Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Articles On The Web [2007 - ]


International Journal of Zizek Studies, Volume One, Number Two -2007: Žižek &Badiou pp 28 -43

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Films And Documentaries

     Still from The Reality of the Virtual

[1] Slavoj Zizek: The Reality of the Virtual (2004, a filmed lecture, dirs: Ben Wright and Daniel Berchenko, UK, 70 mins).

    Interview 1 and interview 2 with director Ben Wright

 Poster for Zizek!
[2] Zizek! (2005, USA/Canada, 71mins, feature length documentary, directed by Astra Taylor).
  Still from Pervert's Guide 
[3] The Pervert's Guide To Cinema (2006, 250-min doc, dir: Sophie Fiennes)
      Edited Transcription: That We Are Basically Watching Shit, As It Were
   Interview with director Sophie Fiennes
   Video interview  with Sophie Fiennes

BoLaGrams: BOundary LAnguage diaGRAMS

for a list of bolagrams on file, see this index 
A bolagram ("BOundary LAnguage diaGRAM") is a diagram-aide for parsing the complex, "Möbius strip-like" relationships that characterize spatial, psychological, architectural, cultural, narrative, and artistic relationships. The key to making a bolagram is, first, finding Möbius-like structures and "anamorphic" elements within the site to be diagrammed.  
Why do we need a "boundary language"? Boundaries themselves constitute a means of communication, so why is a notation system that can only approximate this communication helpful? People move around well without the help of geographers, think without the help of philosophers and psychologists, eat without the assistance of nutritionists. The "professionals" who study the details and causes behind the various aspects of human life are not there so much to help us as they are to understand, in terms as comprehensive and inclusive as possible, what being human means and how being human works. In particular, they want to know why humans are different from other animals, and a large part of the answer to this question involves humans' ability to use systems of substitutions. Words, ideas, tokens, and marks continually operate as if they were real things, but their value is their portability, their "currency," that frees us from having to have literal things in front of us constantly. Boundary language looks in particular at these symbolic exchanges and studies them in terms that often seem literary or psychologistic. 
To construct a bolagram . . . 
The bolagram is useful only inasmuch as it clarifies ambiguities where existing conventional terms "almost" meet the demands of knowledge. The bolagram provides a means of deciphering the "twist" or "flip" function that structures events, places, and objects in ways that cannot be represented by Euclidean relationships. This, bolagramming stays very close to existing theory, dealing mainly with issues of inconsistency, self-reference, and recursion. It is a model of the "fractal logic" that, in almost all of the human sciences, pervades every situation and theory. 
Consider what relationships are structured by symbolic relationships between a source of authenticity or authority (A) and the participating subject (C). These are mediated by signifiers that may be objects, laws, customs, intentions, expectations, representations, spaces, or events. This "line" of influence works primarily to limit the free movement ("motility") of the subject, to restrict or place the subject within the network of signifiers and significations. The logic that pervades these relationships is "transitive" in the sense that the rule of "ordinary logic" prevail. The law of the excluded middle - something can be EITHER true or false but not both; the law of self-identity (A=A), and the spaces and times that guarantee the operation of a stable, rational world. 
The elements C' and a ("petit a" or "little other /autre") are "surplus" to the main symbolic network. Thus, whatever operates as a surplus in a given situation may be a part of this region. The subject exploits this surplus by creating a special counterpart, a fictive subject that corresponds to the main subject's "victimization" by symbolic authority (thus, a "fictim"). The fictim, C', takes up a special viewpoint and is able to view the element B "anamorphically," awry, anamorphically. 
The intended view and the anamorphic view structure B as an oscillating square wave phenomenon (ij), which has the curious effect of BOTH undermining and reinforcing the symbolic authority of the Big Other (A). The anamorphic view is the gateway to the "objet petit a" (Lacan's "object-cause of desire," the "little other") which has the power to re-frame a scene "from the inside." Little 'a' is also known as "the inside frame."  
Little 'a' is the inside which becomes the outside, inverting the spatial, temporal, and other "scale" relationships stabilized by representations of reality. Thus, we say that the object-cause of desire provides access to "The Real." This is manifest most clearly in the little-a's ability to re-address the identity of Big-A through a function of semblance or recognition. This re-connection of the surplus to the origin is always, as Lacan puts it, a "return of the repressed." Reverse order, metonymy, and inversion are all characteristics of this return. 
bolamaps and bolagrams 
There are two main outcomes of boundary language: (1) the ability to identify elements of the landscape, works of art, architecture, etc. in their roles of mediating the use of structured space and time - the "bolamap" - and (2) the ability to model these same phenomena as a sequence of hypothetical "events" that relate the subject to the world in various ways - the "bolagram." 
The bolamap applies graphic notation to the external world, the bolagram is like the atomic structure of things reduced to a set sequence of relationships. Every bolamap has its bolagram, and vice versa. 
The conventions of boundary language have been borrowed from sources that are more comprensive and widely accepted than the new and relatively unknown boundary language. This is not to appeal to the authority of the sources used, but to provide the boundary language user with connections that can be documented and tested in a more public way. The primary source of terms for the bolagram is the French psychologist Jacques Lacan, whose interpretation of Freud enabled his interpreters - in particular the Slovenian sociologist Slavoj Zizek - to apply relatively complex ideas to examples from everyday life and popular culture. This may seem to over-psychologize boundary behavior, but Lacan's psychology is already "given over" to taking psychology out of the clinic and classroom and into the real world. A psychological perspective is appropriate because boundaries would not be boundaries if "subjects" (human beings) were not subjects. The particular way the human being is a "subject" in the world has a lot to do with the way humans create and use boundaries in ways starkly different from animals. 
In addition to the psychology of Lacan, examples from antiquity are helpful because, as artifacts that have been around for a long time, they suggest patterns of thought and behavior that are able to transcend time and culture.  

