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July 22, 2006


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Fantastic post, Jodi. You're on fire lately! All of this makes me want to jump back into Zizek and begin reading him again. For some time now I've been cultivating the fantasy of writing a book strictly on Zizek's ontology. Zizek always jokes about how he would prefer to be writing books of pure theory and ontology. Well is there a genuine ontology behind his thought? What does it look like? Is it necessarily, as you suggest, tied to a subject?

I really don't have much to say specifically in relation to the remarks you've laid out so well. First, Zizek develops the logic of the One in the first two chapters of _For They Know Not What They Do_. It might be that we get a clearer articulation of what he's up to there. In the new edition of this work, he also has an extensive preface where he talks about the logic of the One and locates it at the heart of his own project (contrasting his position with Laclau, Ranciere, and Badiou).

Second, for some reason I wonder if the key to these questions isn't to be found in Seminar 20. You will recall that one of the major claims that Lacan makes there is that "There is such a thing as One". Lacan ties this in to all sorts of ontological issues (which he associates with specific properties of the symbolic), and seeks to give a set theoretical account of the One that wouldn't reduce it to the notion of the whole (Lacan is especially interested in the manner in which a name can bring a collection into existence, despite the fact that the elements of this set have nothing in common, cf. pgs 47-8). Lacan also seeks to contrast the One with the Other (Woman as barred). I'm gearing up to trudge through Seminar 19, where he works out this thesis ("There's such a thing as a One") in more detail. Hopefully I'll have more cogent things to say then.

Third, I think you hit something vital when you raise questions of appearance. Can we conceive of a form of appearance that isn't appearance to a subject? Is Zizek necessarily tied to a thesis of thetic consciousness (appearing-to) as might be suggested by his commitment to German Idealism? I don't have answers to this question, though I hope the answer is no. Badiou's most recent work, Logiques des mondes, attempts to give an account of appearance (what he calls "being-there") that consists in appearing to a world, not appearing to a subject. Where Being and Event outlines being-qua-being as multiplicity qua multiplicity, and therefore as non-relational being, Logiques des mondes presents the onto-*logic* of situations or worlds in their relationality as being-there or appearing without requiring a subject to which they appear. It could be that there are fruitful grounds for a discussion between Zizek and Badiou on this particular point.

It seems to me that one point of significant difference between Badiou and Zizek is that for Zizek the subject is always operative in situations. Everyone, for Zizek, is a subject. For Badiou, by contrast, a subject only appears in relation to an event. Now, I am unclear here as to whether this is a point of contention between the two thinkers or not. In many respects, it seems to me that what Badiou and Zizek refer to as "subjects" are mere homonyms of one another, and relate to very different domains of being. Unfortunately, I have a very difficult time wading through all of Zizek's interpretations and analyses to get to the root of the issue, which writing an analysis of Zizek's ontology might help to rectify.

Kimmo Kallio

Hi Jodi,

I've read your blog for almost a year now and I must say that it has been extremely rewarding. And same praise goes to your blog also, Levi.

I'd like to ask a further question on something you mention, Levi, about the "homonymous" character of the relations between the concepts of subject in Badiou and Zizek.

Would you agree that we could really trace this "uninterchangibleness" of the notions between these two thinkers to concern more the relationship between Badiou and Lacan?

In fact, Glen's comment in the "Deleuze and Lacan"-comments box (mentioned above) gives me even more reason to ask this. In the quotation offered by Glen, D&G speak about desire qua machine which doesn't lack anything - but the subject. And to me it is perfectly clear that D&G aren't speaking here about Lacanian subject at all since for Lacan subject is the absent, non-being actor of the pathological&unconscious desire per se!

So we could even ask, if Badiou's subject is much closer to the subject D&G are speaking about, rather than Lacan's...

This seems to be a subject (sic!) we need to pay much more attention to, since none really exhaustive studies have been written about it, yet.

Kenneth Rufo

Baudrillard: The real question is "how is there nothing rather than something?"


Regarding the computer:



this isnt too far from what deleuze and guattari might have gone. while i havent read this particular zizek book --d&g's criticism of having being and substance (as in the form of subject) does limits the abilities of thought to move, as you can see for zizek, it's still a matter of jumping from particular to universal and how that gap necessitates a negative twist of thought. of course zizek is much more sophisticated than this -- this same gap could be understood as the same (real) space d&g are stuck endlessly and aimlessly wandering, something induced by forgetting the subject as a marker by which to navigate the void.


