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This is why I hate intellectuals

Tag: lacan

Why the British monarchy doesn’t exist

In the beginning there was the Image, and the Image was with God, and the Image was God. And the Image was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

Good news for republicans, bad news for sufferers of scrofula. The monarchy is done, it’s finished, we can chuck it away with the Empire and the established Church. That is to say, it’s still around, in terms of appearance, but only as a farcical parody of itself, a shadow, a convention. It’s ceased to have any real existence. Once we had a monarchy, now we just have the royals, and the two are not the same thing.

Bad news for the royal baby, though (congrats to Wills and Kate, rah rah, etc etc). They’ll all still be there to comprehensively fuck up his future development, the whole chimerical menagerie: that dessicated turtle-beaked matriarch with her rapacious vulture-eyes, she who once gorged herself silly on the soul of Laurent Nkrumah using sinister white people dance-magic; his wittering toucan-nosed biscuit-salesman of a grandfather; the murderous lunkheaded uncle, a marmot-faced proper down-to-earth lad, mowing down Pashtun herdsmen in his flying fortress of imminent death like a less sophisticated Sarah Palin; an entire extended family of posh twits, all in various stages of hippomorphosis; finally, the heirs to all this horror, his whinnying filly-mother and braying donkey-father. They want their son to have a normal life, they say; they’re already positioning themselves into a perfect imitation of the drab Oedipal triangle, and as a sop to the press they’ll provide access to a few key moments: baby’s first repression of his infantile sexuality, baby’s first intimation of his own mortality – see, he’s growing up as damaged and estranged from the world as everyone else! He’s a neurotic wreck putting on a brave grin, just like you! It won’t work, though. This is not a nice family. Parents in the Haus Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha aren’t just distant, they’re at an interstellar remove; all the normal fixations are displaced onto wetnurses and nannies. The chief activity of its sons and daughters consists of waiting for their parents to die. The royals can’t go through any castration complex because for them there really is nothing more important in the world than themselves – for them, the crown and sceptre aren’t symbols; they’ve been permanently locked out the Symbolic order. In other words, they’re a family of psychopaths. They’re toxic, not just institutionally but personally, and if you spend too long breathing in their fumes the poison will get to you sooner or later: just look at the poor kid’s grandmother. Where’s child protection? Why won’t someone rescue this baby before it’s too late?

Nobody will, because for the great mobile flocks of royal-watchers and their herdsmen in the press this isn’t a person at all. The royal baby is made of more delicate and ephemeral stuff than we are; when the Duchess of Cambridge was in hospital she gave birth to a liquid stream of pixels and wavelengths, its digital tentacles spiralling out from her womb to wrap themselves around the entire world. The royal baby has the dubious honour of being possibly the first person born as image before reality, the first person to fully demonstrate Baudrillard’s old line about the precession of simulacra: ‘today it is the territory whose shreds slowly rot across the extent of the map.’ His status as ‘the royal baby,’ future ruler and object of fame and devotion, ontologically preceded any of his actual physical attributes. In the old days, when we still had a monarchy, the king held two bodies: the body politic and the body natural. Now our royals have no body at all. In normal development, a child develops full subjectivity when it identifies itself with the specular image in the mirror, when it comprehends itself as an object capable of being gazed upon; before that between subject and image there’s an aggressive tension which the child has to resolve into joyful captivation. No such luck for the royal baby. He will be surrounded by the gazes of cameras and smartphones; his own image will surround him, staring from commemorative plates, tea-towels, mugs, the inevitable ‘keep calm and love the royal baby’ posters – every mundane object will be stamped with the mark of his spectral adversary. He won’t be able to subsume the image into his self; it’s too late for him, he’s already been swallowed up by the image, the idea of what he is, as an amœba swallows up a speck of food.

A royal family is the image of a monarchy that remains once the monarchy itself has shrivelled up and died. The monarch was once the guarantor of a certain kind of commons: the king’s highway, the royal mail, the crown courts. The monarch was the people, by virtue of our perfect subjugation to him; he imposed a certain kind of paradoxical egalitarianism. Now, in an age of privatisation, the situation’s been precisely reversed. Images and representations are common property, and as such the royal family are now perfectly subjugated to us. It’s their in the language: our Wills, our Kate. When a French magazine published topless photos of Kate Middleton the popular outrage wasn’t so much a loyal horror of lèse-majesté as affront against the violation of property. It works the other way too: as the image of the royal baby started to construct its hyperreal manifestation yesterday, a good part of the nation thought it had the right to know every queasy detail about the dilation of the royal vagina. Sovereignty’s dread authority of life and death over its subjects has turned into the sovereign being the ultimate object of that same biopolitical power; the king’s commons has turned into a king held in common. The monarchy as such no longer exists.

In a way all this should be celebrated. Whether or not the formal monarchy survives Elizabeth (and I’m not so sure it will), we’ve finally beaten back our aristocratic oppressors. In the royal image we’ve found the paradigm for a new commons without sovereign power. But it’s going to seriously mess up that kid.

Branding strategies for the viscous phallus-monster that has risen from the depths to reclaim our world

Sometimes I believe that this less material life is our truer life, and that our vain presence on the terraqueous globe is itself the secondary or merely virtual phenomenon.
Karl Marx, Grundrisse

This exists.

It’s easy to get whipped up into an outrage over this kind of thing. It’s enraging to see the techniques by which we are manipulated uncovered in all their foetid glory. What’s more, there’s the sheer density of meaningless marketing buzzwords repeated over an insipid steel guitar melody, managing to replicate simultaneously the effects of a cult indoctrination film and a nice strong hit of prescription opiates. There’s the naked theft of the video’s entire aesthetic from the occasionally excellent RSAnimate series. There’s the fact that the gang of marketers behind it seem to consider making a positive change in the world to only be a good thing insofar as it can be put to use selling various tubes of corn syrup-based goo. There’s the cynical manipulation of popular sentimentality for profit. There’s the section dealing with ‘families, communities and cultures,’ in which the former two are represented anthropomorphically, sitting like nineteenth-century monarchs astride a globe, while ‘cultures’ is just an arrow pointing in the vague direction of Africa. It’s all so perfectly and unwittingly ugly. But to focus on this stuff is to miss the point a little. There’s plenty of justification for a sensible critique of consumer capitalism as demonstrated by this video, but a purely sensible critique ignores not only the horrific haecceity of the thing, but the otherworldly horror that surrounds consumerism itself. For the purposes of this essay, at least, I’m not interested in the ideological presuppositions of liberal philanthropy, the incoherence of marketing discourse, the soporific nature of societally-mandated pleasantness, or even the construction of the racial-cultural other.

What I’m really interested in is this.

