In Publicity's Secret, I discuss conspiracy theory in relation to desire. As I prepare for a talk I'm giving at Newcastle-on-Thyme (fellow Goth K-punk is also scheduled to be there, along with Mladen Dolar), I'm thinking about the relation of conspiracy theory to drive. It will surprise no one that I find Zizek to be helpful here.
First, with respect to desire, conspiracy theory manifests a desire to know, to find out, to make links. It also sustains the openness of desire. That is, it secures desire as desire since conspiracy theories rarely have complete answers or solid alternatives. Instead, they ask questions, keep going, keep tracing. For some critics, this is what makes conspiracy theory maddening and irrational--it's inability to disproved. Understood in terms of desire, this persistence in the face of alternative explanations suggests instead conspiracy theory's common cause with most other theories: much of what we believe can't or doesn't hold up in the face of a critical gaze.
But what about drive? In drive, circulation is an end in itself. Circulation, movement, brings its own satisfaction. In Parallax View, Zizek writes:
Drive is literally a counter movement to desire, it does not strive toward impossible fullness and, being forced to renounce it, gets stuck onto a partial object as its remainder—drive is quite literally the very drive of to break the All of continuity in which we are embedded, to introduce a radical imbalance into it...
We can apply this to accounts of 9/11. Conspiracy theorists (or, those who call themselves complicity theorists), want to disrupt the fantasy produced by the official explanation. They want to introduce an imbalance, a gap, in the ideological edifice that built up around 9/11.
This distinction also tells us something about the different place of objet a in desire and drive. In desire, it emerges at the moment of loss; in fact, it is an object that coincides with its own loss. In official counts of 9/11, objet a seems to be security. In conspiracy accounts, that is, in drive, loss itself is an object. So, they emerge not simply in response to the fantasy of a lost security, but in response to loss. In drive, then, objet a has nothing to do with an imagined fullness.
Zizek draws from Miller to connect desire and drive to anxiety: constituted anxiety is confrontation with the lost object, but the object continues to dwell within fantasy. In constituent anxiety there is pure confrontation with the void, that is, with objet a.
What might follow from this? Well, it is difficult to imagine a political formation rooted in drive alone. Rather, it seems that constituent anxiety would remained coupled with constituted anxiety; that it would, in a way, end up constituting it even as it continues to circle around and around. And, it would seem as well that the powers that be in a political formation would want to block or eliminate the disruption of constiuent anxiety, that they would offer explanations designed to prevent confrontation with the void. So, they would offer explanations, fantasies, rooted in desire, a desire for imagined fullness, for security.
One of the fascinating aspects of conspiracy in connection with 9/11: in the initial weeks, there are numerous official dismissals of conspiracy theories circulating on the Internet. In these initial weeks, the conspiracy theories are linked specifically to the Arab world.