Zizek, Slavoj. “Melancholy and the Act.” Critical Inquiry 26.4 (2000): 657-81.

Zizek begins by stating that the Lacanian Big Other designates explicit symbolic rules and unwritten rules as well. Example of Robert Ebert’s movie rules—in a foreign land, in a car chase, a fruit stand will get run over, the grocery bag rule, etc—the Big other regulates our speech and actions. While not stated outright, disobeying them can be very bad.

One of those rules is mourning and melancholia. The dominant opinion is: “Freud opposed normal mourning (the successful acceptance of a loss) to pathological melancholy (the subject persist in his or her narcissistic identification with the lost object). Against Freud, one should assert the conceptual and ethical primacy of melancholy” (658). In mourning, a remainder occurs that fails integration through mourning, “and the ultimate fidelity is the fidelity to this remainder” (658). Mourning kills the lost object (again), while melancholy stays faithful to the lost object. The melancholic refuses to renounce the attachment to the lost object. (((This point is elaborated on by Derrida—we carry the world of the other; the dialogue continues)). This idea of maintaining attachments to the lost object can be used in multiple ways: from the queer one—gays should maintain attached to the repressed same-sex libidinal economy to the ethnic one: where the ethnic  group might lose their culture as it is subsumed by the capitalist tradition.

“The melancholic link to the lost ethnic Object allows us to claim that we remain faithful to our ethnic roots while fully participating in the global capitalist game” (659).

Anamorphosis- distorted projection or perspective, requiring a specific vantage point. Zizek says ideology works off of anamorphosis, where if we look at the ideology from a certain standpoint, then it makes sense; example, anti-semitism—the Jewish plot is the cause of all our problems. Anamorphosis distorts the idea of subjective and objective reality, since “the subjective distortion is reflected back into the perceived object itself, and, in this precise sense, the gaze itself requires a supposedly objective existence” (659).

This paradox does not hold in the melancholic, who mistakenly asserts that something “resist the symbolic sublation”, and “locate[s] this resistance in a positively existing, although lost, object. ” The melancholic interprets his/her desire as a loss, when it is merely lacking. The melancholic thinks that he/she possessed the object and has now lost it when in reality, he/she never possessed it at all. The melancholic confuses the object as missing, but in reality, it is lacking. That lack causes the object to emerge in the first place. The paradox comes when the melancholic thinks the object loss when in reality it lacks. “The melancholic subject thus elevates the object of his longing into an inconsistent composite of a corporeal absolute; however, since this object is subject to decay, one can possess it unconditionally only insofar as it is lost, in its loss” (660).

Zizek looks to Giorgio Amamben who “emphasized how, in contrast to mourning, melancholy is not only the failure of the work of mourning, the persistence of the attachment to the real object, but also its very opposite: ‘melancholia offers the paradox of an intention to mourn that precedes and anticipates the loss of the object’” (661). The problem is that the melancholic thinks what he possesses is lost—he mourns the object before the object is lost. ((((This problem happens with Maximo, who always wonders while all the stories that begin with Cuban being pure and great turn into something dark—he is suffering from melancholy, and even in Miami, where he possess a Cuban identity, through his food, his wife, and his community—he feels his Cubanness lost; later, he maintains connection to his identity through playing with the Cubans, through old stories, and through his jokes, but feels this abstract object loss, so he suffers the attachment to it—Also, his sadness comes from knowing that his homeland has forgotten him; he is no longer the German Shepherd of Cuba, he is the mutt of America. Having suffered one loss (losing his home), he suffers the loss of his Miami identity, he suffers the loss of his children, his friends—all before any of them are actually lost))))

As Zizek further explains “the mourner mourns the lost object and kills it a second time through symbolizing its loss, while the melancholic is not simply the one who is unable to remounce the object but rather the one who kills the object a second time (treats it as lost) before the object is actually lost” (662).

The manner to explore this paradox comes in the Lacanian distinction between the object and the (object) cause of desire, the feature that has us desiring the desired object. Something that we are usually unaware, “even misperceived as an obstacle.” The melancholic posseses the object but has lost his desire for the object: “. . . the cause that made him desire the object has withdrawn, lost its efficiency” (662). Lacan’s object petit a, is the void in reality around which reality is displaced and centralized. “This object is the sublime object (of ideology), the object elevated to the dignity of a Thing, and simultaneously the anamorphic object (in order to perceive its sublime quality, we have to look at it awry—if looked at straight on, it appears as just another object in a series)” (662).