What is this thing? It crops up everywhere in the video. Its tendrils extrude randomly into the field of gibberish without warning or explanation: sometimes it tenderly caresses the various symbolic representations onscreen; sometimes it’s actively antagonistic towards them, bursting out from their bodies and leaving only shattered remnants of sales patter. In one memorably horrifying sequence it’s shown passing through the heads of three people as they smile their bovinely unfazed marker-pen smiles in our direction. Here, at the video’s end, it holds the entire Earth in its grip, the planet leaving sticky stretchmarks as it tries and fails to struggle free from the gloop’s oleaginous embrace. Let’s start with what we can see. The thing is clearly alive. Maybe it’s not alive in the strict biological sense that any of us can comprehend, but it moves, it has agency, it has plans for us and our lives. It appears as a seething mass of – of what? Not liquid, exactly; it’s too firm, too collected; it doesn’t flow, it crawls. Some kind of mobile mucous then, bile-black and slug-sinuous, its surface tight and slimy, glistening under the light of a blood-clotted sun. But at the same time there’s an undeniably fleshy quality to it, fleshy in the most visceral sense of the world. It resembles nothing so much as an immense, writhing conglomeration of dicks. Could it be that what this thing wants is to fuck us?

I’ve always found there to be something almost endearingly naive in the thought of Debord and Baudrillard and other theorists of the image. Baudrillard proudly and knowingly calls himself a nihilist; in fact, he’s anything but. Nobody believes more fanatically or more religiously in truth than the poststructuralists. To speak of the spectacle or the simulacrum in terms of a precise historical moment is to assert the existence of a historical world of truths prior to the image; to speak of hyperreal images that reflect only each other and deny a pre-existing truth is to assert the existence of a pre-existing truth that can be denied. Debord in particular is militant in his rejection of the image and his partisanship on the side of reality. He’s got it all wrong. Representation isn’t a prison, it’s a shield, our only defence against a universe filled with horrors. It’s a way to make the world comprehensible. Lacan describes this process precisely: the Symbolic order has its origins in the castration complex; the phallus as an intolerable lack is what anchors the entire process of signification. When Lacan describes the Real he does so in terms that approach Lovecraftian horror: it’s something black and smooth and undifferentiated, with no cuts or cracks, no inside or outside. The infant, confronted with the realisation that the world is an enormous and unfriendly place in which his jouissance is ultimately irrelevant, begins to build metaphors for himself. It’s the only thing he knows how to do.

Eventually, though, the chains of signification loop in on themselves. In the Coca-Cola Content 2020 Initiative video, there’s no mention of Coca-Cola-as-beverage, only stories, narratives, feelings, loyalties – only images referring to other images. This makes perfect sense: images are a necessary refuge from an unpleasant reality. The fact of your utter insignificance in both the mechanistic universe and the libidinal economy doesn’t sell sugary drinks – or, at least, it doesn’t sell many to Coca-Cola’s core demographic of people who don’t just sit at home with the curtains drawn reading Kafka. Brands aren’t like us. They’re better than we are, untouched by fears or neuroses, unravaged by time. They have the commodity’s aura of unblemished totality that we pitiful human wrecks, crippled by our various lacks and lacerations, can never possess. That’s why people grow so attached to them; we want what they have. But to fully maintain the pleasant banality of advertising, to completely protect against the sour taste of reality, these images have to be decoupled from any concrete referent. They have to be purged of anything that could climb down the chain of signification and kick us in the face. That’s where we get brand slogans like Live Positively: a floating signifier, elemental in its meaninglessness. But doing this kind of thing is very dangerous. The shield of representation works by mediating between the fragile subject and the hideous object; if you break it away from the object it becomes useless. The real world can then intrude. It forces its way unopposed into the realm from which it was banished, and it hits us right where we thought we were most safe: in our advertising. And when it does so, is it any wonder that it takes on the form of the object of that first primal act of signification, slipping back across the divide between phallus and penis?

This isn’t a metaphor; it’s a portent. The creature that invaded the Coca-Cola Content 2020 Initiative video will not stop there. Our virtual creations are easy targets; its violence grows stronger with every victory. Soon the brittle crust of the Earth will snap, and viscous tentacles will emerge from the chasm to crush all our cherished symbols. The beast will rise. It will take its revenge, and it will take it in blood. We will, very soon, be once again faced with the incomprehensible horror that we once tried to abstract away, long ago, when we were infants. Luckily, we now know exactly how to deal with it. All we have to do is represent it, turn it back into a signifier. The future of the human race depends on a solid brand strategy.

…In the next financial year, our target is to double voluntary self-immolations as sacrifices to the viscous phallus-monster that has risen from the depths to reclaim our world. That’s a lot of voluntary self-immolations! To do this, we must fully engage our brand with the aspirations of our sacrificial base. This means not only promoting our brand, but entering into dialogue with the defeated human race across all multimedia platforms and allowing user-created content to grow in the fertile ashes of their ruined cities. Through the Live Every Second brand slogan consumers can independently develop content focusing on positive and aspirational life experiences they have enjoyed before inevitably succumbing to annihilation at the hand of the viscous phallus-monster that has risen from the depths to reclaim our world. Our entire advertising focus has to be centred around the Live Every Second concept if the phallus-monster brand is to achieve full market penetration. Engaging with Live Every Second means that consumers will approach their grisly fate as the appropriate end to a life not only lived well, but lived to the max. By encouraging conversations about what it means to live every second we can potentialise the creativity of our user base…

Prism: the psychopathology of internet surveillance

The gaze of the other is a scotoma, a blind spot or plough cutting into the field of vision; the gaze looks, but does not see us.
Allan Pero, The Chiasm of Revolution

The NSA’s PowerPoint slides were apparently designed by Timmy, aged seven

The truth is out, in the form of an almost preternaturally tacky slideshow, but the truth has only ever been a pathological construct, the ultimate fetish-object in a world of images without referents. Here’s the truth: you are being watched – but the really important question isn’t what the truth is, but what the truth does, and that all depends. Maybe you don’t mind being watched, maybe you get off on it. What do you do when you’re alone with the Internet? Perhaps you sit in a darkened room, silent except for the syncopated rasp of your breath and the oily rustling of a half-empty bag of Chilli Heatwave Doritos, hunched over as you scroll endlessly through pictures of people you knew three years ago, each pulling the same identical pouty face as they pose at the club, pose at the beach, pose in front of scenes of outstanding natural beauty, pose in front of memorials to the victims of the genocide. Perhaps you watch only the tamest and most inoffensive of pornography, stuff given a stamp of approval by the National Organisation for Women and six prominent feminist bloggers – but that’s all you do, seven hours a day, seven days a week. Perhaps you like to hang out with your friends on Twitter to have fun sharing bomb-making tips and complaining about the slow progress of global Jihad. Perhaps you make rage comics, you sick freak.

What’s going on? Four hypotheses: the neurotic, the psychotic, the schizophrenic, the melancholic. Choose your sickness; it’s the only choice you’ll ever make.

