My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I cannot write to the impact that Slavoj Žižek’s The Sublime Object of Ideology has had upon Lacanian Psychoanalyis or Marxist Criticism. I cannot even lie enough to tell you, dear reader, that I understood the majority of this text. But I do know that of what I understood, I thoroughly enjoyed and gathered not only a new perception of the world, but the terminology with which to envision it.
Before remarking that Žižek’s writing is “____” or that Žižek’s interpretation of the Lacanian “____” is “_____,” let me state why I read this book, and why someone should read this book. I’ll begin with the latter: I cannot imagine a reason for someone to read this book. Unless, said person is interested in Lacanian Psychoanalysis, Marxism, Stalinism, a general critique of the Postmodern, etc. But, these are highly individualized and specialized reasons. I read this for one of those reasons: I knew this was a seminal work, and I like Žižek’s writing. I find him quite entertaining, and I appreciate what many criticize about Žižek: namely, his blend of good ol’ Socialist humor adjacent to Marxist/Lacanian theory.
But, on with the show. For a number of years now, quite before I even knew of Žižek, I have been approaching individuals with this notion: there is no such thing as choice. Now, I don’t go saying this willy-nilly to everyone; no. Gosh, no! I only reserve it for those who I wish to engage in a bit of an intellectual battle with, i.e. someone who can, perhaps, change my mind or, better yet, harden my thought. You can work this notion from the consumerist angle of limited selection, or the lovely Leninist paraphrase, “freedom, but for whom and for what!” or any others to fit your sparring partner. But what you really want them to realize is that even what they say to me has been determined. Even me saying “there is no choice” is determined by a mix of my experiences, memory, journeys, gender, class, race, language, nationalism, heredity, and so on, and so on. But, I am totally okay with that.
You see, they (my straw men) fight to hold on to this banal notion of “individuality” being made up of “choices”—I had coffee this morning because I decided to; not because of my environment, my internal make up, my bank account, my access to coffee, the development of coffee as a commodity, etc. And when you present the absurd aphorism that “there is no choice,” the first response is fear. Go ahead, try it on the first person you meet. I’ll wait…
IF, a big IF, you can get past this initial fear of the loss of morality, freedom, ability, talent—not to mention the Protestant virtue of the individual—etc., then you must counter their fear. They must know that in the absence of choice, or “free will” for you old school philosophers, we still retain our individuality. There is no one like you. And there is no one like me. (Even an imitation is just that: an imitation of the thing. Even if I am an imitation, I am still this original imitation that is occurring now. God save Postmodernism). Even the hypothetical identical-twin-sci-fi-crap renders individuality a truism. Because no one can occupy your space or your time. Even if they did, the slightest deviance (say, a misplaced hair or an unbuttoned shirt collar) would alter any similarities. (And even those things would not be “choices”).
So, to make the theory of “choice,” one simply must isolate an incident. Then—and this is important, which is why I used an em-dash—the incident, once severed from any prior beginnings or futile continuation, is immediately rendered moral. AND: “There are no moral phenomenon at all, but only moral interpretations of phenomena.” (Agreed, I wouldn’t acquiesce to someone who quotes Nietzsche either.) So, let’s try this:
“the subject must freely choose the community to which he already belongs, independent of his choice–he must choose what is already given to him“. Furthermore, “The point is that he is never actually in a position to choose: he is always treated as if he had already chosen“. Finally, “we must stress that there is nothing ‘totalitarian’ about it. The subject who thinks he can avoid this paradox and really have a free choice is a psychotic subject”. (Žižek 186, original italics)
I feel quite vindicated in my initial philosophical challenge. And the thing is that there are a handful of other chapters and sub-chapters that made total sense to me! Totally. Like: pieces of “How Did Marx invent the Symptom?,” “the subject presumed to…” on page 210, or “Positing the presuppositions” on page 244. (The rest of the text consisting of Lacanian hieroglyphics that I hope to someday render in to perfect psychoanalytic crop circles that eventually reveal, revive and revel in the Real, the Symptom, the Imaginary, and das Ding all in one foul grand gesture in which the proletariat will finally come to total consciousness, amass in the nearest city and stare blankly, longingly at the sky waiting for Lacan to appear in some great 1960s Télévision set floating overhead. Perhaps I’ve said too much… Oder: Vielleicht, ich habe zu viel gesagt).
I think the difficulty of this text lies in the thickness of it; no, no, not the page number; um, the density; yeah, that’s it: density. So, I’ll keep it on my shelf for inefficient perusal; the proverbial “wait a second, I gotta find this quote!”. I can discuss a mere five pages of this text for hours; or, for that matter, write an annoyingly long book review on one sub-chapter. But I only write this stuff for me. And, luckily, you, dear reader, have no choice.