The void-lack- only works when when it is embodied in an object. The object keeps the gap open. The void of desire embodies itself in an object that serves as a stand in. This void is best embodied in post-sctructuralist, Derridian, deconstructionist ethics: an ethics that calls for the always-already withdrawn negative trace of its own absence. We can never be fully present, accountable, ethical enough in the face of the other. The other is a void around which to build this ethics. Another example happens in Derria’s view on Marxism: we must keep true to the spirit of Marx, not the letter. Derrida’s radicalization means only the theoretical Marx, any actualization of Marx betrays the “spirit.”  As Zizek explains “on account of its very radicalism, the messianic promise forever remains a promise, cannot ever be translated into a set of determinate economic and political measures” (665). We can never be responsible enough to the other, our answer to the other will always lack. This gap between ethical responsibility and action betrays the problem of totalitarianism because the party attempts to fulfill this ethical gap with actions that betray and go against the people.

Democracy works as a perpetual working-ING, a “to-come”: “The to-come (a venir) is thus not simply an additional qualification of democracy but its innermost kernel, what makes democracy democracy. The moment democracy is no longer to come but pretends to be actual—fully actualized—we enter totalitarianism” (665). This democracy to come refers to when one is urgently called to answer the call of the other in the face of injustice. Derrida addresses the gap between ethics and politics, where ethics is the impossible response to the call of the other and politics is the need to act/respond. Ethics is always to-come; politics is a “here/ now”—in politics, in having to make a choice, we risk doing the wrong thing: “The ethical is thus the (back)ground of undecidability, while the political is the domain of the decision(s), of taking the full risk of crossing the hiatus and translating this impossible ethical request for messianic justice into a particular intervention that never lives up to this request, that is always unjust towards (some of the) others” (666). Ethics, then, opens up the condition of possibility for politics, while closing it. When I have to act in politics because of the ethical call, my action my hurt (some) others—will be unethical. The decision to act works on two levels:

First, we open up the gap between the ethical call of the other, and the decision to decide. Zizek elaborates, “the first decision is identified with/as the injunction of the Thing in me to decide [the other’s call/ the other’s decision in me]; it is a decision to decide, and it still remains my (the subject’s) responsibility to translate this decision to decide into a concrete, actual intervention, to invent a new rule out of a singular situation, wehre this intervention has to obey pragmatic and/or strategic considerations and is never at the level of the decision” (668-9).  Zizek wants to say that the Lacanian act is not along the lines of this deconstructionist ethic, where the “other’s decision in me” is not some structuralist view of a decentered subject of abyss of otherness I can never reach; rather, the Lacanian act refers to the subject’s direct identification with the other’s Thing/ injunction to action. The subject becomes the Other-Thing for “a brief, passing moment of, precisely, decision—directly is the Thing” (669).

An ethical act changes the very nature of what we think about ethical acts, the very idea of what is good.

Here are some sloppy ideas on Lacan’s influence on subjectivity. Comps are right around the corner, and I’m starting to freak out a little. Today will be spent on literature and fiction though. I’ll get back to the theory this weekend!

Freud and Lacan contributed to a radically new understanding of the subject as decentered, without a fully-present center that the subject controls. Freud took the idea that we are in control of our minds away with his introduction of the unconscious that subject are unaware of, and Lacan further complicated the subject by explaining how even “consciousness is structured like a language.” A result of Lacan’s structuralism, he posits that since language structures consciousness, the subject’s understanding of itself gets dispersed over sliding signifiers, never really knowing or understanding itself. This idea of the subject as constructed by language heavily influenced neo-marxist’s, such as Althusser and Zizek, ideas of ideology, as well as gender theorist, such as Irigaray. Lacan’s influence manifest most poignantly in the manner ideology affects the subject, who is constructed by language. These thinkers all use Lacan’s contributions to subject formation to reconfigure ways of thinking about the subject caught in ideology.

