Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Plastic Jesus and The Saint of Steel

(In Stuart Rosenberg's 1967 classic "Cool Hand Luke", Paul Newman plays a modern saint)

"In 1956, Lacan proposed a short and clear definition of the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit is the entry of the signifier into the world. This is certainly what Freud brought us under the title of death drive.” What Lacan means, at this moment of his thought, is that the Holy Spirit stands for the symbolic order as that which cancels (or, rather, suspends) the entire domain of “life”—lived experience, the libidinal flux, the wealth of emotions, or, to put it in Kant’s terms, the “pathological.” When we locate ourselves within the Holy Spirit, we are transubstantiated, we enter another life beyond the biological one."
(Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf)


"Christianity follows the Jewish religion in occluding the dimension of the Holy. What we do find in Christianity is something of quite another order: the idea of the saint, which is the exact opposite of the priest in service of the Holy. The priest is a 'functionary of the Holy'; there is no Holy without its officials, without the bureaucratic machinery supporting it, organizing its ritual, from the Aztecs' official of human sacrifice to the modern sacred state or army rituals. The saint, on the contrary, occupies the place of objet petit a, of pure object, of somebody undergoing radical subjective destitution. He enacts no ritual, he conjures nothing, he just persists in his inert presence.

We can now understand why Lacan saw in Antigone a forerunner of Christ's sacrifice: in her persistence, Antigone is a saint, definitely not priestess. This is why we must oppose all attempts to domesticate her, to tame her by concealing the frightening strangeness, 'inhumanity', apathetic character of her figure, making of her a gentle protectress of family and household who evokes our compassion and offers herself as a point of identification. In Sophocles' Antigone, the figure with which we can identify is her sister Ismene - kind, considerate, sensitive, prepared to give way and compromise, pathetic, 'human', in contrast to Antigone, who goes to the limit, who ' doesn't give way on her desire' (Lacan) and becomes, in this persistence in the 'death drive', in the being-towards-death, frighteningly ruthless, exempted from the circle of everyday feelings and considerations, passions and fears. In other words, it is Antigone herself who necessarily evokes in us, pathetic everyday compassionate creatures, the question 'What does she really want?', the question which precludes any identification with her." (Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology)


Nevin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mehmet Çagatay said...

Hello Nevin,

Last night while I was reading an interview with Ertugrul Kurkcu, I recalled Alain Badiou’s remarkably touching essay “Philosophy as Biography”. There he delivers the most precious lesson of the May 68:

After 68, during what we can call the red years, when we invented new things, when we created bonds with peoples that we did not know, when we were in the conviction that an entirely other world than that of our academic destiny awaited us, we entered into a political enterprise with a good many people, - and some of them, me included, continue this new political enterprise.

But what really struck me, the experience I wish to speak of here, is the experience of those who, starting with the middle of the 1970s, renounced this enterprise. Not only did they renounce this enterprise, but they entered into a systematic renegation that, starting with the new philosophers, from the end of the 1970s, little by little establish themselves, spread and dominate. And this is planted in philosophy like an arrow. It is a question in itself: How is it possible that one can cease being the subject of a truth? How is it possible that one return to the routine of the world? This question nourishes my conviction that what is constitutive of philosophy is to stay not only within the vividness of the event, but within its becoming, that is, within the treatment of its consequences. Never to return to structural passivity: That is properly constitutive of philosophy as thought. It is what I simply called fidelity. And fidelity forms a knot, it is a concept that brings together the subject, the event and truth. It is what traverses the subject with regard to an event capable of constituting a truth.

My question is how it was possible for these men to remain faithful after all discouraging years whereas the history of politics, science, art and love (Badiou’s four truth procedures) are ridden with every possible form of betrayals? Is it due to their perverse certainty on ideological convictions? Maybe… But they are not more certain than Luke who relies on sweet Madonna to redeem him from going hell. Remember his conversation with the God in the final scene, he keeps going to the end even all he’s got a failure to communicate in his all life:

Old Man, I know I'm a pretty evil feller who killed people in the war and got drunk and chopped up municipal merchandise and like that. I admit ain't got no call to ask for much. But even so, you ain't dealt me no cards in a long time. I mean it's beginning to look like you got it fixed so I can't never win out. Inside or out, it's just different bosses and different rules. Where am I supposed to fit in? Old Man, I got to tell you: I started out pretty strong and fast but it's starting to get to me... When does it end? What you got in mind for me next? Old Man. What do I do now? Awright. On my hands and knees a skin'. Yeah. That's what I thought. I guess I'm just a hardcase and I gotta find my way out myself.