Neurosis. Top-secret documents released recently by the Guardian and the Washington Post reveal the existence of a far-reaching surveillance programme operated by the National Security Agency (a part of the US military), codenamed PRISM. Under the programme, personal communications from nine Internet services – including Facebook, Skype, and Google, but with the notable exception of Twitter – can be accessed at any time by government security agents. Not just public postings but also private emails and video calls; in a separate scandal it was revealed that the NSA has been collecting the phone records of US citizens. What’s more shocking is that these companies voluntarily signed up to the programme; they abused the trust of their users in handing over private data to government spies. What we’re seeing is the development of a surveillance society far more insidious than any historical totalitarian regime. You can still think and say whatever you want, but you’re always being watched; your right to privacy has disappeared without you even noticing it. In some sinister concrete server complex there’s a digital file on you, containing everything you’ve said and done. Government agencies listen in on your telephone calls, software built in to your iPhone records your exact location, web cookies track your browsing habits. This is what radical openness means; it’s a laceration. The government-corporation complex is with you at every moment, and should it decide that it doesn’t like what you’re thinking and saying, it has the power to murder you on a whim.

Psychosis. There’s something grimly humorous about the whole situation. One of the nine services that forms part of the Prism system is YouTube; the unbidden image arises of a young, driven NSA staffer going in to work – his tie fastidiously knotted, his shoes gleaming like an oil slick – to watch hundreds of videos of cats falling over in the defence of American security interests. With every new maladroit kitten the aquiline focus of his eyes sharpens; the furrows on his forehead grow glacial in their cragginess. Ashley’s going for cocktails with the girls, Matt’s watching the football, Tariq’s eaten too much Ardennes pâté, and the government has to take note of it all in a desperate and doomed attempt to regulate our world. Except what if that’s the entire point? The programme isn’t political, it’s sexual. It’s not surveillance, it’s scopophilia. You think the NSA is trudging through millions of hours of Skype conversations just so they can catch out a couple of would-be terrorists? What do those initials really stand for, anyway? Nudes Seekin’ Agency? Nasty Sex Appraisers? Our agent isn’t watching out for coded communications, he’s got something entirely different in mind. A couple are talking into their webcams. She’s gone off to university, he stayed at home; they’re still together but in her absence he’s been feeling kinda down. He wants to touch her, he wants to hold her, he wants to feel flesh against flesh, but he can’t. As he talks a smile slithers across her face. “Oh, don’t,” she says. “Not now.” “Come on,” he says. “Please. I’m going crazy out here.” They think they’re alone. “OK,” she says. She takes off her shirt. As her tits flop out our agent bellows in exultation. There are hundreds of workstations in the big tile-carpeted room in Fort Meade, Maryland, and they all spout arcing parabolas of cum…

Schizophrenia. Internet surveillance is different from ordinary surveillance. The NSA isn’t putting bugs in your home or following you down the street; you’re giving them everything they want. You’re putting all this information out there of your own free will, and you can stop any time you want. We all know that everything we post online is monitored, that every ‘like’ on Facebook is worth £114 to advertisers and retailers, that Google knows far more about our shameful desires than our sexual partners or our psychotherapists, that intelligence agencies routinely prowl through our communications. And yet we still do it. Some people can’t eat their lunch without slapping an Instagram filter on it, others feel the need to tweet the precise consistency of their morning shit. Planet Earth produces 25 petabytes of data every day, a quantity of information several orders of magnitude larger than that contained in every book ever published – and most of it is banality or gibberish. A web developer named Mike DiGiovanni commented of Google Glass: “I’ve taken more pictures today than I have the past 5 days thanks to this. Sure, they are mostly silly, but my timeline has now truly become a timeline of where I’ve been.” As if this perverse behaviour is somehow to be encouraged. Why do we do this? Why can we no longer handle unmediated reality? Why does it always have to be accompanied by a digital representation? The fear of death must play into it. We mustn’t lose a moment to the decay of time, it has to be electronically immortalised. But surely that can’t be all. Perhaps this is precisely what we were designed to do. It’s engineered into the fabric of our being, it’s what we’re for. Our world is a distraction, it’s light entertainment. The NSA existed long before our society. It existed before the first human being gazed at the stars and rearranged them into shapes it could comprehend,  it existed before the first gasping half-fish hauled itself out of the slime to feel the sun on its back. The NSA is our demiurge, and we are its creatures. And as for what its agents look like when they take their masks off, perhaps it’s better for us to never know.

Melancholia. There’s something odd about all these interpretations: they’re grotesque, but at the same time they tickle our narcissism – a narcissism which is, after all, founded on the gaze. In a strange way it’s nice to think that you’re being watched, it’s nice to think that whatever drivel you produce somehow merits the attention of big important government agencies. It’s far more horrifying to think that nobody is watching you, because nobody cares. The problem is that that’s the truth – that, as Lacan insisted, the Big Other doesn’t exist. You’re being watched, but only by machines. Your data is thoroughly chewed up in the inhuman mandibles of some great complex algorithm, and by the time it’s regurgitated for advertisers or spies you’re pretty much unrecognisable. You’re not a person, you’re input and output; a blip with a few pathetic delusions of sentience. And the narcissism of the surveilled is the most telling of those delusions. This is the complaint of the privacy campaigners: the flying robots of death were bad, but this is really the last straw. As if someone snooping on your emails was the worst thing that could ever happen to anyone. We don’t live in a society of surveillance; that’s ultimately ephemeral. We do live in a society of incarceration. It’s the fundamental fact of our world, and hardly anyone is talking about it. The United States Government is carrying out the largest mass imprisonment in human history, on a scale that dwarfs the Stalinist Gulags. One in every three black American men in their twenties is under some form of criminal supervision; more black people are imprisoned now than worked as slaves in the antebellum South. Prison labour produces $2.4bn every year, and in the Louisiana State Penitentiary – a former plantation – inmates are put to work picking cotton. Not that any of this matters. It’s fine for them, it’s just what happens. The contemporary Western political subject is too busy innovatively creating hot new apps to worry about that sort of thing. But give him a little taste of this oppression and indignity – search through his emails, for instance – and he knows what’s up. His civil liberties are under an unprecedented assault.

