Review: À travers le réel

À travers le réel
À travers le réel by Slavoj Zizek
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


« The beginning of any change, the first step, consists in putting an end to a false activity » (p11, my translation)

This book is very interesting for anyone who likes Zizek, and he covers a lot of ground. I wish mainly to comment the first two chapters where Zizek talks a little about his own analysis, about his vision of psychoanalysis, and about his relation to Lacan.
The style is very clear, and it is a great pleasure to read this book. Zizek talks with modesty and discretion about his own analysis, and tells us how it began in a period of despair over a love affair, when he was close to committing suicide. He claims that his analysis gave him the necessary support to allow him to fight against his desire for suicide, and to eventually, several months later, overcome it. Then after renouncing his desire for suicide, he declares that he did everything in his power to resist any further subjective evolution:
« I was active in every instant to prevent any change » (p10, my translation). During two years of analysis, Zizek opposed an « absolute resistance » to the whole process of the cure: he spoke constantly, to prevent the analyst from asking him a veritable question which would oblige him to change. After these two years, he stopped his analysis.
To interpret this episode (and we shall see that according to Zizek « everything is to be analysed »), Zizek speaks of « subtraction », of the necessity to withdraw from all false activity. It appears that his analysis itself, after his overcoming of despair, constituted a false activity. The beginning of real change, the passing on to real activity, coincided with the act of putting an end to his analysis. This was, in my reading, his way of carrying out the leap into the void, of passing through the « cartesian moment of the void » (p11). Of course, the symptoms persist (« today I still talk too much ») but the aim is no longer to eliminate one’s symptoms, that is an unnecessary idea, a fantasm. The aim is to « change our relation to our symptoms » (p32) and to learn to live with them. Not to eliminate one’s symptoms, but to be reconciled with them. It is true that Zizek lives comfortably now with his symptom of « talking too much ».
The implicit criticism of the whole system of analysis is radical indeed: « the system … can only reproduce itself through this permanent false activity » (p11). Zizek is speaking here of the « individual, psychic, or even political and ideological » system, but the lesson for the psychoanalytic system of the cure is ineluctable. Psychoanalysis first functioned for him in an authoritarian, « bureaucratic » mode. The superego injunction to come back for the next appointment saved Zizek from suicide. Then came the fear of the too efficacious speech of the analyst, which generated the false activity of incessant talking. The « cure » was not to stop talking to here the transformative speech of the analyst, as the fantasm of the analytic system would have it. The solution was to stop the analysis and to speak in his own name.
The impasse of psychoanalysis, where according to Zizek even Lacan failed, is constituted by a double bind:
(1) there is no complete symbolisation
(2) there is no pure desire
Thus, the end of analysis cannot be some ideal transcendent point where one attains absolute knowledge and traverses the fantasm. This point of transcendence, this blinding encounter with the real, is yet another element in the fantasmatic system, its one pole in a dualistic fantasm where the other pole is the return to normal life. The system of analysis according to this fantasm is the transgressive movement towards an authentic moment of encounter with the real, followed by a return to wisdom, a distancing of oneself, a new-found normality. Zizek by his own account did everything to subtract himself from this fantasm.
The end of analysis according to Zizek’s strategy comes with a subtraction and a withdrawal, not with a cure. One withdraws from a false activity, which was only made possible by the passive acceptance of the superego injunctions of the psychoanalytic framework (the appointments, the obligation to talk) and of its associated fantasies (complete symbolisation, pure desire, transformative question, mad encounter with the real, return to normal life). One enters into a different passivity, the passivity of Bartleby: « I’d prefer not to » as slogan of subtraction, a withdrawing which is not the « distancing » required by the fantasm. The act of wisdom is to consider that « when there is nothing to discover, except the real, it is best to keep onself at a healthy distance from everything. Conscious that it is only an empty spectacle » (p31). This distancing betrays the real and takes shelter in conformism, even if it is a lucid conformism. For Zizek, to withdraw is a way to remain faithful to one’s encounters, to prolong them into daily life. This is the strategy of fidelity of Zizek in analysis: « I’d prefer not to (change) ». The analytic injunction is to speak so as to change. Zizek’s « absolute resistance » is to speak so as not to change. For the change desired by the system of analysis is not a real change, it’s just another fantasm.