Althusser examines capitalism and the ideology at work within the system to explain how ideology (and capitalism) reproduces itself perpetually through Ideological State apparatuses (ISA). While this examination of ideology’s control over a population springs from Marxism, Althusser applies Lacan to Marxism in order to explain how subjects consent to ideology unconsciously. Maintaining the Marxist stress on economic causes, Althusser furthers this analysis to explain how ISAs function with autonomy. Althusser begins with Lacan’s concept of the Imaginary stage, the preverbal stage babies inhabit; at this point, consciousness is not Marx’s “false consciousness” but primordial. For Lacan, the subject then moves into language and the symbolic stages, also the place where the subject identifies with itself in the mirror, at the mirror stage. Althusser uses Lacan’s subject formation to explain how the subject is born into ideology, which, much like the Freudian unconscious, dictates how the subject behaves in society. Althusser posits that a subject’s individuality gets generated through social forces, and he uses Lacan’s mirror stage to explain how the subject identities itself in society.

Althusser states that ideology works on the idea of a Sign, where, in ideology, the sign is always (mis)recognized. While a subject might think that its actions are freely chosen, ideology sees to it that (unconsciously) its acts are pre-chosen. The subject, following Lacan’s subjectivity, sees an idealized version of itself, taught through ISAs and enforced by RSAs, in capitalism, but as it is in the mirror stage, this self is misrecognized; the subject puts itself in an idealized position in the capitalist system without realizing that it has no control over the system.

This analysis leaves a very bleak view of subjectivity, for how can a subject escape society’s trap when, as Marx put it “They do not know it, but they are doing it”? Althusser offers no solutions for the subject to escape. In Reading Capital, Althusser posits that more than answers, the questions posed need rethinking because the questions were based on the ideological answers already in misrecognition with the capitalist system. Furthermore, Althusser leaves very little room for critique since any critique arises out of the very ideology that has subjects tapped. More traditional Marxists critique Althusser’s lack of discussing class struggle, but if subjects are born into ideology, then the very idea of class and the structures of society arise out of ideology; therefore, by analyzing ideology, Althusser does—even if not directly—examine social structures. Lacan, through Althusser, contributes to rethinking Marxism, generally, and to thinking of ideology on the subject, specifically. Another problem to contemplate is who deploys this ideology? If subjects are all born into language, then the people in charge of ideology are also part of ideology and the analysis becomes a never-ending Russian doll or mirrors reflecting each other. Although, keeping Althusser’s idea about asking the correct questions in mind, Zizek examines ideology and the way it works in society as well, acknowledging that philosophy’s job is not to give answers but to ask the right questions.

Zizek strives to ask the correct questions, examining ideology and furthering what Althusser begins: ideology as the “thing” we participate in without knowing it. The subject’s belief in ideology establishes belief before the belief in ISAs. Again, just as in Althusser’s analysis of Lacan, the subject comes into ideology in the symbolic when the subject comes into language. Language, then, encompasses the subject—the space in which the subject lives (in a Heideggerian way, language is where the subject (Being) dwells). Zizek’s interest lies in the Lacanian Real and in the many manifestations of ideology, and how the Real accounts for language’s failure. The Real lies both within and outside of the subject, resisting the Symbolic’s attempts to describe it but also revealing the Real’s existence. Zizek views fantasy—object a—as a space that conceals the gap, which only proves the existence of the Real. The gap becomes what the subject most desires, imagining the other as possessing the thing that is desired. This “thing,” the gap, the desire of the subject that the other has, gets filled by ideology. Ideology tells the subject what to desire; much in the same manner that Althusser claims subjects follow ideology without awareness, Zizek claims that ideology tells the subject what to desire. Additionally, Zizek conceives of the Big Other as purely symbolic, yet having the power to order the subject’s actions. The Big Other is the institutions (ISAs for Althusser) that order reality, and the Real gets disavowed in favor of the symbolic. The Real, however, is “radically ambiguous…it erupts in the form of a traumatic return, derailing the balance of our daily lives, but it serves at the same time as a support of this very balance” (Zizek, Looking Awry 29). The Real then manifest itself both in ordering the symbloci universe of the subject as well as intruding and collapsing that universe.

Zizek posits that postmodernism claims that we live in an era of post-ideology; while he claims that we are actually more in ideology than ever, only a cynical ideology. Therefore, Zizek explains that the Real causes conflicts that arise because of social reality, the symbolic order. The conflicts that arise from the Real fall outside of language, but the conflicts are seen in the manner ideology works on subjects. Ideology conceals the lacuna opened up by attempts to thematize the Real, which falls outside of language, and leads Zizek to purport that objective truth remains impossible but that ideology must exist since this antagonism exist, which is what Zizek analyzes.