Exclusive extract: The Lacan Conundrum, by Dan Brown

Dan Brown’s new novel Inferno went on sale yesterday and has already careered straight to the top of the bestseller charts. Naturally, I was a little jealous. However, unlike the throngs of snobbishly unpublished authors who take it upon themselves to parody Brown’s works, I decided it would be far more productive to try to learn from someone so clearly a master of his craft. That said, I needed an edge on my competitors, and just reading Inferno wouldn’t cut it. I knew his next novel, scheduled for publication in 2015, had already been written. So at midnight last night I parachuted stealthily out of a Cessna 172 Skyhawk plane with a Garmin G1000 Primary Flight Display flying at 13,000 feet over the small Westphalian city of Gütersloh – home to Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA, parent company of Doubleday, the publisher of Dan Brown’s novels. Landing on the roof of the squat office building, I quickly incapacitated the guards, who were armed with Heckler & Koch MP5 sub-machine guns, for reasons best known to themselves. Gingerly, I entered the building through a ventilation duct. Eventually I found myself outside the room where Dan Brown’s next novel was being kept. What I found in there revolted me. The air stank of ordure and rotting bananas. The shit-speckled walls, the piss-sodden carpet, the flies, the rats. About a thousand primates sat there on ergonomic office chairs, chained to antique typewriters. The macaques and tamarins were visibly distressed, straining at their manacles, screeching helplessly, banging their heads against their desks. A few chimpanzees had resigned themselves with seeming good humour to their work; while one typed, another groomed its back. By the far wall, a sad-faced old orangutan slowly and arrhythmically pressed the ‘H’ key, over and over again, staring dejectedly at the reams of paper it had yet to fill. The baboons seemed to be in charge of the place, though. They were unshackled. As I entered they shrieked in unison, baring their yellow fangs. I grabbed a few sheets from the typewriter of the nearest gibbon and ran. As I left the building, pursued by the chilling ululations of the baboons, I briefly passed Bertelsmann’s Employee of the Week board. On every square was a picture of a baboon. And at the top, smiling benevolently down on them, was a photo of the Reinhard Mohn, the corporation’s legendary former CEO: a silverback gorilla, staring with a pipe in his mouth and the faint gleam of a deep unknowable wisdom in his round brown eyes.

The lines that follow are all that I could rescue from that room.

THE STORY SO FAR: Around the world, hundreds of men and women drop dead on the same day. The tall man Chad McRib, professor of Obscurantology at Hardton University, is accused of complicity in their deaths. Fleeing the French police through the streets of Paris, he finds himself catapulted into the ancient mysteries of the 20th Century, as it emerges that all of the victims had at one time or another been analysands of the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. After Chad enlists the help of the beautiful European nuclear scientess Slavojina Zizek, it is discovered that Lacan had been highly radioactive. It was for this reason that he had gone against the Société Parisienne de Psychanalyse in introducing shorter sessions: he knew that prolonged exposure could give his patients a lethal dose of radiation. But who had irradiated him, and why? Chad and Slavojina delve into the sewers of Paris with a stolen copy of Lacan’s notebooks to find the answer, but find themselves trapped in the terrifying Mirror Stage, and shadowed by mysterious gazing figures…

The tall brown-haired man walked into the room. The man was Chad McRib, who was tall. The attractive woman Slavojina Zizek clung to his arm. The whirr of a VRF (Variable Refrigerant Flow) air-conditioning unit hung in the air, which was suffused with the hum of a VRF (Variable Refrigerant Flow) air-conditioning unit.
“We’ll be safe here, Slavojina,” Chad said. “As we have checked into this hotel, the Hôtel Fièvre Gastrique on the Rue  Grossier, under false names, the Big brOthers will be unable to find us here, in this particular place.”
Slavojina reclined delightfully on the expensive bed. “Zhe question ish, what ish it we should we do now?” she purred, like a cat suddenly teleported to Planet Milk. “Theesh I claim: we musht carry out the sexual act, it ish our duty, in zhe Kantian senshe.” Her hand fluttered teasingly over her eyebrow and the bridge of her bulbous nose as she grunted sensuously.
“While it is true that we are now experiencing a high level of mutual attraction, especially when compared to our first meeting two days ago, during which you were somewhat wary of me, we have no time for that,” said Chad, who was high in stature and had brown hair. “Whoever those people are, they won’t stop looking for us until they have these écrits,” he continued cromulently. “Whatever the secret is, it must be hidden in this notebook,” he mouth-flappled.
The notebook was square and had yellowed over the years. Its cover was black with embossed gold lettering. The paper was made from pine woodpulp. 60% of the pulp that had gone into the notebook had come from a single pine tree. The tree had been planted in 1928 near the Spanish town of Rascafria. In 1941 a Spanish imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca adalberti) had nested in its branches like a zeppelin docking at the Empire State Building. The eagle was later shot by a hunter named José Mercader, who had a thick moustache and later fell into penury for unrelated reasons. None of its chicks survived. Chad McRib opened the notebook with his fingers, which were long and slim, much like his body, which was tall and slim. He read a few pages, like a crowded minivan plunging tragically off a cliff. I’ve got it, he thought. If the unconscious mind is itself a series of chains of signification, then literally everything has a hidden meaning and every single object is part of a vast paternal conspiracy. But what could be the purpose of it all? Suddenly, he knew.

~

He then told Slavojina what he had discovered, which was very unsettling and also exciting. “It is commonly said in the bar-rooms and crack dens of the world that Lacanian psychoanalysis is difficult,” the professor said, thrillingly. “Indeed, many of my students have told me that they find it difficult to read Lacan, because his words are difficult to understand and the order in which they are placed also makes them difficult to understand,” the noted academic who was on the run from the police said, in tones that made it sound very exciting. “However, what if the reason for this complexity is that Lacan’s works in fact carry a hidden message, explaining who had given him his continual doses of radiation? For instance, Lacan attempted to explain psychoanalytic concepts through mathematical formulae. The traditional interpretation is that he did so as a half-serious attempt to give his theories objective mathematical weight. But could it be something else?” The teaching-type person, who was very clever and also had brown hair, directed the woman’s attention to a diagram in the notebook. “Look at this,” he said. “Does thees not demonstrate precisely zhat in making a line acrosh zhe face of zhe Real, zhe act of represhentation ish itshelf monstrous, in a senshe deesgushting?” Slavojina giggled.
“Exactly,” said the man, who was called Chad McRib. “It doesn’t seem to make any sense. But what if we tried to solve it as if it were a perfectly ordinary triquadratic biequation?” He scribbled in the notebook with the furious zeal of an itinerant lobster, using a Pentel GraphGear 1000 PG1015 automatic pencil. “You get this.”
 “My God,” said Slavojina. “Pure ideology.”
“I think the whole book is a map” said the fêted head-think-brain-man. “It’s a set of directions. Where is the name of the Father written in Paris? Above the altar in Notre Dame. And what forms a phallus? The Eiffel Tower. Somewhere along the line between those two points an incredibly precious object is hidden, an object people have been seeking for centuries. That’s what the Big brOthers are after. Lacan’s notebook gives us the route to the objet petit a. The ultimate object of desire. The Holy Grail, Slavojina.’
“But zhees ish eempossible,” said Slavojina. “Zhe objet petit a ish unobtainable. Zhat ish zhe source of eets transcendence.”
The famous professor flipped through the square book. “What if I told you that I know exactly where it is?” the elegant variation pronounced.
“In zhe filum of Heetchcock, zhe gaze ish never a pure gaze, eet ish alwaysh accompanied by zhe threat of viyolence,” Slavojina gasped.
“You’re right. We haven’t a second to lose.”
As the tall man Chad McRib and the attractive woman Slavojina Zizek stepped out of the hotel onto the Rue Grossier, a dark bad figure of a bad man lurking in an alleyway watched as they hurried off towards the Seine. He cocked his SIG P226 pistol and began to follow them.