Bolagrams and Lynch's Lost Highway

Critics either hold Lynch's Lost Highway to be a New Age mishmash of initiatory themes wheeling around an absurd critique of post-modern life, or they abandon critical hope in seeing the film as an exercise in noir excess -as James Naremore put it, "no other purpose than regression. . . another movie about movies." Slavoj Zizek has exhumed the serious and elegant stylistics behind the film to demonstrate that it is neither just an exercise nor a coded New Age manifesto but, rather, a coherent and consistent artistic account of our cultural condition. Not so coincidentally, Zizek's Lacanian insights correspond to bolagrammarian motions about an anamorphic center.This Möbius-band design constellates characters who are,without the underlying template, simply enigmatic.  
House and shed 
The house occupied by the couple we first meet (Fred and Renee Madison) is the best starting point. Fred hears a voice on the intercom, "Dick Laurent is dead,"but there is no one at the door, just a videotape that happens to show their house from the outside. The next morning, another videotape is left that shows the house's interior with the sleeping couple inside. The police are called in but can find no explanation.We learn that Fred is semi-impotent, and when he accompanies Renee to a party, we suspect that she and the host, Andy, are having an affair. A man at the party, the macabre Mystery Man, tells Fred that he has not only met Fred at his house, but that he's actually at his house at that moment. He has Fred call home to verify this. 
The third videotape shows Fred with the corpse of the murdered Renee, and in quick order we understand that Fred is convicted for murder and is serving out his sentence in jail. Inexplicably, he is transformed into another person,Pete Dayton. Dayton has no connection to the crime and, thus,is released. Dayton returns to his life as an auto mechanic. A gangster-client at the garage, Mr. Eddy (also known as Fred Laurent),asks Pete to accompany him on a drive to diagnose a problem with his car. A passing motorist offends Mr. Eddy and the subsequent chase and beating of the motorist alarm Pete. Eddy's mistress,who looks exactly like the murdered wife Renee, seduces Pete and persuades him to rob Andy, an associate of Mr. Eddy's and the person who got her involved in prostitution and pornographic films.During the robbery, Andy is killed. Pete and Alice drive to a desert motel and make love. She disappears in the darkness with the words, "You'll never have me!" and enters a wooden shed that bursts into flame. 
Pete now transforms back into Fred and gets into a fight with Mr. Eddy, who is executed by the suddenly appearing Mystery Man. Fred returns to his house, leaves a message on the intercom, "Dick Laurent is dead" and rushes off into the desert, pursued by the police. 
The key structuring elements are the parallels,doubles, and flips that constitute a comprehensive anamorphic program. Had this story existed in Roman times, Ovid would have had to include it in his Metamorphosis. The house/shed,Renee/Alice, and Fred/Pete play out doubles that do not match.Fred and Pete look different but are the same person. Renee and Alice look alike but are "different." Pete's affair with Alice is a hopeful projection that compensates for Fred's failed relationship with Renee. Mystery Man presides over the flips, and mediates the disbelief when we learn that one person can, following the rules of phantasmagoria, be in two places at once. Mr. Eddy/Laurent is the evil Other, but the Mystery Man is the Other of the Other, playing the drama out like an impresario of hell. 
While the bolagram does not explain "why"Lynch uses this flipped script, it does show how, despite the in congruencies the audience experiences, it "plays by the rules." This is Mr. Eddy's admonition to the roughed-up driver who had harmlessly passed him on the road - one must "play by the rules." The film has a plausible psychological "explanation"as the fantasy projection of Fred beginning with his imprisonment,but this doesn't cover the circularity of time created when he leaves the message on his own intercom about the death of Dick Laurent. Zizek argues that the film is in fact a document about the "end of psychology" ? the ultimate failure of attempts to explain this or any other event from the viewpoint of the outlooks of the participants/characters. 
Along these lines, the bolagram of Lost Highway shows that any psychology is "collective"and not deducible from motives of the players, who are lost within the matrix of relationships. However, the overall pattern is discernible,consistent, and (eventually) symmetrical within the rules of atemporalized topology that repeats a dynamic that can be found in the earliest myths. 
Slavoj zizek, The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime: On David Lynch's Lost highway, Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities Occasional Papers 1 (Seattle: University of Washington, 2000).  