Thanks, folks, for the comments. And, thanks, Kimmo for your kind words.

Levi: a book on Zizek's ontology would be a great idea. If you decide to write some articles in this direction, I'm on the board of a new electronic journal, International Journal of Zizek Studies (I think that's the name of it; it's modelled after one on Baudrillard and will be launch in January) would be a great place for you to publish something in this vein.

I haven't seen the new edition to FTKNWTD--looks like I'll have to get another copy of this book if there's a long new forward. Drat. Thanks, as well, for the reminders re the discussion there. I'll also look at Seminar XX--thanks! (Although, honestly, I'm not a particularly good reader of Lacan so I'm not sure I'll be able to do much with that; I'd be much more interested in what you do.)

Naed Idoj

Actually I'd agree this is pretty tight writing for Ms Dean. But it's the accusations of "vulgar" materialism--in regards to more deterministic or statistical types of materialism-- that are puzzling. The marxist has his (or her) own types of vulgarity ( faith in the proletariat for one), and there is plenty of naturalism and nearly-Darwinian types of ideas in early marx (see THe German Ideology).

Tho I admit dilettante-status, but I am not so sure there is a clear demarcation (gap?) between a more biological-driven materialism and dialectical materialism, as postmods and more Kantian types of marxists assume. Organism and environment creates a sort of dialectic as well, as behaviorists, even leftist ones, have long realized. If Zizek , waxing Kantian, holds consciousness (and intentionality) is an anomaly completely apart from nature or any form of animal existence, then the term "materialism" seems mistaken, regardless of how PC it is( tho Z. is not too close to say a immaterialist or neo-Cartesian such as CHalmers, who Z. disparages at least in some of the excerpts from "Parallax") Human-primates are embedded in nature,as is their thinking, regardless of how sophisticated there cognitive processes may be............

Kimmo Kallio

your remarks on the One in Parallax View are essential and well informed. Now that I've read your post more closely I'd like to comment on some of your (and also some of Levi's) points.

I haven't read FTKNWTD, but I'd be really careful about making connections between Zizek's notion of the One and the "There's such a thing as One" Lacan talks about in Encore.

At least Badiou seems to grant the One (or Oneness, as Badiou/Feltham put it in Being and Event) Lacan talks about in Seminars XX & XIX a symbolic status -- and to my recollection, this was also Lacan's own explict position.

So Badiou is explictly with Lacan here:

"It [the statement, that One is not] is not a question however, of abandoning the principle Lacan assigned to the symbolic; that there is Oneness. [...] What has to be declared is that the one, which is not, solely exists as operation. In other words: there is no one, only the count-as-one." (B&E,23-24)

Here I'd really distinguish Zizek's One both from that of Badiou's (imaginary unity of being 'which is not') and on the other hand also from that of Lacan's/Badiou's (count-as-one), the former being an ungrounded fantasy and an imaginary counterpart of our reality, when the latter, according to Badiou, is merely a secondary result of an operation (a fact, that comes perceptible, of course, only afterwards after repercussions of an event) meaning basically the (paternal) function founding the locus of signifiers, ie. the symbolic register.

I'd say that Zizek's insistence on the multiple faces of One is more akin to Lacan's formulation of Cartesian cogito between being, and thinking and the formal disjunction thereof. In fact in his outstanding "Lacan to the Letter" Bruce Fink takes Lacan's formulation a little bit further and states that cogito isn't really situated between being & thinking, because, in the final analysis, there is no such a thing as cogito. By "falling off" it marks the empty spot of void between the two distinct poles of (Lacanian) subject.

So how does this relate to Zizek's One? It seems there is a similar "cogito", an X, in Zizek's parallax. There are the poles, but no mediation, and the whole enterpize of divergent appearances gets a name (becomes One).

By nominating these multiple appearances as One Zizek seems to take an opposite direction in debunking our everyday ideology/fantasy: one could really think them as "cutting" and "pasting". It is clear that the paternal function (the locus of signifiers) in itself needs always certain cutting (to draw lines between categories - especially to those ones with too much proximity!) and certain pasting (to make the obscure things "hold still").