~

A short man burst into the boardroom of a superbly appointed office building in New York. “Sir,” he said, proffering a photo of Chad exiting the hotel. “McRib is back.”
Sitting alone in the room, which had excellent views over the river, wearing a sharp navy-blue three-piece suit, the Master-Signifier smiled in an evil way as would befit someone who is obviously the villain in this story. “All is going according to plan,” the Master-Signifier said. “Once McRib finds the objet petit a for us, no power on Earth can prevent us from crushing the schizoanalysts and achieving world domination.’

Will our heroes find the objet petit a? (no.) Does it even exist? (no.) What about the Big brOthers, do they exist? (no.) Will Chad uncover their plot before the radical schizoanalysts detonate a nuclear bomb over Vienna and wipe out the Freudian legacy? (no.) What unexpected twist awaits us before the novel’s end? (Slavojina is quite clearly a man.) To find out, you’ll just have to wait until 2015.

The Mirror Stages

Mirrors and copulation are abominable, because they increase the number of man.
Jorge Luis Borges

Seven years old, alone and bored in the flat, Yusuf K. (1) walked through the mirror to the other side.
He hadn’t been told not to, after all, he reasoned. His mother had told him not to watch TV and to do his colouring or read a book instead. He’d disobeyed, of course, but there’d been nothing good on; no cartoons, only boring grown-up programmes where people just sat and talked. It was his own fault, he knew; if he didn’t keep getting suspended from school he wouldn’t be so bored the whole time. But it was his mother’s fault too: how could she leave him alone there, with nothing to do? She had a job, but she also had a son; he should have been her first priority.
He watched the mirror for a while before he went in.
“Come on,” said his mirror-self. “Or are you scared?”
Yusuf K. (1) wasn’t scared. So he walked through.
For a while he and his mirror-self lay on the sofa and talked. His mirror-self wanted to show Yusuf K. (1) some of his books, but the writing was all backwards and he couldn’t understand it. Then they played noughts and crosses.
“You’ve got your pen in the wrong hand,” said Yusuf K. (1).
“No,” said his mirror-self. “You do.”
“No, you.”
And so on.
Eventually they heard the sound of the key in the lock. Yusuf K. (1)’s mirror-self dragged him behind an armchair.
“Well,” said his mother as she walked into the room, “Have you been good?”
“Don’t make a sound,” whispered the mirror-self.
“Oh,” said his mother. She left the room and called out into the hallway: “Yusuf!” There was the sound of a door opening. And then again: “Yusuf!” Wardrobe doors slamming. “Yusuf, this isn’t funny! Come here at once!”
By the time the police arrived Yusuf K. (1) was starting to feel a little guilty, but his mirror-self pulled on his sleeve whenever he made a move to come out from behind the armchair. His mother was almost in tears.
“He doesn’t have a key,” she said. “I can’t bear to think what could’ve happened.”
A policeman put one hand on her shoulder. “Can you think why he might have left?” he said.
“Oh, he was angry at me. Because I’d left him here. He was suspended from school, you see. Oh, Yusuf. I’m so sorry.” A tiny, hiccoughing sob.
Yusuf K. (1) poked his head out. In the mirror, one of the policemen suddenly looked up. “Oi oi,” he said. “You might want to look at this.”
Yusuf K. (1) met his mother’s gaze across the glass. She ran up to the mirror. “Yusuf!” she shouted. “You come out of there right now, do you hear me? Do you have any idea how worried you’ve made me?”
Reluctantly, looking downwards, Yusuf K. (1) crawled out from the mirror.
“I’m so sorry to have wasted your time,” his mother said to the police. “It won’t happen again.”
After that, Yusuf K. (1) wasn’t allowed to watch TV for a month. His mother also threw out all the mirrors in the flat except a little one in her bedroom. He didn’t really mind. It had been diverting, but he didn’t really like his mirror-self all that much. He was such a crude boy.

Walking to the bar, Yusuf K. (2) couldn’t help but glance at the mirror on the far wall. Reflected, the Brute glanced back.
“You know,” said Amina, smiling wryly, “you are one vain motherfucker. You can’t walk past a mirror without checking yourself out.”
“I’m not checking myself out,” said Yusuf K. (2).
“Oh yeah? What are you doing then?”
How could he explain? It was only their second date; he didn’t want to lay any heavy shit on her. She certainly didn’t have to know about the Brute.
“Nothing,” he said. “It’s just a mirror, innit?”
Behind the bar and the rows of blue and green bottles was another mirror. Yusuf K. (2) tried to concentrate on the barman. Misinterpreting the intensity of his gaze, the poor guy hurried over with an obsequious grin. “And what shall I get you, sir?”
“Pint of Foster’s, mate,” said Yusuf K. (2). “And…”
“Gin and bitter lemon, please,” said Amina.
“Gin and bitter lemon,” he repeated.
He stared at his pint as it was poured, ever aware that the Brute was waiting for him just a few metres away, watching with him. He gripped the rail along the bar until his fingers felt numb.
“Are you OK?” said Amina. She laughed. “Dude, don’t get all nervous now.”
Why did she have to mention the mirror? Everything could have been fine, but she had to be so perceptive… the fucking bitch! And there his will broke; his head jerked up, and he looked into the mirror. Amina was there, all delicate points and feminine curves, a look of faint worry exquisitely torturing her round eyes and little pink-painted lips… and standing next to her was the Brute. The Brute’s jaw jutted out, his stubble was thick and barbed, his eyes looked straight at Yusuf K. (2) not with any murderous evil but with a simple base animal incomprehension. The Brute’s face wasn’t really a face, just a mess of skin and orifices jumbled together without any unifying principle beyond its own dissonance, its own ugliness, the propulsive power of its own empty threatening stare. And there it was, the now-familiar shock of non-recognition. This was what he – he, Yusuf K. (2), a thing of light and thought – looked like to other people, this was the face Amina saw when she talked to him. She was such a nice girl! How could she bear to go for an intimate drink with the Brute?
“Seven pound twenty, please,” said the barman.
He should have taken her somewhere else, somewhere without mirrors, somewhere the Brute couldn’t find him. Too late now. The Brute was reflected in Yusuf K (2)’s eyes. Without saying a word, he turned around and left.