Zizek views subject formation in much the same way as Althusser in that the subject is born into language and language is ideology. For Zizek, ideology hides the real problems and causes the wrong questioning, a notion Althusser already analyzed. For Zizek the way to ask the right questions is to step back and explore the moments of the Real that erupt into reality. Lacan’s influence on Zizek is pervasive; as Zizek explains, he uses Lacan as his theoretical base to analyze everything from Marx, Hegel, and Kant to Hitchcock, film nior, and popular culture. Lacan’s biggest contribution to Zizek is in the former’s later conception of Real and the barrier between the Real and reality. Zizek can be said to contribute to Lacan’s work by continuing this analysis that Lacan start later in his career. Both Altheusser and Zizek build on Lacan’s ideas of the Law of the father to explore ideology. In Lacan’s theory, the child meets the Law of the father to realize its place in a network where its choices in that network are already determined, established by the society it was born into. Just as the subject in ideology is born into ideology and must follow the law of the society it is born into.

The problem of being born into the regulations of society manifest in the manner society determines sexuality, which Irigaray critiques. Lacan’s contribution to Irigaray, again, lies in his theory of subject formation. For Irigaray, however, Lacan excludes women. In the mirror stage, the infant projects an imaginary body that is misrecognized; then in the symbolic stage—entrance to language—the infant further begins to create an ego. Irigaray agrees with Lacan on these points, and with the cultural influence on how the subject sees its body biologically. The problem for Irigaray, emerges in Lacan’s master-signifier being the phallus, thus privileging the male. The imaginary construction of the body holds the male body in higher esteem throughout Western discourses of science, philosophy, and psychoanalysis, leaving women out. The subject, for Lacan, must have a relationship to the phallus to attain social existence.

For Lacan, the infant wants to usurp the Master Signifier and have all of the mother’s attention. When the baby realizes the law of the father prohibits the infant from taking over, the baby begins to realize its place in society, acquiring its own relationship to the phallus. Sexual difference arises out of having or being the phallus. These processes happen through language, which Irigaray explores, especially how gender arises out of cultural constructs bound up with language. Therefore, Lacan’s contributes to Irigaray by establishing her departure point, the gendering of the subject through language (ideology for Althusser and Zizek). She takes a radical step back from Lacan, refusing to categorize or explain female subjectivity, caliming that doing so would interfere with women redefining themselves; she then posits the inability to describe the feminine outside of male hegemony. Her project becomes problematic, in much the same manner as Derrida’s: how can anyone redefine women (even women) if everyone is caught in male vocabulary that has excluded women. Lacan, himself, failed to realize how immersed within ideology he was when he privileged males over females, leaving females out. Nonetheless, Lacan gave Irigaray the vocabulary to begin discussing the exclusion of females from Western thought.

Lacan helps all of these thinkers examine the subject caught up in ideology because of language. Society establishes a language and forgets the power of that language to control culture and thought. Lacan helps Althusser, Zizek, and Irigaray formulate subjects and subjects place within society, and that place is a precarious one since the subject is so radically fragmented form the mirror stage on, and these thinkers focus on that fragmentation and how hegemonic powers take advantage of that fragmentation to control it populous.

And more…

How to Read Marx by Peter Osborne— and Perdue’s modules on theory.

1- Commodity: Fetish and Hieroglyph:

This book begins by looking at how commodities take on the form of a hieroglyph by becoming symbols for society in the manner a hieroglyph is a symbol.

Osborne lets us know that a commodity is, at first sight, a trivial thing, without any special properties other than its use-value. Humanity, through its activities, changes the material of the commodity in order to make it useful. The example given is a wood, which can be altered to make a chair or table (9). The table is merely wood though, until humans make a thing out of it, create it as a commodity. However, “The mysterious character of a commodity does not therefore arise from its use-value” (ibid.).