Thus, Badiou & Zizek seem to try to 'undo' these symbolic procedures by introducing an opposite measure to these ideological apparatuses. If Badiou is up to "cutting" the common and solid categories, count-as-ones, given by the situation into a pure multiple, it should be said that Zizek, on his part, is more into "pasting" the categories, split in our contingent fantasies, in to a One (fundamental fantasy).

Let's consider for instance capitalism. Zizek claims, that in order to survive, capitalism has to create it's own excess (And has there ever been greater 'inherent excess' to the capitalist system than the Really Existing Socialist State?) so we come to conclusion that in the bottom of both eg. communism and capitalism (or on the other hand western capitalism and islamist-fundamentalism) lies a shared "other stage", fundamental fantasy. Ergo, they are One.

The main reason I wouldn't connect Lacan's "there is such a thing as One/Oneness" and Zizek's One, is that, the former being almost unanimously symbolic, Zizek really seem to imply that his One is real! For instance at Birkbeck (according to Daniel) he states:

“you know, many people get very nervous when I insist that capitalism is Real. But they are missing crucial point here! In Lacanian idea of the Real, the crucial point is: the Real can be changed!”

It's curious, though, for Zizek to consider fiction as something one cannot change. Now, if we recall Zizek's main proposition in the Sublime Object of Ideology, which was that only thing real in ourselves is effectively our symptom/sinthome which CANNOT be changed, which insists everywhere. At least for me, this is the ultimate problem with Zizek today, that is, what does it mean for an Act to change the real and not “the very coordinates of reality” eg. symbolic, and how should we think this changing of the real in relation to his earlier writings.


Kimmo, excellent remarks. The connection I'm seeing between Zizek's discussion of the One and Lacan's assertion that "there's such a thing as One" is that both come to the conclusion that the One minimally differs from itself, leading to the Other. Zizek draws a number of these connections early in PV, when discussing the relation of his theses about the One to the graphs of sexuation. That is, Zizek's ontological claims about the One are heavily tied to Lacan's account of sexuation. I take it that you're right in arguing that Lacan, Zizek, and Badiou are all united in arguing that the One is a result or product, not ontologically primative. In PV, for instance, Zizek argues that Hegelian Spirit is a result or product, not an agent that acts and precedes development. Zizek can thus be seen as attempting to diagnosis the imaginary obfuscations that seek to cover over the pure antagonism characterizing the real.

When Zizek suggests that capitalism is real, I take it that he's merely claiming that it is pure antagonism. The real cannot be eradicated, but it can be changed. As Lacan argued early on in Seminar 11, "What is praxis? I doubt whether this term maybe regarded as inappropriate to psycho-analysis. It is the broadest term to designate a concerted human action, whatever it may be, which places man in a position to treat the real by the symbolic. The fact that in doing so he encunters the imaginary to a greater or lesser degree is only of secondary importance here" (6). We'd be in a sorry state of affairs, I think, if we couldn't effect the real at all.

Kenneth Rufo

"We'd be in a sorry state of affairs, I think, if we couldn't effect the real at all."

Really? I would think we'd be better off, since it would mean the Symbolic is contained unto itself, and that there remains something that, no matter our efforts (or the efforts of more powerful adversaries) that will resist the imposition of meaning from the Acts of those who cannot stand this resistance. That sounds like me as the beginning of agency, rather than the ground of utopian/nihilist thought.


Kenneth--I don't follow you: Symbolic contained unto itself? That sounds as if the Symbolic weren't ruptured or inconsistent.

Kimmo and Levi: your discussion is quite interesting. I don't have anything to add at this point; I'm still trying to figure things out. At this point, I'm not inclined to put Zizek's One in the same position as the cogito, but the idea is interesting and maybe I should.


Kenneth, I'm not sure I follow what you're claiming or what you're objecting to. Switching examples a bit, in the clinic the real is one of the sources of repetition in the symptom. Part of the efficacy of analysis lies in its ability to hit the real and displace it. Although the real cannot be dissipated once and for all, it can be displaced and reconfigured. You really think it would be preferable to endlessly choose partners that end up beating you, or to continue with obsessive handwashing, counting, checking the doors to see if they're locked, etc., etc.?

