September 12, 2011
Communist desire (trying again, failing again)
It could be that communist gaze goes in the wrong direction, trying to imagine a place from which we see ourselves, a place that judges or authorizes. Under the conditions of the decline of symbolic efficiency, this is missing, lacking, fragmented; rather than covered over in fantasy, misrecognized, it is recognized.
But we don't know what to do with this knowledge, recognition. It should be liberating, but it feels like capture, immobility. This immobility is the other side of drive, of compulsive, acephalic repetition. We look out and for and become transfixed by ourselves looking.
But why do we look, why do we ask, why do we want to know? These questions point to the other logic of enjoyment: desire.
My thesis: communist describes desire, not its object. So it is a determination of the subject, a subjectivization that organizes and mobilizes desire (I've been reading Badiou's Theory of the Subject, which is cryptic, to say the least). Communism, then, is the movement of communist subjects. It should not, then, be conflated with the particular historical description of parties and states, parties and states being instruments for arranging and producing subjects.
How, then, to describe or understand or communist desire or communism as specific arrangement of desire? Tonight I've been looking again at Living in the End Times to think about this.
1. Zizek employs a parallel between Lacanian theory the theory of relativity. For Lacan,
no matter whether the desiring subject approaches or runs from his or her object of desire, this object seems to remain at the same distance from the subject. . . This paradox can be neatly solved by introducing the difference between the object and the cause of desire: no matter how close I get to the object of desire, its cause remains at a distance, totally elusive.
The object of communist desire would seem to be a world without exploitation, one characterized by equality, freedom, justice, the absence of oppression, where production was common, distribution was based on need, and decisions realized the general will. Yet even describing this perfect world always comes up lacking, something is always missing--what about an end to sexism, racism, and egoism? what about an end to social hierarchies? what about ending meanness and bullying? It's no surprise that communism's critics (as early as Aristotle) criticize it as utopian and impossible. Communism seems another word for perfect.
But the impossible object of communist desire is not the same as its cause. I want to suggest that the object cause of communist desire is the people (the people not as a name for the social whole but as a name for the exploited, producing majority). For any government, any system, any political organization, the people remain elusive, incompatible or in tension with government. Where government is, the people are not (I use Ranciere to talk about this in my chapter in the new collection on Ranciere; I think his idea of an original wrong gets at the same idea of the torsion or missing conjunction between people and government). Authoritarianism, oligarchy, aristocracy, representative democracy, parliamentary democracy--none of these forms worries too much about the disconnect between government and the people. But it matters for communism (and for fascism, incidentally, which fascism solves via blood, soil, and Leader), particularly because communism is not only a form of government, but also an organization of production.
The people are elusive. They exceed their symbolic instantiation as well as the imaginaries that try to fill the gaps.
2. Zizek's parallel extends to the curvature of space:
In a homologous way, the Freudian solution to the antinomy of the subject's approaching or running away from his object of desire, and the 'constant speed' (and distance from him) of the object-cause of desire, resides in the curved space of desire: sometimes the shortest way to realize a desire is to by-pass its object-goal, to postpone the encounter with it. What Lacan calls the objet petit a is the agent of this curvature: the unfathomable X on account of which, when we confront the object of our desire, most satisfaction is provided by dancing around it than by directly going for it.
To realize desire is to cede it, to end it. The only way to maintain desire is not to go for it directly, by any means necessary, which, will end up destroying the desire itself. There are different versions of this: getting burned by the sun, too close, so that the subject destroys itself in the process, that is, destroys itself as a subject capable of desiring as it had desired. Another version: once reached, the subject says 'that's not it.' And, perhaps the realization that 'going for it directly' is itself impossible, an attempt that will always necessarily be short-circuited. One can't avoid the long road because the short cut takes you someplace else and makes you someone else.
3. Zizek's discussion here is in the context of an engagement with Malabou's discussion of cerebral traumas of the sort that make the person into "an impassive disengaged subject deprived even of the capacity to dream." Zizek asks:
And is what happens in the case of a post-traumatic subject not the destruction 0f the objet a? This is why such a subject is deprived of an engaged existence and reduced to indifferent vegetation.
He continues, connecting this subject with the death drive:
the disengaged indifferent de-libidinized subject is indeed the pure subject of the death drive: in this subject, only the empty frame of the death drive as the formal-transcendental condition of libidinal investments survives, deprived of all content.
Another word for this subject of the drive is 'whatever being' (I argue this in Blog Theory). Zizek uses the term 'libidinal proletariat.' This is the subject relieved of content, place, desire, the subject of communicative capitalism. And might we also see this as the subject of left politics? The problem of the contemporary left is it capture in drive, in the sublimation of the desire into small issue politics and little victories. This sublimation is the form that the loss of the people as the object cause of desire takes. No people, just issues, or for some identities or localities or singularities (even as they are a multitude).
4. But how to return to desire? Perhaps dialectics can help. Zizek writes:
true, after negation/alienation/loss, the subject 'returns to itself,' but this subject is not the same as the substance that underwent the alienation--it is constituted in the very movement of returning-to-itself. In a properly Hegelian-Freudian-Lacanian way, one should thus draw a radical conclusion: the subject is as such the survivor of its own death, a shell which remains after it is deprived of its substance; this is why Lacan's matheme for the subject is $--the barred subject.
He continues to emphasize the subject as the effect of separation, the subject as gap, along with various familiar gestures to cogito.
Can this make sense for me, for us, for thinking of communist desire? I am faltering at here, my thinking at best falls into the old story of the move from tradition to modernity, from substance to abstraction. Zizek argues that the key point is that separation, the gap, is subjectivity (so the trauma of birth is the same as cerebral brain trauma, both are radical separations, erasures). Zizek: "what is repeated here is not some ancient content, but the very gesture of erasing all substantial content." Because the form remains, the form must have already been there.
But maybe: the content is erased, but the form remains, the empty form of subjectivity. We look for something, expect something, but there is just a void, gap. Argh. This doesn't work: gaps don't desire, although there is no desire without a gap.
So, what's left: empty form, gap, abstraction. Drive/capitalism is one arrangement of these. Perhaps communism is the other. If capitalism is the way of the drive, perhaps communism is the name of desire, another arrangement, without short-circuit, without satisfaction. Perhaps the very struggle is against capitalist drive's provision of tidbits and nuggets of enjoyment, against its arrangement of the loss of the people.
Still not there.
And probably not any closer. But I might get a little closer if I reconnect these ideas with a discussion of capitalism. It could also be that Zizek's notion of the subject as a gap in the structure results in this deadlock and that as long as I stick with that I will keep going round in circles. So Badiou? or is it an error/delusion/attempt to fill what can't be filled, an attempt to avoid the gap in the Other.
One last possibility: the difference between the Neighbor as Thing in its gap of desire and that of flat whatever being. These are not the same, but I don't know how to get from one to the other.