Without Hindrance, There is No Fear

From the concluding “self-interview” of The Metastases of Enjoyment:

In one of the recent ‘corporate nightmare’ thrillers, The Virtual Boss, a company is actually (and unbeknownst to the employees) run by a computer that suddenly ‘runs amok’, grows beyond control and starts to implement measures against the top managers (it instigates conflicts among them , gives orders for them to be fired, etc.); finally, it sets in motion a deadly plot against its own programmer. . . . The ‘truth’ of this plot is that a master is, in a sense, always virtual — a contingent person who fills out a preordained place in the structure, while the game is actually run by the ‘big Other’ qua impersonal symbolic machine. This is what a Master is forced to take note of via the experience of ‘subjective destitution’: that he is by definition an impostor, an imbecile who misperceives as the outcome of his decisions what actually ensues from the automatic run of the symbolic machine.

And ultimately, the same holds for every subject: in his autobiography, Althusser writes that he has been persecuted all his adult life by the notion that he does not exist, by the fear that others will become aware of his non-existence — that is, of the fact that he is an impostor who is only pretending to exist. His great fear after the publication of Reading Capital, for example, was that some perspicacious critic would reveal the scandalous fact that the main author of this book does not exist. . . .

In a sense, this is what psychoanalysis is about: the psychoanalytic cure is effectively over when the subject loses this fear and freely assumes his own non-existence. Thus psychoanalysis is the exact opposite of the subjectivist solipsism: in contrast to the notion that I can be absolutely certain only of the ideas in my own mind, whereas the existence of reality outside myself is already an inconclusive inference, psychoanalysis claims that reality outside myself definitely exists; the problem, rather, is that I myself do not exist. . . .

For those who doubt Zizek’s fidelity to a theoretical orientation that is compatible with – if not an ultimately necessary ally of – a buddhist one.

16 thoughts on “Without Hindrance, There is No Fear

  1. I’ll have the full answer to that question in about 5-7 years when I’m done with my Ph.D. dissertation. I’ll think of a short-answer while I’m at work today though.

  2. Here is one point of mutual concern, which also comes out of this “self-interview,” a format I ended up really liking. In the section on Bosnia:

    Compassion for the victim is precisely a way to avoid the unbearable pressure of this gaze — how? The examples of ‘compassion with the suffering in Bosnia’ [circa the early to mid-90s] that abound in our media illustrate perfectly Lacan’s thesis on the ‘reflexive’ nature of human desire: desire is always desire for a desire. That is to say, what these examples display above is that compassion is the way to maintain the proper distance toward a neighbor in trouble. Recently, the Austrians organized a large-scale action of collecting aid for ex-Yugoslavia under the motto Nachbar im Not (Neighbor in Trouble!’ — the underlying logic of the motto was clear to everyone: we must pay so that our neighbor will remain a neighbor, at a proper distance, and will not come to us. In other words, our compassion, precisely insofar as it is ‘sincere’, presupposes that in it, we perceive ourselves in the form that we find likable: the victim is presented so that we like to see ourselves in the position from which we stare at her…

    I encounter this almost everyday in Fred Meyer, where commercials over the PA-system get customers in the spirit of “giving back to the community” (by means of those little containers for your spare change at the check-out register, where the money is said to go towards feeding the poor) as I throw away (often over one-hundred pounds) of perfectly edible food everyday. This is also a perfect example of where we encounter the superego today, in this injunction to give in these little ways, to perform random acts of kindness.

    There is is the answer to your question: the superego as the otherside of The Law.

  3. I think there is something to your suggestion, yes.

    If superego bombards us with conflicting and contradictory injunctions, which ground us to a halt as we worry over whether we did or are about to do “the right thing” or, in a more contemporary parlance, “what we really want, what is true to ourselves,” then I think we could connect it with “hindrance” in the Heart Sutra. In that sense, we could say the Buddhist problematic expressed as anatman is not the illusory nature of the self as such, but the way we reify it qua superego. Put another way, fearing that “I myself do not exist” is one way of clinging to the superego, which though it bombards us with painful injunctions is also how we try to make sense of and fill in The Law which is not-all.