At any rate, your remarks seem to suggest that you think of the real as something outside the symbolic. As Zizek argues, the real is immanent to the symbolic.



Your excellent example of analysis provides one way of addressing Kimmo's ending question re: "what does it mean for an Act to change the real and not 'the very coordinates of reality'".

When analysis "hits the real" focus is shifted and forces the subject (temporarily at least) to surrender comfortable fantasies and realign themselves to focus not on the symptom, but on the real.


Thanks Pebird. I don't think of the symptom as something the subject focuses on, so much as a solution to the problem of the real. As Lacan puts it, "For what the unconscious does is show us the gap through which neurosis recreates a harmony with a real-- a real that may well not be determined" (Seminar 11, 22). A symptom is thus that which fills in the missing place of the real as the primary process attempts to symbolize that which cannot be symbolized or which falls outside the symbolic.

In this respect, symptom formation is akin to Levi-Strauss' conception of myth as a solution to a logical problem. Lacan argued that obsession and hysteria are both organized around undecidable questions. In the case of obsession the obsessional's unconscious question is "am I alive or am I dead?", while in the case of hysteria the unconscious question is "am I a man or am I a woman". Moreover, Lacan argues that fantasy is organized around three unsolvable problems or "reals": 1) the question of origins, 2) what is woman?, and 3) the sexual relation. The symptom responds to these sorts of logical impossibilities and contradictions.

There will, of course, be reals and reals. Some reals are dislodgable through the active intervention of interpretation, whereas there are ineradicable reals as well. I give an example of a somewhat minor symptom attached to a dislodgable real from early in my own analysis in relation to my minor symptom of continuously break chalk when I first began teaching here at Larval Subjects:


My analyst's "interpretation" allowed the real of this situation to be named or brought into the symbolic, which had the effect of dislodging the symptom. The real, of course, persists. As Lacan's discourse of the master indicates:


A remainder, a, is produced in any act of signification, such that a, the real in this instance, is displaced elsewhere like instances of long division that always produce additional remainders no matter how far we go in dividing. However, while the real is ultimately ineradicable, it's certainly the case that some ways of relating to the real are more bearable than others.

I notice that Kenneth Rufo, over at Ghost in the Wire takes psychoanalysis to task for privileging the genetic in interpretation:


It seems to me that this is based on a misconception of what actually goes on in the psychoanalytic clinic. First, psychoanalysis works with whatever material the analysand produces. It is not unusual to encounter analysands that don't talk of their past at all. Second, even in those instances where the analysand's discourse revolves heavily around the past, this past is something that is being *produced* apres coup or retroactively, not the hidden truth of psychic structures. It is something that will have been, not something that is. Lacan goes so far as to argue that the symptom itself is produced in the course of analysis, as opposed to being something that is already there. This, I think, markedly distinguishes Lacan's conception of analysis from Freud's. Finally, third, a proper psychoanalytic interpretation is an *act* not an attempt to *reveal the truth* of the symptom. Lacan argued that a good interpretation is judged not by whether it accurately represents the truth or whether the analysand consciously agrees with it, but by the *effects* that it produces (emergence of new material, shifts in fantasies, changes in symptoms). Along these lines, Lacan spent a good deal of time examining Stoic logic and contemporary propositional logic, focusing especially on the law of modus ponens (p-->q, p, therefore q). What fascinated Lacan about modes ponens is that the antecendent can be false, but if the consequent is true then the entire proposition is treated as true. In analytic terms, an interpretation can be false, but it can produce true consequences, which establishes the truth of the interpretation retroactively, even though not a true representation of reality.

I think a number of Zizek's "interpretations" can be understood in these terms. Both Lacan and Zizek are commited to the thesis that there is no prediscursive reality, that we never encounter a reality that isn't filtered through the symbolic. I take it this is one of the points Zizek has in mind when, in PV, he argues that materialism consists in the thesis that our gaze is already inscribed in things themselves. For instance, if Zizek rejects classic versions of historical materialism, then this is because any interpretation of a text or event in terms of its historical and material circumstances will already have our gaze or frame built into it, such that we never get at the referent itself. We're caught in a circularity.