Digression 2 - How To Make A Mobius Strip

Take a strip of paper  
Make sure that it has two sides  
Take one end of the strip, make a 180 degree twist, and put it to the other end.  
Tape - or, better, with respect to suture, which is important, as we will see - stitch the two ends together.  
As a result, you now have a one-sided figure instead of a two- sided figure. 
Ill 1: The Moebius Strip 
The Moebius Strip subverts the normal, i.e. Euclidean way of spatial (and, ultimately: temporal) representation, seemingly having two sides, but in fact having only one. At one point the two sides can be clearly distinguished, but when you traverse the strip as a whole, the two sides are experienced as being continuous. This figure is one of the topological figures studied and put to use by Lacan. (19) On the one hand, Lacan employs the Moebius Strip as a model to conceptualize the "return of the repressed," an issue important in Lost Highway as well. On the other hand, it can illustrate the way psychoanalysis conceptualizes certain binary oppositions, such as inside/outside, before/after, signifier/signified etc. - and can, with respect to Lost Highway, characterize Fred/Pete. These oppositions are normally seen as completely distinct; the Moebius Strip, however, enables us to see them as continuous with each other: the one, as it is, is the "truth" of the other, and vice versa. Reni Celeste invokes a similar topology, when she comments on Lynch's rewriting of American metaphysics, a rewriting that emphasizes the position where "violence meets tenderness, waking meets dream, blond meets brunette, lipstick meets blood, where something very sweet and innocuous becomes something very sick and degrading, at the very border where opposites becomes both discrete and indistinguishable" (Celeste).  

Escher's Moebius Ring - Ants:        

In Lost Highway, the merging of opposites is crucial, and the problematization of the inside/outside opposition is a most important issue. In fact, it is an important issue in Lynch's oeuvre as such - it suffices to refer to the scene in Blue Velvet, when the camera intrudes the severed ear that Jeffrey finds, and at the end of the movie, the camera virtually seems to come out of Jeffrey's ear again. In Lost Highway, the question of inside and outside and their conflation is repeatedly posed. On a general level, the diegetic reality of the movie - that what we actually see on the screen, as it were, INSIDE the movie - is composed out of bits and pieces from other movies: Lynch uses the different genres of Hollywood as a kind of quarry. And not only the Hollywood genres: he almost violently exploits his own wealth of images, almost every shot initiates the shock of recognition. One might call this repetitiveness, but, after all, language in general - and especially a distinct film-language such as Lynch's - relies on repetition in order to function. 
Another specific example of the merging of inside and outside apart from the frame-tale (Dick Laurent is dead) already mentioned, is, most important, the scene in which Fred meets the Mystery Man for the first time. In fact, the Mystery Man - simultaneously being inside and outside - can be read at the place where these (and in fact: all) opposites meet, he is - so to speak - the twist in the Moebius strip. In Lacan's use of the Moebius Strip, the place denoting the suture of the imaginary and symbolic in a way "hides" the primordial cut that instigated this topological figure in the first place, the cut that is the unconscious (or, in Lacanian terminology: the real). It is by suturing off the real that reality for the subject remains a coherent illusion, that prevents the subject from falling prey to the real, that is, falling into psychosis. It is no wonder, then, that the Mystery Man always appears when a change in personality is close.  
Reni Celeste is correct when she observes that in Lost Highway, there are three important fissures: "that which exists between one discrete individual and another, that which exists between the individual and itself, and that which exists between the thing and its representation ... Th[e] Nameless Man [Celeste's name for the Mystery Man] ... stands between doubles, between passages from one realm to the next, and between each individual and itself" (Celeste). However, it is important to note that the structure of the Moebius Strip re-conceptualizes these fissures, allowing them to be seen not so much as fissures, or ruptures, but as places of transition. Lost Highway's moebial structure disallows the suture of the subject into the narrative. In contrast to the traditional Hollywood diegesis, in which the narrative unfolds in a straightforwardly telelogical manner - even in spite of displacing strategies such as flashbacks, or the "film within the film"-motif - Lost Highway in fact presents a multiple diegesis. The more so, since both stories - the story of Fred and the story of Pete - are not simply related to each other as prequel, and/or the solution of the other. Although there are definite anchoring points that clearly connect the two stories: the one does not subsume the other without remainder. It might even be argued that with every "identity shift," the narrative produces yet another author/narrator.  

Books [1989 - 1993]

Durham: Duke University Press. 
SZ editor. London; New York: Verso.. 
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 
London; New York: Verso. 
London; New York: Verso. 

Books [1994 - 1998]

SZ editor. Durham: Duke University Press.
Zagreb: Arkzin. 
with F.W.J. von Schelling, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 
London; New York: Verso. 
Renata Salecl and SZ editors. Durham: Duke University Press. 
London; New York: Verso. 
London; New York: Verso. 
Mapping Ideology 
SZ editor. London; New York: Verso.