Saturday, January 31, 2015

Trial and Error

The fundamental fact of the advent of 'totalitarianism' would consist then of social Law beginning to function as Superego. Here it is no longer that which 'forbids' and, on the basis of prohibition, opens, supports and guarantees the field of co-existence of 'free' bourgeois subjects, the field of their diverse pleasures. By becoming 'mad', it begins directly to command jouissance: the turning point where a permitted freedom-to-enjoy is reversed into an obligatory jouissance which is, one must add, the most effective way to block the access of the subject to jouissance. One finds in Kafka's work a perfect staging of bureaucracy under the rule of an obscene, fierce, 'mad' law, a law which immediately inflicts jouissance - in short, the Superego:
'Thus I belong to justice', says the priest. 'So then, what could I want from you? The Court makes no claim upon you. It receives you when you come and relinquishes you when you go.'
How can one not recognize, in these lines with which the interview between Josef K. and the priest ends in Chapter IX of The Trial, the 'mischievous neutrality' of the Superego? Already the starting point of two great novels, The Trial and The Castle, is the call of a superior instance (the Law, the Castle) to the subject - aren't we dealing with a law which 'would give the order, "Jouis!" ["Enjoy!" or "Come!"], and the subject could only reply "J'ouis" ["I hear"], in which jouissance would no longer be anything but understood? The 'misunderstanding', the 'confusion' of the subject confronting this instance, isn't it precisely due to the fact that he misunderstands the imperative of jouissance which resounds here and which perspires through all the pores of its 'neutral' surface? When Josef K., in the empty chamber, glances at the judges' books, he finds 'an indecent picture' in the first book. 'A man and woman were sitting naked on a sofa, the obscene intention of the draughtsman was evident enough.' That is the Superego: a solemn 'indifference' impregnated in parts by obscenities.

That is why, for Kafka, bureaucracy is 'closer to original human nature than any other social institution' (letter to Oscar Baum, June 1922): what is this 'original human nature' if not the fact that man is from the start a 'parletre [speaking being]'? And what is the Super-ego - the functioning mode of bureaucratic knowledge - if not, according to Jacques-Alain Miller, what 'presentifies' under the pure form of the signifier as the cause of the division of the subject; in other words, the intervention of the signifier-command under its chaotic, senseless aspect?
- Slavoj Zizek, "Interrogating the Real"

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