“And the bottom line?” said Dr Quigley.
“A, G, K, X, Q,” said Yusuf K. (3).
“That’s right,” said Dr Quigley. “For a man of your age, your eyesight is close to perfect.”
“I could have told you that myself,” said Yusuf K. (3). “Don’t need a Harley Street doctor to let me know I can see just fine. Can I go now?”
After Yusuf K. (3) left, Dr Quigley wrote in his notes: Based on his medical history, the Mirror Man’s eyesight appears entirely unaffected by the change. His pen dithered for a moment over the paper. Nonetheless, he wrote, looking into the Mirror Man’s eyes is a profoundly unsettling and anxiety-inducing experience.
The Daily Eye might have paid for the expensive ophthalmologist, but they weren’t about to chauffer Yusuf K. (3) around the city. He still had to take the bus home, and that meant having to deal with people. When his eyes had first changed, people had started giving him strange, startled looks; it wasn’t until he saw himself in the mirror at home and saw the perfectly reflective globes where his eyes had been that he realised why. Then, when the Daily Eye had run the story on him, he’d become a celebrity overnight. He’d never had so many free pints poured for him; people would walk up to him on the street and ask him – him, of all people! – for an autograph. They’d always seem a little disappointed on receiving it, though. They didn’t want his own name; they’d wanted him to sign as the Mirror Man. That had been two weeks ago. Things had changed.
A few days before, a kid in a hoodie had punched him in the face as he stood on the bus. “Don’t look at me!” he’d bellowed. “Don’t you fucking look at me with them eyes!” It wasn’t just the young and aggressive, though. He’d crossed paths with a group of businessmen; they’d jabbed him with their umbrellas and slapped his legs with their briefcases. As he fell down one of them had given a swift hard kick to his ribs. They hadn’t said anything, they’d just walked on, as if nothing had happened, not even breaking the flow of their conversation.
He could have worn dark glasses, he could have walked the streets unmolested, but something inside him rebelled instinctively at the thought. On the bus he looked out of the window for a while; he flitted between the faces of his fellow-travellers. He got off fairly lightly, really. One passenger standing next to him beat him around the head with a newspaper when their gazes met for a fraction of a second; another kicked him in the shin. Nothing too bad.
As he walked down the street to his house, he was aware of a loud commotion. A large mob of all ages, ethnicities and social classes surrounded the low suburban home, shouting obscenities about the Mirror Man. A few bricks and stones arced up from the mass of people; the thin line of black-clad police protecting his front door tried to bat them away with their shields but without much success. All his windows were broken. The smell of burning was in the air; the chants were witty in their invective; those on the outside of the mob were laughing and chatting happily; there was, in general, a thoroughly pleasant festival atmosphere.
As Yusuf K. (3) approached the crowd he saw the riot police make a desperate dash for him, but it was too late. The crowd was already on him: screaming, flecking him with spittle, lunging at his chest. Their stampeding force knocked him to the ground. Hands, seemingly independently, scrabbled at his face. Yusuf K. (3) knew what they wanted. “Take them!” he shouted. “Take them away from me! I don’t want the things!”

Yusuf K. (4) had painted four parallel lines in bright blue on a primed canvas. They were called Untitled Meditation 8. He sat looking at them. He wished he could scrub them off, sell the canvas back, use the money to do something he actually enjoyed.
Taped to one wall of the studio was a cutting from a review of his exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. A new and terrifying force in contemporary painting, the headline said. That had been the opinion of just about everyone. Yusuf K. (4) had been a new and terrifying force. The article went on: Yusuf K. (4)’s works challenge both the lazy conventions of fashionable abstraction and throw down the gauntlet to reactionary realists. His stark, restricted-palette paintings beguile you with their dense swirls of shades and textures; it is only after you have been contemplating their intricately composed harmonies for some time that they coalesce – as if by pareidolia – into recognisable forms, at turns bucolic, erotic, and threatening. Armies of horsemen with demoniac grimaces charge through his paintings, reclining nudes give sultry glances from below the paint, sublime landscapes hover just this side of intelligibility. Yusuf K. (4) gives us the entire history of Western art, recontextualised into something entirely new. From this magnificent exhibition, it’s not hard to see why the established art world is both terrified and entranced by him.
That had been in 1968.
He’d never quite known how he’d done it, exactly. He’d wanted to make abstract art, but before he’d even finished his pencil sketches a shape had always risen out from the mist of curving lines to stare him in the face. At first he’d tried to ignore them; he’d been successful at this for a while, and lived on bread and cheese for months. Eventually he gave in, and became famous.
He’d had a strange gift once, one he’d acquired without ever asking for it. It had stayed for a while, and then gone, and now Yusuf K. (4) was reduced to painting blue lines on white canvases, like the peddlers of lazy abstraction who had once found him so fearsome. Except, as all the critics agreed, Yusuf K. (4)’s blue lines on white canvases were without much merit. They had to review his exhibitions, in smaller and smaller galleries, on account of his name, but when they did the verdict was always the same. His works didn’t suggest anything, they didn’t conjure anything, they didn’t reflect anything. Yusuf K. (4) just wasn’t a very good artist any more.

Back II Beckett: naming the unnamable

There’s a novel. Oh not a novel exactly, not exactly, you couldn’t quite call it that, it doesn’t have any of the usual features, no plot, for instance, and precious little in the way of setting, but I’ll call it a novel, for the sake of, for the sake of what exactly? No matter, no matter, it is what it is. I’ll start with what I can see, it’s a good enough place to start as any, or at least I think so. There’s a voice, or several voices, it doesn’t matter, they’re all the same, or they’re all different, or they’re all the same precisely because they’re different, it’s not important, things like difference and similarity and identity don’t have any meaning any more. It doesn’t make any sense to talk about who the voice is, what the I of the novel is, the novel obliterates all is-ness, all ontology falls away in the vague mist, it doesn’t make sense to talk about what the novel is about, there is no room for about-ness either, no space for intentionality, or rather, there’s all the room in the world, an infinite space, but it’s empty, all void. I said I’d talk about what I can see. A voice, then. Or several voices. In a grey mist. It talks about itself. Or sometimes it talks about other people, or it talks about itself on the command of others, except the others are also itself. All it knows is that it must go on, it has to talk about something, except there’s nothing to say, but if it can say the right thing, if it can arrive at some truth it can be silent, but there can be no truth, so it must go on. Every attempt to talk about anything in particular is thwarted, it’s impossible, there can be no signification, there can be no significance. There are flashes of figure and background, a torso in a jar, a family in a cage, a Worm, but they melt away, they were only imagined, or rather, they were only real, the phenomenal world is only a matter of conjecture after all, especially in a novel, where nothing is real in the first place. It asks questions but gives no answers. What is the self, what is fiction, why do artists create, why do we speak, what is meaning, what is existence, meaningless, all meaningless. How am I to even start talking about this book? I could talk about other works, I could talk about Dante, I could talk about Joyce, I won’t do that, it wouldn’t help. I could be Lacan and say that the novel is about the horror of the Real, about subjects without subjectivity, about the unconscious structured like a language and the reality that lies outside language, I could be Deleuze and say that the novel is about difference and repetition, about eternal recurrence, about the multiplicity of the individual, about a subjectivity trying to refer to itself as an Oedipal whole and continually failing, always bursting out into multiple personalities, deterritorialising itself into Mahood and Worm and the others, the them, reterritorialising back into the arborescent structure of the self, insisting that it must say something about itself before it can be at peace, failing because there is no self, or I could be Schopenhauer, and say that the novel is about the Will, always reaching out for something, something it can never quite reach, speaking as willing, futilely willing the end of the Will, or I’m sure if I put my mind to it, if I used all my cunning, I could be Marx, I could talk about the subject alienated from himself, but it wouldn’t help, none of it would get me anywhere, I’d get lost in the words, they’d devour me. The novel is the death of criticism. Criticism is the attempt to draw meaning from a text, the novel has no meaning, its meaning isn’t even that there is no meaning, it points to nothing, the critics stumble over themselves trying to work out what any particular thing means, they’ve made a category error, the novel isn’t for them. It’s written in an emotionless tone but its effect is an emotional one, it is written in abstractions but it’s incredibly visceral, it’s for the reader not the critic, in writing this I’m making the same mistake, I shouldn’t have written anything, except maybe ‘read The Unnamable‘ in big letters, no matter, I’m like the Unnamable myself, I must go on, I must keep on speaking. The emotional effect. It’s like being shaken by the shoulders and slapped around the head, it’s like being a child again, being lost, but the most terrifying thing of all is the ending, I didn’t expect it, the formlessness of the novel is frightening at first, but I get used to it, I settle into its flow, I lose all hope of conclusion, I don’t expect any teleology, everything will go on exactly as it has been before, a wandering that can never end. But it does end, something catastrophic happens, something eschatonic, and the catastrophe at the end is more shocking than everything that has gone on before, at first I am plunged into a novel about nothing, without a distinct narrative voice, one in which the unity of the subject is not assured, but then there’s a door, not a door looking out onto some vague sea, a resolutely symbolic door, it’s not that there’s nothing, that would be too concrete, too definite, there is something, it’s always out of reach, there is hope, there is redemption, it’s not for us, or not yet at least. Meaninglessness is easy enough to accept, after a while, it’s everywhere, we all secretly know it, to be confronted with some vast and distant and transcendent truth is what really scares us, I face it, I cringe from its glare, it is out of reach, the novel is over, I go on.

