Saturday, September 6, 2014


William Butler Yeats, this arch-conservative, was right in is diagnosis of the XXth century, when he wrote: "...The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / the ceremony of innocence is drowned; / the best lack all conviction, while the worst / are full of passionate intensity." (The Second Coming, 1920). The key to his diagnosis is contained in the phrase "ceremony of innocence," which is to be taken in the precise sense of Edith Wharton's "age of innocence": Newton's wife, the "innocent" the title refers to, was not a naïve believer in her husband's fidelity - she knew well of his passionate love for Countess Olenska, she just politely ignored it and staged the belief in his fidelity... In one of the Marx brothers' films, Groucho Marx, when caught in a lie, answers angrily: "Whom do you believe, your eyes or my words?"

This apparently absurd logic renders perfectly the functioning of the symbolic order, in which the symbolic mask-mandate matters more than the direct reality of the individual who wears this mask and/or assumes this mandate. This functioning involves the structure of fetishist disavowal: "I know very well that things are the way I see them /that this person is a corrupt weakling, but I nonetheless treat him respectfully, since he wears the insignia of a judge, so that when he speaks, it is the Law itself which speaks through him". So, in a way, I effectively believe his words, not my eyes, i.e. I believe in Another Space (the domain of pure symbolic authority) which matters more than the reality of its spokesmen. The cynical reduction to reality thus falls short: when a judge speaks, there is in a way more truth in his words (the words of the Institution of law) than in the direct reality of the person of judge - if one limits oneself to what one sees, one simply misses the point. This paradox is what Lacan aims at with his les non-dupes errent: those who do not let themselves be caught in the symbolic deception/fiction and continue to believe their eyes are the ones who err most.
- Slavoj Zizek, "With or Without Passion: What's Wrong with Fundamentalism"

1 comment:

FreeThinke said...

His name was NEWLAND Archer, not Newton. Other than that --- spot on.

I too believe The Office is larger and more important than The Man who holds it, just as I believe that Jesus Christ cannot be "discredited" by the myriad fools, poseurs, sadistic authoritarians who claim to represent Him.

If a priest be a pedophile, does that mean the priesthood, itself, should be abandoned, discarded and forever vilified as inherently unworthy?

A discussion of the probable motives of Newland Archer's wife might prove interesting. So would an examination of Newland Archer's motives in staying with his good, kind, but rather insipid wife letting the Countess Olenska effectively "go hang."

Is Convention, and the fear of disgrace and ostracism more powerful than Passion after all, or was it just common Decency that held sway in Newland Archer's case?