Friday, March 15, 2013

On Naming Black Swans

Here... we have the opposition between the obsessional (man) and the hysterical (woman): the obsessional is delaying, putting off the act, waiting for the right moment, while the hysteric (so to speak) overtakes herself in her act and thus unmasks the falsity of the obsessional's position. This is what also is at stake in Hegel's theory of the role of repetition in history: 'a political revolution is generally sanctioned by the opinion of the people only when it is renewed' - that is, it can succeed only as a repetition of a first failed attempt. Why this need for repetition?

Hegel developed his theory of repetition apropos the case of Julius Caesar's death: when Caesar consolidated his personal power and strengthened it to imperial proportions, he acted 'objectively' (in itself) in accordance with historical truth, historical necessity - the Republican form was losing its validity, the only form of government which could save the unity of the Roman state was monarchy, a state based upon the will of a single individual; but it was still the Republic which prevailed formally (for itself, in the opinion of the people) - the Republic 'was still alive only because she forgot that she was already dead', to paraphrase the famous Freudian dream of the father who did not know he was already dead: 'His father was alive once more and was talking to him in his usual way, but (the remarkable thing was that) he had already died, only he did not know it' (Freud, 1977, p.559).

To the 'opinion' which still believed in the Republic, Caesars's amassing of personal power - which was, of course, contrary to the spirit of the Republic - appeared an arbitrary act, an expression of contingent individual self-will: the conclusion was that if this individual (Caesar) were to be removed, the Republic would again regain its full splendour. But it is precisely the conspirators against Caesar (Brutus, Cassius, and the others) who - following the logic of the 'cunning of reason' - attested the Truth (that is, the historical necessity) of Caesar: the final result, the outcome of Caesar's murder, was the reign of Augustus, the first caesar. The Truth thus arose from failure itself: in failing, in missing its express goal, the murder fulfilled the task which was, in a Machiavellian way, assigned to it by history: to exhibit the historical necessity by denouncing its own non-truth - its own arbitrary, contingent character (Hegel, 1969a, pp. 111-3).

The whole problem of repetition is here: in this passage from Caesar (the name of the individual) to caesar (title of the Roman emperor). The murder of Caesar - historical personality - provoked, as its final result, the installation of caesarism: Caesar-person repeats itself as caesar-title. What is the reason, the driving force, of this repetition? At first sight the answer seems to be clear: the delay of the consciousness as to the 'objective' historical necessity. A certain act through which breaks historical necessity is perceived by the consciousness (the 'opinion of the people') as arbitrary, as something which also could not have happened; because of the perception people try to do away with its consequences, to restore the old state of things, but when the act repeats itself it is finally perceived as an expression of the underlying historical necessity. In other words, repetition is the way historical necessity asserts itself in the eyes of 'opinion'.

But such an idea of repetition rests upon the epistemologically naive presupposition of an objective historical necessity, persisting independently of consciousness (of the 'opinion of the people') and asserting itself finally through repetition. What is lost in this notion is the way so-called historical necessity itself is constituted through mis-recognition, through the initial failure of 'opinion' to recognize its true character - that is, the way truth arises out of mis-recognition. The crucial point here is that the changed symbolic status of an event: when it erupts for the first time it is experienced as contingent trauma, as an intrusion of a certain non-symbolized Real; only through repetition is the event recognized in its symbolic necessity - it finds its place in the symbolic network; it is realized in the symbolic order. But as with Moses in Freud's analysis, this recognition-through-repetition presupposes necessarily the crime, the act of murder: to realize himself in the symbolic necessity - as a power-title - Caesar has to die as an empirical, flesh-and-blood personality, precisely because the 'necessity' in question is a symbolic one.

It is not only that in its first form of appearance, the event (for example, Caesar's amassing personal power) was too traumatic for the people to grasp its real signification - the mis-recognition of its first advent is immediately 'internal' to its symbolic necessity, it is an immediate constituent of its final recognition. The first murder (the parricide of Caesar) opened up the guilt, and it was this guilt, this debt, which was the real driving force of the repetition. The event did not repeat itself because of some objective necessity, independent of our subjective inclination and thus irresistible, but because its repetition was a repayment of our symbolic debt.

In other words, the repetition announces the advent of the Law, of the Name-of-the-Father in place of the dead, assassinated father: the event which repeats itself receives the law retroactively, through repetition. That is why we can grasp Hegelian repetition as a passage from a lawless series, as the inclusion of a lawless series - as a gesture of interpretation par excellence, as a symbolic appropriation of a traumatic, non-symbolized event (according to Lacan, interpretation always proceeds under the sign of the Name-of-the-Father). Hegel was thus probably the first to articulate the delay which is constituative of the act of interpretation: the interpretation always sets in too late, with some delay, when the event which is to be interpreted repeats itself; the event cannot already be law-like in its first advent. This same delay is also formulated in the Preface to Hegel's Philosophy of the Law, in the famous passage about the owl of Minerva (that is, the philosophical comprehension of a certain epoch) which takes flight only in the evening, after this epoch has already come to an end.
- Slavoj Zizek - "The Sublime Object of Ideology"

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