This explanation leaves me confused, so here is what Marx said:

commodity, such as iron, corn, or a diamond, is therefore, so far
as it is a material thing, a use-value, something useful. This 
property of a commodity is independent of the amount of labour
required to appropriate its useful qualities. […] Use-values 
become a reality only by use or consumption: they also constitute
the substance of all wealth, whatever may be the social form of 
that wealth” (my emphasis, Marx 46). A commodity then is separate from its use-value and only acquires value through human consumption. The value is determined only when the object has entered into the system of exchange.

Osborne goes on to explain the commodity-fetishism, which is not a fixed desire on an object, as he claims the term is commonly misread, rather “Marx’s account is not about fetishism as a psychological condition of a subject, whose desrie transforms the significance of particular objects. It is about the fetish character of the commodity itself, a special kind of object: specifically, the fetish character of ‘form’, the commodity-form” (11). The fetish is not on the object but on the value placed on the object, the “value-form of the commodity.”

I must pause here to note that Osborne’s prose, I feel at times, is much more dense than Marx’s prose. The book is sloppily written, but I will try to get out of it what I can, always going back to the original. Anyway—onward…

We have to step back: commodity- all commodities have exchange-value-value of the commodity in relation to other commodities.

All commodities have use-value- a property that satisfies needs.

Marx states that labour also has two characteristics:

Concrete labor: the skills to produce an object, such as planning, hammering, sawing, etc.
Abstract labor: the power put into making something (the man-hours). What happens in capitalist society is that abstract labor gets transformed into concrete labor when abstract labor gets bought and sold as a commodity, which means that abstract labor then has to produce exchange value, and of course, means that the employee will want surplus value from this commodity. (See previous post on Marxism).

Another explanation of use value vs. exchange calue (thanks to Perdue’s modules)

USE-VALUE vs. EXCHANGE-VALUE: The usefulness of a commodity vs. the exchange equivalent by which the commodity is compared to other objects on the market. Marx distinguishes between the use-value and the exchange value of the commodity. Use-value is inextricably tied to “the physical properties of the commodity” (126); that is, the material uses to which the object can actually be put, the human needs it fulfills. In the exchange of goods on the capitalist market, however, exchange-value dominates: two commodities can be exchanged on the open market because they are always being compared to a third term that functions as their “universal equivalent,” a function that is eventually taken over by money. Exchange-value must always be distinguished from use-value, because “the exchange relation of commodities is characterized precisely by its abstraction from their use-values” (127). In capital, money takes the form of that equivalence; however, money in fact hides the real equivalent behind the exchange: labor. The more labor it takes to produce a product, the greater its value. Marx therefore concludes that “As exchange-values, all commodities are merely definite quantities of congealed labour-time” (130).

[Side note—again from Perdue: On commodity: “COMMODITY: “an external object, a thing which through its qualities satisfies human needs of whatever kind” (Marx, Capital 125) and is then exchanged for something else. When Marx speaks of commodities, he is particularly concerned with the “physical properties of the commodity” (126), which he associates closely with the use-value of an object. However, use-value does not automatically lead to a commodity: “He who satisfies his own need with the product of his own labour admittedly creates use-values, but not commodities. In order to produce the latter, he must not only produce use-values, but use-values for others, social use-values” (131). Commodities, therefore, “possess a double form, i.e. natural form and value form” (138). (See Use-Value vs. Exchange-Value.) The physical body of the commodity is made up of 1) the material provided by nature (e.g. linen, gold, etc.); and 2) the labor expended to create it (see Marx, Capital 133). Note that a commodity can refer to tangilble things as well as more ephemeral products (e.g. a lecture). What matters is that something be exchanged for the thing.” ]

Osborne explains how a commodity acquires “mysterious” or “super-sensual” qualities, becoming “Das Ding” or “Thing” (which relates to Lacan’s use of Thing for the Real, with similar qualities—qualities that cannot be put into words, that are outside of verbalization, with mysterious power). The commodity has both perceptible properties easily seen and non-perceptible properties (14). The super-sensible aspect of a commodity is expressed through price so that we believe that an objects price embodies the object—not the labor. As Osborne explains “When we encounter a car, a computer or a washing machine, we see its price as an expression of the value of the sensible object itself, rather than of the labour it embodies” (15). We fail to notice the labor put into the product and merely look at its price as a reflection of the product. This relationship reveals society: the price arises out of society’s relation between objects, like hieroglyphs, these relations and commodities need special interpretations.

