International Journal of Žižek Studies: Vol 2, No 4 (2008) from Larval Subjects . by larvalsubjects - ISSN 1751- 8229 Volume Two, Number Four Žižek’s New Universe of Discourse: Politics and the Discourse of the Capitalist Levi R. Bryant - Collin College, Texas, USA. Truth punches a hole in knowledge. ~J. Lacan
Like the other discourses, the discourse of the critical theorist is characterized by both in impossibility and an impotence. On the one hand, the relationship between objet a and the master-signifier is characterized by impossibility insofar as no master-signifier is ever adequate to naming objet a. A remainder always returns that exceeds the organizing aims of the mastersignifier.
Here it will be noted that this impossibility perfectly captures Žižek’s gloss on the discourse of the analyst, underlining the manner in which objet a or the Real and the mastersignifier are separated from one another. On the other hand, the lower level of the formula is characterized by impotence insofar as ideology (S2) perpetually fails in containing or mastering the divided subject, but also insofar as the pursuit of revolutionary knowledge aimed at by this discourse never completely responds to the subject’s lack. As a result, the discourse of the critical theorist endlessly repeats without limit. Paraphrasing Beckett, the discourse of critical theory is characterized by the impossibility of going on, the necessity of going on, and the will to go on.
Throughout this paper I have attempted to show that the difference between Žižek and Lacan is to be situated not at the level of content, but of form. Where Lacan’s thought engages the universe of mastery and the discourses that inhabit that universe, a structure can be discerned throughout Žižek’s thought that engages a very different universe of discourse. Although Žižek does not explore all dimensions of this universe in depth, his work can be seen as a cartography of this new universe, both uncovering the mechanisms by which it functions and devising strategies for engaging with this universe with the aim of promoting emancipation by providing us with a language through which we might become capable of articulating our unfreedom. The structure of the discourses that can be discerned at work in Žižek’s thought reveals a very precise analysis of the structural organization of our historical present. However, these discourses also go well beyond Žižek, revealing a common ground among many very different forms of critical engagement, while also allowing us to discern the role that the unconscious and the real play within this new universe of discourse.
Appendix: A Brief Summary of Lacan’s Structuralist Theory of Discourse Lacan developed his theory of discourse between the years of 1969 and 1973, between Seminar XVII, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, and Seminar XX, Encore: On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge. Unlike other theories of discourse, the focus is not on the content of discourse, but rather on the structural relation between the speaker of the discourse and the addressee of the discourse, such that 1) something is produced in the discourse, and 2) the discourse is always constitutively incomplete by virtue of the role that the unconscious plays in the discourse. As Alxendre Leupin nicely puts it,
What is a discourse? It is a formalizable structure that positions itself in between language and speech. It can subsist without being spoken by an individual (as in the case of an institution), but it is not the whole of a language: it inscribes itself in language as a fundamental relationship. Located between the generality of a given language and the speech act of an individual or the extreme singularity of each human subject, discourses define social groups (Leupin 2004: 68).
A discourse is thus not so much what a speech act is about, but is rather a particular form or structure taken by social relations, between institutions and other institutions, groups and other groups, institutions or groups and individuals, individuals and groups or institutions, and individuals and institutions. As a consequence, speech acts that are about very different things can embody one and the same structure of social relations. For example, workers might overturn the owners of the means of production, but institute a social order that has precisely the same structure, with masters commanding other workers so as to procure enjoyment. This seems to have occurred in Soviet socialism where the mode of production remained the same even though those in charge changed. [...]
It is noteworthy that despite Baurdrillard’s own claims here and elsewhere that symbolic-value spells the ruin of Marx’s analysis of capitalism, the addition of symbolic-value does not destroy Marx’s understanding of the commodity. Marx very clearly argues that "needs" are not simply biological needs, but are also socially and historically produced needs, i.e., needs that are produced or manufactured. As Marx observes on the very first page of Capital, "The commodity is, first of all, an external object, a thing which through its qualities satisfies human needs of whatever kind. The nature of these needs, whether they arise, for example, from the stomach, or the imagination, makes no difference" (Marx 1990: 125, my italics). 9:09 AM