Zizek's strategy, I think, is thus to target the coordinates of the symbolic itself. Many of Zizek's interpretations are "false" in the sense that they distort the texts he examines. It's unlikely that Zizek, for instance, gives us a very accurate picture of Hegel or Kant or Schelling or St. Paul. But this assumes that Zizek is interested in giving us an accurate picture. What Zizek instead targets, I think, is the socio-symbolic organization around these terms as a way of displacing various reals characterizing the social field. Thus, for example, Hegel, for years, has been treated as the ultimate whipping boy of continentally informed theorists. Zizek's inverts this relation, giving us a very different picture of Hegel, that potentially has the effect of transforming the very nature of contemporary debates surrounding postmodern thought and political theory. Similarly, Christianity has often been the ultimate villian among marxists in ways that are perhaps counterproductive. By painting a Paul with the beard of Marx, Zizek, perhaps, displaces sterile debates among Marxists with regard to religion, perhaps reconfiguring the social field of a paticular politics. It is not the truth that matters here, so much as the effects that the *saying* produces. As Lacan argues in Seminar 18, there are no facts without the *act* of *saying*, which isn't to say that saying makes facts, but certainly that articulation is a necessary condition for producing reality. There is, of course, a real that resists.

At any rate, I've gone on too long.



You could go on forever as far as I am concerned.

I may be using simplistic notiona for symptom and subject, but your focus on breaking the chalk, for example, is what I call the subject's focus on the symptom. But please point me toward a different way of looking at this.



I think I get your point. With the chalk I was completely focused and obsessed with the chalk, to the detriment of everything else. What Fink's intervention allowed was a sort of "semoitization" of the symptom that opened it to a broader horizon. Somewhere Miller, I think, talks about how the symptom is mute, calling for no interpretation (in contrast to a parapraxes). The thing about the chalk is that I didn't consciously think about what he had said or even register it. It passed right over my head. Apparently the interpretation thus communicated at a level quite different than cognition.

Kimmo Kallio

Jodi, about the One as “cogito”: that wasn't really what I ment. What I ment is that in Fink's topography there’s this thing, which “falls off”, which is the cogito which is to be opposed to the whole construction. If you've got a Google Account, you'll see here the graph: http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0816643202&id=rl5H2pR6Z4cC&pg=PA164&lpg=PA164&dq=cogito+fink+lacan+to+the+letter&sig=dL6LxTRCzu5CPZKaP_1MKfTKC8g

What I ment to denote as “One” is the whole enterprize of “Lacanian subject”, consisting of the two poles of “being” and “thinking” and also of the non-being, fallen-off mediative part, cogito. Here we could even say that the cogito is that which Badiou nominates as the (imaginary) non-being-One, and the (Lacanian) subject being the pure operation of count-as-one, but then it would undermine my previous position of contrasting Badiou’s interpretation of Lacan’s Oneness and that of Zizek’s (or would it?), so clearly I’ll have to think this one through again!

Side note: In fact, on the second last page of Fink’s book there is a much more inrtiguing graph depicting (Finks view of) the Other and it’s two faces: the Signifier of the non-being-of-the-Other and the omnipotent paternal function, and the objet petit a being the non-being-and-fallen-off-mediator in between.

Levi: thanks for your insightful responses. You make it all seem so clear (yes, I'm totally serious here, no sarcasm involved). This got me really thinking again about my (hopefully) forthcoming Master's thesis, which is (hopefully) going to be about Zizek's reading of Sophocle's Antigone. It seems there's lots of left to say about the topic, but I'll need much more cogent arguments than what I'm able to provide right now. So, I'll just have to cut the bull and get back to work.


By the way, if anyone here has any opinions, insightful or not, about which ones of the various Introduction to Zizek -books are any worth reading (apart from those of Parker's and Jodi's, which I'm going to read anyways), I'd really appreciate if you gave me a hint. Preferably to my e-mail, so that this comments box won't get any more off topic.

Kenneth Rufo

Levi, I don't know if you read that post of mine in full or not, but you're reasons for believing my argument untrue seem fairly unrelated to the claims in the post, which have nothing to do with the past, and even less to do with the psychoanalytic situation (though I find this move utterly shocking and fascinating on your part), but have to do instead with the use of psychoanalysis as a means of textual criticism, specifically in rhetoric as a field.

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