    Bringing that back to your earlier question about social theory, Zizek’s closeness to the Buddhist problematic and vice versa resides in a concern for The Law (in Zizek’s case, the Symbolic Order) and how our lack of understanding of it, which in the 12-fold chain of being is constitutive, results in superego. What this means for collective action is hard to say, but I think the way Americans popularly relate to “the government” as a kind of business, a private entity with interests of its own that much of the time seem to be at odds with our own, is a good place to start.

  4. Your Fred Meyer example gives a great description of the conflict between the ideal ego and the ego ideal with the superego on the side of the ego ideal.
    “Don’t enjoy yourself too much at the deli because there are some that can’t enjoy like you so you can give your spare change to them. If we didn’t throw away the excess then you wouldn’t be able to feel like you sacrificed and felt good about yourself helping others afterwards.”
    The customer gets to be a symbol of an other for an Other. Fred Meyer is depending on a split subject for business.
    The Bosnia quote; such a Noble sentiment!

  5. I like your summary of this fantasy, because it lays out the logic of distributive justice, but I’m not too sure about the end remarks.

    The suggestion of giving your spare change at the register-box involves a minimal sort of injunction to consume, because you wouldn’t even be there to give your spare change if it weren’t for coming to shop. Consuming less, at the deli or elsewhere in the store, isn’t important to the kind of “doing your part” the little boxes demand, because while I’ve seen people put bills in them, they’re really made for receiving coins.

    I think it would do wonders for the “green” image Freddies is painting of itself if they actually gave their otherwise “excess” food to the hungry. However, for customers to “do their part” they would have to refrain from consuming, though not (necessarily) so they have more spare change to offer the little boxes. This is where the fantasy you outline comes into play: if Freddies or any business wants to appear “green” while still remaining in business as a business they have to inscribe their green-image into the fabric of commodity-consumption. This is not at all new, as anyone who has drank coffee from Starbucks in the last 10 years knows or anyone who has heard of The Gap’s “Red-line.”

  6. Maybe we can think of the masters discourse and tie some of it together. The consumer is other than the master here.
    The Bosnia thing; “Love your neighbor” is said to the Nobles, I think. i could be wrong, though.

  7. As it relates to what I was talking about, the needy are seen as a structural necessity to the possibility of justice. It’s a kind of co-dependent relationship, but one that has the do-gooder always needing the needy to remain in their needy-state. It’s debatable whether this is the unsurpassable limit of “distributive justice,” but it seems a common feature of liberal approaches to justice that also stress re-distribution and sharing. Zizek’s comments on liberal tolerance and compassion are, I think, also aimed against this logic.

  8. I think you are reading too much into the non-existence of the subject in Lacan/Zizek. While the goal of understanding emptiness in Buddhism is the end to suffering and achieving enlightenment. There is no such nirvana-principle in psychoanalysis (indeed, it is the opposite of this).

  9. I haven’t written anything about nirvana. That goal, as you and so many other state it, is at best a noble lie, and is beside the point in Buddhist practice. Strictly speaking though, Freud does write of a “nirvana principle,” and Zizek is right to highlight the difference between this impulse to reduce tensions/stress and death-drive as a kind of kernal of eros inherent to death itself (hence his interest in “the living dead”).

    The Buddha’s given-name, Siddhartha, was suggested by wisemen who counseled his father, meaning “he who achieves his aim.” Was this aim total and perfect enlightenment? It couldn’t have been, because he taught for over 40 years after he achieved this aim. Clearly, his aim pointed him past this lowly identity as, first, a prince, then an ascetic, and then even as a fully awakened Buddha. This persistence is the foundation of the bodhisattva who persists in samsara for the benefit of all beings. This persistence is death-drive, though it doesn’t really have anything to do with the benefit of all beings. That’s just a ruse, a fantasy in which to stage this desire. It’s really the ultimate fantasy-stage too, because it effectively goes on forever.

    The point is that these stories aren’t merely stories; that desire isn’t merely an illusion; that illusion isn’t merely an illusion. Buddhas everywhere are thieves and liars, philosophical butt-fuckers really (to use Deleuze’s parlance).

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