Mehmet Çagatay said...

In Kurkcu’s case, far from being certain about holding the accurate politico-ideological map of Turkey, he frequently questions the theoretical and practical mistakes of socialist movements over the last couple of decades. Thus, the devotion of “faithful subject” does not reside in certainty on theoretical premises and convictions but in militant insistence on guarding the practical ground that enables us to maintain our theoretical inquiry while respecting the basic ethical imperative: “keep going!, keep going!”

In his Ethics, Badiou briefly defines his conception of subject:

We might say, then, that a truth-process is heterogeneous to the instituted knowledges of the situation. Or - to use an expression of Lacan's - that it punches a 'hole [trouie]' in these knowledges.

I call 'subject' the bearer [le support] of a fidelity, the one who bears a process of truth. The subject, therefore, in no way preexists the process. He is absolutely nonexistent in the situation 'before' the event. We might say that the process of truth induces a subject.

It is important to understand that the 'subject', thus conceived, does not overlap with the psychological subject, nor even with the reflexive subject (in Descartes's sense) or the transcendental subject (in Kant's sense). For example, the subject induced by fidelity to an amorous encounter, the subject of love, is not the 'loving' subject described by the classical moralists. For this kind of psychological subject falls within the province of human nature, within the logic of passion, whereas what I am talking about has no 'natural' pre-existence. The lovers as such enter into the composition of one loving subject, who exceeds them both.

Now, let me cite young Marx before frankly answering your question whether I believe in this religious mambo jumbo or not despite I think you already know the answer:

The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism – which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such.

Feuerbach wants sensuous objects, really distinct from the thought objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective activity. Hence, in The Essence of Christianity, he regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude, while practice is conceived and fixed only in its dirty-judaical manifestation. Hence he does not grasp the significance of “revolutionary”, of “practical-critical”, activity.

My first answer is Freudian one: Of course I do not believe the “manifest content” (mambo jumbo). Sometimes even extraneous mention of God in everyday language makes me feel revolted. But I strongly want to believe its “latent though” that proper materialist stance is a saintly practical fidelity. I want to believe it because I’m just a pathetic neurotic who is incapable of a single courageous step forward anymore due to numerous overpowering anxieties. This is why I put that particular scene at the top of my post. It made me feel courageous for a moment. My second answer is a Lacanian joke: I just believe in Big Other albeit it doesn’t exist.


Nevin said...

Sorry for deleting my comment.... I thought it did not make much sense.... :)

Nevin said...

Your last few sentences show a lot of courage if you ask me.... :) To understand ones weakness or neurosis makes a confidant person...

I guess I can not find any comfort in religious "Mambo Jumbo", perhaps because, It has not really spoken to me?

Renegade Eye said...

I wonder what Lacan says about Marx's religious views?

Mehmet Çagatay said...

Nevin: Yesterday, I went out with friends for the first time after a long period. A couple of beers encouraged me to deliver an endless and irksome oration on Badiou's ethics of Truth. I eventually managed to arrive home safe and sound. Then I recalled the famous scene from "Annie Hall":

I wish someone sitting at a nearby table would bring Badiou while I was delivering my speech and he told me, “You have not an idea about my philosophy or any connection with the material reality or any Truth whatsoever, please shut up your big mouth and stop bothering people. Boy, if life were only like this.

Ren: In a press conference dated October 1974, Lacan briefly talks about the relationship between religion and psychoanalysis:

Nevin said...

Mehmet, Annie Hall is one of my favorite movies... In fact, Wood Allen's 70's and 80's stuff were all pretty good... in my opinion, he become slightly repetitive and boring in the last 20 years....

Great clip!

Mehmet Çagatay said...

“Annie Hall” is one of my favorites too, along with “Sleeper”, “Zelig” and “Take the Money and Run”.

There is another great director whose main artistic occupation was also to repeat himself, from the beginning to the end, from “The New Janitor” to “A King in New York”. But distinctive quality of Chaplin's repetition vis-à-vis Woody Allen's somewhat obsessive one is in Chaplin, the recurring element (the Tramp) assumes the instrument to arrange the continuous misery of socially excluded subject in “unrepeatable experiences” (Badiou). Contrary, Allen’s obsession is not due to the recurring character but his persistence in duplicating experiences and situations.

Renegade Eye said...

An Afro American friend of mine, dislikes Woody for never having a black character.