, 2009 at 7:54 am

  2. And by Buddhism leading the way I meant by asking the right questions and not by telling people how to live.

    Ted Bagley

    March 3, 2009 at 8:02 am

  3. “’ve always thought that Zizek is more Buddhism savvy than he’s given credit for so in my mind he’s provoking a response from Western Buddhism to step up and lead the way instead of follow and be co-opted by the “Culture”. It seems that the response is most often that he’s be’ing a jerk or ignorant, which is unfortunate.”

    Yes, it is unfortunate, but to be expected. Such “jerk” and “ignorant” comments are not at all unlike the love-hate the analysand feels towards the analyst as the transference is established. It also makes me think of Lord Yama holding up that big, empty mirror. Provoking a response is definitely the right way of putting it.

    That is what I mean when I say that rather than asking how Western Buddhism can be utilized by the Left (apropos Nietzsche’s comments in the Will to Power about utilizing the herd-tendencies of “European Buddhism”), without forgetting that question necessarily, Zizek lays the ground-work for questioning how Western Buddhists do or do not identify with their shared assumptions/practices. The thought really comes into focus in light of Z’s discussion of Jewish identity and universality in Violence.

    “In Dogen’s time Buddhism was co-opted the same as now, it’s just that now the Emperor is different.”

    Reminds me of Phillip K Dick’s constant repetition of the phrase “the Empire never ended,” especially in his VALIS books.

    Joe

    March 4, 2009 at 2:35 pm

  4. “The word is not (…) what you think it is. It points to something else.”
    I think Zizek would say, “What is Dogen really trying to say that he can’t?” Only a dead man could say it otherwise.
    Is Dogen not who he says he is? Or who we think he is for that matter?
    In response to the first Zizek quoted sentence.
    Eh?

    Ted Bagley

    March 4, 2009 at 5:55 pm

  5. “Is Dogen not who he says he is? Or who we think he is for that matter?”

    Not all the time.

    Joe

    March 5, 2009 at 8:49 am

  6. This concept, “heroism of the lack,” always seems to me to be a mask or diversion. What I find interesting is the pervasiveness of the lack in nearly all productive descriptions of the structure of desire/pleasure. To suggest that enduring the lack heroically is a productive goal seems also to suggest that approaching lack with anxiety, trepidation, care, and repulsion is not recommended. I wonder if we shouldn’t be more prepared for our encounters with lack to be horrifying—it’s the closest we may ever come to the infinite. Shouldn’t we be uncomfortable in it’s presence? Hmmm. I’m not quite getting there. But, this lack appears in so many disparate places and times—it suggests itself as a Truth. Heroes tend to endure without question or understanding. I say “bah.”

    Oh, and I don’t mean to suggest that Zizek is proposing ignorance as a means to cope with a difficult encounter, only that “enduring” is a re-direction from the more productive, I think, “interrogating.”

    fitsnstarts

    March 18, 2009 at 9:31 am

  7. “To suggest that enduring the lack heroically is a productive goal seems also to suggest that approaching lack with anxiety, trepidation, care, and repulsion is not recommended.”

    I don’t think this follows. In fact, I think that the anxiety, trepidation, care and repulsion are central to any comportment towards the lack (in the Other) that we call “heroism.” I like that you bring up “interrogating,” because I just finished Zizek’s book of essays called “Interrogating the Real.” For Zizek, “the truth arises from a misrecognition,” which can only be made by whole-hearted engagement with its attendant anxieties.

    Joe

    March 18, 2009 at 3:48 pm

  8. Remember Lacan in his last seminars talks of a post-Oedipal psychosis (as other than the “ordinary psychosis”) as the “end of analysis”, esp. with its whole emphasis on “invention of sinthome” (the forth knot”)? Infact all this makes me ponder on certain similar trends in Zen (with the “invention of the soul”, “of saying yes to dukkha”, and basically of the Mahayana no-ego (wrongly translated as “no-self”) theory)

    Consequently, is Sinthome the Lacanian Soul?

    And in what way would you say is the Sisyphian Hero an exemplar or the “heroism of the lack”?

    Also, apart from the Compensatory/Freudian Desire (out of lack, as an exchange, “finite games”), can there not be a possibility of a Productive Desire (not “out-of” but as a symptom of Excess, as a Gift, “infinite games”)? Though I seem to believe that the two are never exclusively present but in a form of a dialogue with each other, the question being as to what extent/proportion/ratio is each present in & as-of the other!

    Anuj D

    March 20, 2009 at 4:10 am


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