Guest column: Slavoj Žižek reviews ‘A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas’

It would be tempting to perform a crude Freudian analysis of the Harold & Kumar films, to say that in Harold and Kumar we find the basic categories of superego and id respectively, with Kumar as the hedonist that leads the two into a state of peril, and Harold as the rational law-abider who constrains the desires of his friend, and so on, and so on. But this is not the case. We must always be conscious of the fact that the ultimate command of the superego is to enjoy, to fulfil your fantasies; and because the object of desire cannot be attained, it is that same superego that is the source of anxiety. Is it not Kumar, then, who is then the superego? Our desires lead to neurosis only when they are consciously articulated.

We must ask: what is desire in this film? It is not the smoking of marijuana, that forms only a kind of subcultural backdrop to the narrative. Rather, the Harold & Kumar films take the form of the heroic quest: the heroes must go off and find something, they have escapades along the way, eventually it is retrieved and there is the happy ending. In Lacanian terminology this ‘something’ is the objet petit a, the transcendent object of desire. It is the eventual obtainment of this object that renders the first film, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, a work of fantasy. What is desirable about the objet petit a is intrinsically linked with its quality of unattainability; it is only in the fantasy-space of the film that such desires can be realised. In the film, the attainment of the hamburger is bound up with the attainment of other fantasies – Harold stands up to the bullies of the workplace, he talks to the girl he is attracted to, and so on, and so on. White Castle is therefore a symbolic representation of all desire. One could comment on the imagery of the white castle itself – in medieval poetry the white castle is a symbol of Heaven or the Kingdom of Truth; then as now the white castle is a transcendent Utopian image – or, as Derrida would have it, a messianic image, an image of that which is always yet to come – in which is encoded our very earthly desires, as in the Islamic fantasy of the seventy-two virgins.

But see what happens in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. This is not at all like the first film, the two heroes are not acting on their own desires. Rather, Harold must find a replacement Christmas tree for his father-in-law: he is acting out of a sense of duty towards the Other. The pivotal moment of the film is when Harold tells Kumar that he does not have to replace the tree, rather, it is that he wants to. And again further on, when Kumar faces his responsibility for his unborn child: it is not because he has to, but because he wants to. This is not, I think, a casting aside of duty so much as a reinterpretation of duty. Here, we see the old Kantian conception – Du kannst, denn du sollst! – being dispensed with, it is too rigidly compulsive, it does not sit easy with our liberal individualism. What we get instead is a strange inversion: Du sollst, denn du wollst! – you must, because you want to!

I find this despicable, almost totalitarian, even – far more so than Kant’s formulation. Even our desires are not our own, the hegemonic order insists not only that we do our duty, but that we really want to do so. It is like when Saddam Hussein published his novels under a false name: his megalomania was such that he did not just want good reviews because he is the dictator, he wanted the people to genuinely love his writing. Only when the novels were derided in the newspapers did he republish under his own name and shoot the critics. Is what we see here not the same thing? If there is a message in this film, is it not that we must genuinely love the duties imposed on us by capitalism, that we must find jouissance in the fulfilment of duty?

Where A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas fails is precisely in this attempt to reconcile duty with desire through the matrix of capitalist institutions: the family unit, the workplace, Christmas, and so on, and so on. Duty towards the Other must not be subject to desire! What we must instead admit is that under capitalism our desires are different to our duties, or, in the language of vulgar Marxism, our desires are superstructural to the economic base. Our duty consists of confronting and changing our desires, not in the alienating manner of the Freudian superego, but through the radical project of overturning the current socio-economic order in the name of the Other. Against the false union of duty and desire we must proclaim the primacy of duty, we must, in effect, return to the old Kantian formulation. It is significant that the finale of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas requires the intervention of the supernatural in the form of Santa Claus: under capitalism, duty and desire cannot ordinarily be reconciled. What is needed in our situation is another form of supernatural intervention – the intervention of Benjaminian divine violence. Only then can this antinomy be untangled.

A fever dream: on the eviction of Slavoj Žižek from the Celebrity Big Brother House

The scene: a raised platform, ringed with bright white lights, set before a surging mob, waving placards for pitchforks, bearing the political slogans of the post-ideological age, spitting and grimacing, desperate for vicarious jouissance, their toothy grins tinged with the threat of violence. On the platform: to the left, Davina McCall, professional objet petit a; to the right, Slavoj Zizek, the subject-supposed-to-know-what-a-subject-supposed-to-know-is. Between the pillars of light, grotesquely large pictures of Slavoj’s face – or what face there exists between bulbous nose and parasitically fungal beard. For a brief moment they both stare blankly forward – a cameraman gives a series of hand signals – suddenly they are animate, Davina cheering and throwing up her arms, Slavoj frantically tapping his nose and beard in a spasmodic fit.

DAVINA: Welcome back to Celebrity Big Brother, and welcome to Slavoj!

The crowd erupts in – not a cheer, exactly, but a noise, a mingling of yelling and clapping and hissing and roaring and stamping of feet, a riotous commotion.

SLAVOJ: Thank you very much, no, yes, it is an honour.

DAVINA: And it’s an awful shame, isn’t it, because you were so close, you were one of the last four left in the house.