This is where paradoxically Zizek is in agreement with Onfray: psychoanalysis does not cure, it is based on replacement fantasms and acts of power. In a moment of lucidity Zizek declares in Foucauldian terms « the first act of power of the analyst is to declare what deserves to be analysed and what doesn’t » (p20). He draws the correct conclusion, unfortunately calling it a « Freudian » conclusion, that « everything is to be analysed » (p21), making clear by the examples he gives that it is above all conformism, normality, and the acts of power of psychoanalysts that are to be analysed. However, this intuition itself is extra-analytic, as if everything is to be analysed the analytic system itself is to be analysed … as a fantasm. Bartleby’s (and Zizek’s) strategy goes then: speak so as not to change in the terms of the fantasm, neither mine nor my analyst’s.
« Everything is to be analysed » is ironically a jungian slogan, rather than a freudian one. Freud was unable, unwilling to pursue his own auto-analysis to the point where he could see his « scientific discoveries » as just another fantasm, and not the reality behind the fantasm. This is what Zizek seems to insinuate with his thesis that « surplus enjoyment comes first » and that impossible enjoyment, forbidden and repressed, is only a secondary formation projected as origin:
« This idea of a substantial, incestuous, impossible enjoyment is only a retroactive effect of surplus-enjoyment » (p39).
In conclusion, the purported foundations of freudian theory are only retroactive fantasms.
The attempts by Zizek to confuse the issue and to perpetuate the mystification of the fantasmatic system of analysis are not unique to him. One is « Freudian » but Freud is too positivist, too dogmatic, too conformist. So one progresses to Lacan, who is himself too dogmatic, too linguistic, too structuralist, too conformist. So one divides Lacan up into periods, distinguishes successive Lacans: Lacan 1, 2 3 4; and we pick out what suits us. Zizek likes the « old Lacan », the « late Lacan », but not Lacan at the end. He likes Lacan 3, who has abandonned the notion of the cure as the elimination of the symptoms (p32). But he rejects Lacan 4, with his topological schemas(p35). Further, while declaring that his Lacan remains that of Jacques-Alain Miller, Zizek mocks Miller by comparing him, cruel irony, to Althusser just before his breakdown. It is obvious that the signifier « Lacan » functions as a fantasm that allows Zizek to validate retroactively his own ideas. And even all these operations are insufficient, because Lacan did not see that surplus enjoyment precedes impossible enjoyment.
It is also obvious that Zizek, as usual, concedes everything to his adversary once he has condemned him unambiguously. Thus, Zizek condemns New Age mysticism many times over, but goes on to valorise « the cartesian moment of the void, accomplished by Lacan » (p11). Of course this passage through the void to begin real change has nothing to do with similar-sounding New Age wisdom; No confusion is possible, as Zizek has been very careful to insert the adjective « cartesian » and to invoke Lacan. (Similar remarks could be made for his ripping off ideas from Deleuze and Guattari, Jung, the Gnostics, etc. once he has thunderously condemned them) one could in each case ask which Lacan is being invoked here? Lacan 2? or Lacan 3? or rather Lacan-Z, the Lacan that Zizek constructs pluralistically, by opportunistic picking and choosing. « Lacan » is in fact a conceptual persona that permits Zizek to think and to validate his ideas retroactively. Surplus-Lacan comes first.
This is why Zizek can easily accept all the critiques that Onfray and anyone else can make of the Freudian system or of its Lacanian variant. After all, Lacan-Z preceded them all, since he is a retroactive fantasm.

Postscript on Badiou

Badiou himself plays this sliding game: the true Freud is Lacan; and the true Lacan is not Lacan i or Lacan 2, nor even Lacan 3, but my Lacan, Lacan-B. That is to say not Lacan at all, and certainly not Freud. Thus Badiou, like Zizek, is another Onfray-in-disguise, who cannot admit that he makes use of the pluralist technique of opportunistic cherry-picking so as to find retroactively in Lacan his own (Badiou’s) ideas. Once again, the comparison with Deleuze and Guattari is inevitable. They do not find an unsuspected Lacan-3,5 who validates their ideas, they expose and analyse the fantasm of the system and then withdraw. Badiou, for all his sophistication, remains within the fantasm.

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