BEYOND THE ADVANCED PSYCHIATRIC SOCIETY- A COLLECTIVE RESEARCH/ OLTRE LA SOCIETA' PSICHIATRICA AVANZATA- UNA RICERCA COLLETTIVA


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domenica 2 ottobre 2011

RICHARD II/ZIZEK: Learning to look awry ['Looking awry', 1992, 9-12]



The gaze of the men in the saloon, capable of discerning the fascinating contours of the object of desire where a normal view sees nothing but a trivial everyday object, is literally a gaze capable of seeing nothingness, i.e., of seeing an object "begot by nothing," as Shakespeare formulated it in a short scene in Richard II, one of his most interesting plays. Richard II proves beyond any doubt that Shakespeare had read Lacan, for the basic problem of the drama is that of the hystericization of a king, a process whereby the king loses the second, sublime body that makes him a king, is confronted with the void of his subjectivity outside the symbolic mandate-title "king," and is thus forced into a series of theatrical, hysterical outbursts, from self-pity to sarcastic and clownish madness. Our interest is limited, however, to a short dialogue between the Queen and Bushy, the King's servant, at the beginning of act II, scene II. The King has left on an expedition of war, and the Queen is filled with presentiments of evil, with a sorrow whose cause she cannot discern. Bushy attempts to console her by pointing out the illusory, phantomlike nature of her grief:
Bushy: Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows,
Which show like grief itself, but are not so.
For sorrow's eye, glazed with blinding tears,
Divides one thing entire to many objects;
Like perspectives, which rightly gaz'd upon
Show nothing but confusion; ey'd awry
Distinguish form: so your sweet majesty,
Looking awry upon your lord's departure,
Finds shapes of grief more than himself to wail;
Which, look'd on as it is, is nought but shadows
Of what is not. Then, thrice-gracious queen,
More than your lord's departure weep not: more's not seen;
Or if it be, 'tis with false sorrow's eye,
Which for things true weeps things imaginary.
Queen: It may be so; but yet my inward soul
Persuades me it is otherwise: howe'er it be,
I cannot but be sad, so heavy sad,
As, though in thinking on no thought I think,
Makes me with heavy nothing faint and shrink.
Bushy: 'Tis nothing but conceit, my gracious lady.
Queen: 'Tis nothing less: conceit is still deriv'd
From some forefather grief; mine is not so,
For nothing hath begot my something grief;
Or something hath the nothing that I grieve:
'Tis in reversion that I do possess;
But what it is, that is not yet known; what
I cannot name; 'tis nameless woe, I wot.
By means of the metaphor of anamorphosis, Bushy tries to convince the Queen that her sorrow has no foundation, that its reasons are null. But the crucial point is the way his metaphor splits, redoubles itself, that is, the way Bushy entangles himself in
contradiction. First ("sorrow's eye, glazed with blinding tears, / Divides one thing entire to many objects"), he refers to the simple, commonsense opposition between a thing as it is "in itself," in reality, and its "shadows," reflections in our eyes, subjective impressions multiplied by our anxieties and sorrows. When we are worried, a small difficulty assumes giant proportions, the thing appears to us far worse than it really is. The metaphor at work here is that of a glass surface sharpened, cut in a way that causes it to reflect a multitude of images. Instead of the tiny substance, we see its "twenty shadows.'' In the following lines, however, things get complicated. At first sight, it seems that Shakespeare only illustrates the fact that "sorrow's eye . . . divides one thing entire to many objects" with a metaphor from the domain of painting ("like perspectives which rightly gaz'd upon show nothing but confusion; ey'd awry distinguish form"), but what he really accomplishes is a radical change of terrain—from the metaphor of a sharpened glass surface, he passes to the metaphor of anamorphosis, the logic of which is quite different: a detail of a picture that "gaz'd rightly," i.e., straightforwardly, appears as a blurred spot, assumes clear, distinguished shapes once we look at it "awry," at an angle. The lines that apply this metaphor back to the Queen's anxiety and sorrow are thus profoundly ambivalent: "so your sweet majesty, looking awry upon your lord's departure, finds shapes of grief more than himself to wail; which, look'd on as it is, is nought but shadows of what is not." That is to say, if we take the comparison of the Queen's gaze with the anamorphotic gaze literally, we are obliged to state that precisely by "looking awry," i.e., at an angle, she sees the thing in its clear and distinct form, in opposition to the "straightforward" view that sees only an indistinct confusion (and, incidentally, the further development of the drama fully justifies the Queen's most sinister presentiments). But, of course, Bushy does not "want to say" this, his intention was to say quite the opposite: by means of an
imperceptible subreption, he returns to the first metaphor (that of a sharpened glass) and "intends to say" that, because her gaze is distorted by sorrow and anxiety, the Queen sees cause for alarm, whereas a closer, matter-of-fact view attests to the fact that there is nothing to her fear.
What we have here are thus two realities, two "substances." On the level of the first metaphor, we have commonsense reality seen as "substance with twenty shadows," as a thing split into twenty reflections by our subjective view, in short, as a substantial "reality" distorted by our subjective perspective. If we look at a thing straight on, matter-of-factly, we see it "as it really is," while the gaze puzzled by our desires and anxieties ("looking awry") gives us a distorted, blurred image. On the level of the second metaphor, however, the relation is exactly the opposite: if we look at a thing straight on, i.e., matter-of-factly, disinterestedly, objectively, we see nothing but a formless spot; the object assumes clear and distinctive features only if we look at it "at an angle," i.e., with an "interested" view, supported, permeated, and ''distorted" by desire. This describes perfectly the objet petit a, the object-cause of desire: an object that is, in a way, posited by desire itself. The paradox of desire is that it posits retroactively its own cause, i.e., the object a is an object that can be perceived only by a gaze "distorted" by desire, an object that does not exist for an "objective" gaze. In other words, the object a is always, by definition, perceived in a distorted way, because outside this distortion, "in itself," it does not exist, since it is nothing but the embodiment, the materialization of this very distortion, of this surplus of confusion and perturbation introduced by desire into so-called "objective reality." The object a is "objectively" nothing, though, viewed from a certain perspective, it assumes the shape of "something." It is, as is formulated in an extremely precise manner by the Queen in her response to Bushy, her "something grief" begot by "nothing." Desire "takes off" when "something" (its object-cause) embodies, gives positive existence to its "nothing," to its void. This "something" is the anamorphotic object, a pure semblance that we can perceive clearly only by "looking awry." It is precisely (and only) the logic of desire that belies the notorious wisdom that "nothing comes from nothing": in the movement of desire, "something comes from nothing." Although it is true that the object-cause of desire is a pure semblance, this does not prevent it from triggering a whole chain of consequences that regulate our "material," "effective" life and deeds.




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