SLAVOJ: Well, yes, I am not so much interested in the winning of the show, the accolades, the headlines, and so on, and so on – but the fantasy of being the last person in the house, to be alone in the house, with the cameras, with the constant presence of the Big Other, this I am interested in. It is a recurring theme in horror movies, no? You are alone in the house, but you are not alone, someone is there, someone is watching you – it is a perverse fantasy, I think. And very much Freudian, as well, in the sense of the unheimlich, of the home being a place of danger. So I am disappointed I did not win, yes, very much, indeed.

DAVINA: [unfazed] Let’s talk about some of the other housemates. There was a lot of tension, wasn’t there, between you and Chipmunk?

SLAVOJ: [with a startled snort] You say there was? I did not see any of this tension, entirely not, I felt he was an interesting man – maybe clinically, perhaps, you could say.

DAVINA: [to the crowd] Shall we show him the diary room tapes?

The crowd roars its assent. Fists are flung into the air in jubilatory schadenfreude: some miss and collide with another person, suddenly a hundred brawls are taking place, the crowd turns in on itself, here and there knives are produced and the sharp tang of blood mixes with the stink of sweat in the air. Only after the first few gunshots are heard do the security guards intervene: a phalanx of rottweiler-faced men in dayglo jackets forces its way towards where the violence is at its most intense – they are consumed by the crowd. Perhaps they are killed, perhaps they melt into its roil, it is impossible to say. A line of police cavalry charges. At first they make some progress: those at the edges of the crowd are swiftly truncheoned and detained, but soon the horses find themselves mired in the furious swarm, and in their anxiety they throw off their riders, the line is broken, the plan of attack evaporates. Some of the crowd attack the horses, some of the horses start fighting one another, gnawing chunks from each other’s necks. In the near distance, the low rumble of heavy artillery can be heard.

DAVINA: [exultant] Let’s show him the tapes!

CHIPMUNK: [onscreen] I just don’t get him man, like, what’s he done, why is he here? I ain’t never seen him on anything, like, nothing. And he’s some fucking wasteman, like, man ain’t had a single shower since the start of the show, swear down, he fucking stinks, doesn’t he? I can’t fucking sit next to him, or like even near him, you know what I’m saying? And he chats some breeze, innit. I’m saying, it’s not just his weird accent, and all the snorting and those little hand twitchy things he’s always doing, you know what I mean – he’s talking about sex the whole time: like, yeah, cool, but it’s all perversions, everything’s perverted, I can’t take a dump without it being some representation of my desires in the symbolic order or whatever – I’m like, are you kidding me? This guy built a career on that bullshit? It’s not even anything, really, it makes its own internal sense, kinda, but it’s entirely divorced from the actuality of human subjectivity and the actuality of the human condition, and that’s what the ultimate focus of philosophy needs to be, not all these masturbatory Lacanian abstractions. It bears no relation to how people actually function, it’s a poststructuralist psychoanalysist’s fantasy about how people actually function. So, nah. Me and Slavoj, I don’t see us being in the getalong gang in the Big Brother house, you know what I mean?

DAVINA: So, Slavoj, how does that make you feel?

SLAVOJ: Well, myself, I make it a point of never reading my critics, never reading my reviews. Or I will tell the publishers: put the bad reviews on the back of the book! My audience know who I am, they will read me anyway. But Chipmunk – he is ultimately an empiricist, he has a very British way of conceiving these things, this antipathy towards the abstraction, the Continentalism, and so on, and so on. In his music and his music videos, the focus – it is entirely on the immediacy of experience, no? So his criticism, it is still rooted in ideology, this I claim. The ideological disagreement, it does not translate into personal antagonisms. I am a good Hegelian, after all, such oppositions, they are necessary. But I should say, the proceduralism of intimacy in the diary room, it is exactly like Catholic confession, no, it is exactly the same. You do not confess to the priest, your confession is directed towards God, towards the Infinite Other, as in Levinas, and so on, and so on. You do not talk to Big Brother, you talk to the Big Other, to the audience at home, to the Holy Spirit. After I am evicted from this house, I am no longer a participant, I am an observing subject, an ordinary pervert, then it is acceptable to show me these tapes – it is a form of licensed voyeurism, is it not?

DAVINA: [nodding her head] One last question.

SLAVOJ: Please, please, go on.

Throughout this exchange Davina has been undergoing a grotesque metamorphosis: her cheeks grow fuller, her paunch expands, her tits shrink, her hair turns white and recedes. At first the faint shadow of a moustache falls on her upper lip, then stubbly hairs sprout from her chin. Soon she has a full beard, her eyebrows sit heavily on her brow, her camera-friendly coquettishness becomes a stern gaze, almost disdainful, which she now fixes on Slavoj. She is no longer Davina McCall: instead, Slavoj finds himself being scrutinised by the unmistakeable visage of Karl Marx – or perhaps Jehovah; depictions of the two are, after all,  very similar.

MARX: Do you not think that your participation in this televisual charade, your gleeful willingness to put your theorising at the services of capital, your unashamed prostitution, your jestering and japing, your fruitless contrarianism, your pop-psychoanalysis – do you not think that this not only casts disrepute on your status as a serious Marxist thinker, but also cheapens Marxism itself? Are you not turning revolutionary ideology into just another media gimmick?

The crowd, who are all orthodox historical materialists, nod sagely, in unison.

SLAVOJ: I know you. You said a man should be able to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, and criticise after dinner. Well then – can I not play the jester in the morning, advertise for garment retailers in the afternoon, appear on reality TV in the evening, and still be a serious philosopher after dinner?

MARX: You forget that we are still living under capitalism.

SLAVOJ: But under capitalism, we must still live.

The crowd, racked by confusion, briefly organises itself into a series of non-hierarchial egalitarian communes, forms a workers’ state, undergoes Thermidor, becomes disillusioned. Defeated, they shuffle back to their allotted space in front of the platform.

DAVINA: [for it is her again: the beard has gone, the grin has returned] Well, Slavoj, it’s been a pleasure to have you on Celebrity Big Brother. Do you have anything else to say before the end of the show?

SLAVOJ: Yes, I do. I would like to say that I endorse all the products of the Coca-Cola corporation, and that the cool refreshing taste of a glass of Coke proves without question that the transcendent object of desire is not in fact unobtainable – in fact, it can be obtained at your local newsagent or grocery store.

Lights wind down, theme music plays, scattered applause. Slavoj, rising from his seat to re-enter the world, takes an especially deep snort – then starts to gag. Something is clearly wrong. Davina sits impassively as Slavoj chokes on his own mucus: the cameras are off, after all. Slavoj writhes on the ground, flailing frantically. The sycophantic crowd tries to imitate his dying motions. Everywhere they collapse, their limbs jerk around, they feign choking noises. Everything begins to blur: the crowd, the stage, the cameras – now they are only a single undulating mass, a throbbing that reaches up above the horizon and encircles the world. Perhaps an orgy is taking place, it’s difficult to tell. There are no images any more, no clearly defined shapes or people, only an immense all-enveloping pulsation. The dream ends. Still, nothing is understood.

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