Commodities become a fetish when money gets involved and so the object is imbued with “special power” in the monetary value of the object, rather than on the labor of the object. This relation reveals the exploitation of the workers, who remain mostly invisible. We encounter the objects of our purchases only in a market where we exchange money and with the corporations who sell us our products, and we never really come into contact with the workers who created the product. As the modules explain: “In capitalist society, gold and then paper money become “the direct incarnation of all human labor” (187), much as in primitive societies the totem becomes the direct incarnation of godhead. Through this process, “Men are henceforth related to each other in their social process of production in a purely atomistic way; they become alienated because their own relations of production assume a material shape which is independent of their control and their conscious individual action” (187). Although value ultimately accrues because of human labor, people in a capitalist system are led to believe that they are not in control of the market forces that appear to exist independently of any individual person.

All of this control in capitalist society occurs because of ideology, which is where I will turn my attentions to soon—I think…

I don’t know if I will return to the How to Read Marx book–the writing makes concepts more confusing and I don’t feel I am getting much out of reading it.

More notes on the idea of Marxism–with a nod to neo-marxist:

Althusser believes that capitalism doesn’t solely determine relations. The base and superstructure are engaged in dialectic so that changes in the superstructure can affect the base. For example, changes in the ways we think about marriage can change things at the base, such as sexual relationships, which have changed over time.

Marx (and Engels) invert the Hegelian dialectic—rather than start from abstract ideas (master-slave), Marx starts with material world. The base is the economic base, the modes of production, the relations of production, the forces of production (technology, etc). The superstructure is culture and ideology. The question is: what relationship exist between these two?

Ideology distorts reality, and in a hegemony, ideology operates by way of consent. The distinction in ideology between communist Russia and the U.S.A. is that in Russia people were not free but knew it. In the U.S. people are not free but fail to notice.

The U.S. doesn’t know it isn’t free because, according to Althusser, of ISA-Ideological State Apparatuses that make us think we are free, individual thinkers, when we are not.

Every child goes through a social production, and the ultimate form of production are the conditions for reproduction; that is, social formation that will keep reproducing itself. Soceity reproduces itself through ISA, such as religion, schools, family, legal system—all of culture. All these things that are in place to make you a good, normal, conforming citizen with religion and education as the biggest ones in place to make sure society reproduces itself.

“To be a subject is also to be subjected”

Marx wants to examine this ideology and change it so that the worker is no longer exploited.

Capitalism is built on production, so the people who own the means of production exploit the worker. Perpetually, capitalism builds its wealth on unfair premises: it pays the worker as little as it can get away with—Marx argues this system does not work.

Part of the problem arises out of capitalist practices that determine values in society. For instance:

Use-value: value an object has because of its use—the value an object has that you are willing to put in labor into it to create it.
Exchange-value: arbitrary value placed on object (such as gold). A pound of gold against a pound of iron where iron is useful and gold is not, but someone, somehow, put more value on gold. The ruling class determines the value of an object that has nothing to do with its actual use-value.

These values have ramifications for consciousness in dialectical materialism; for example:

A farmer has a rake and a hose an the land to grow crops, harvest, and sell them. Then trackers are invented, which means less work for the farmer, but you need people to make a tractor. Now you have people working in a tractor factory to make money to buy the food that the tractor is used to harvest, instead of just growing the food yourself. Then to make things go faster, one worker tightens three screws on the tractor, and that is all he does. To save money, the factory makes robots to tighten screws, but now you need factories to make robots to make tractors to make the food that you are making robots for in order to make money to buy the food. One idea creates a need for the next idea, but sometimes the ideas contradict.

This line of ideas create alienation; the worker is alienated from the product and from the original goal. In alienation, all relations among people become monetary and cease to be human, rather merely a relation between labor.

Where the farmer would make food and trade it for goods, now someone makes tightens one screw on a robot that makes a tractor to harvest food, and the factory worker has no idea what his finished product looks like or what it is used for.

On a more specific literary interpretation:

Production and materialism:

For Marx, what sets humans apart from animals is history. We are real individuals, living with real material reality (which reflects the 18th primer). Furthermore, men are distinguished from animals in consciousness—when they begin to produce substances to live for themselves. We, humans, are distinguished because we produce ourselves: 1- in way we keep ourselves alive; 2-through sex, literally reproducing ourselves.

[side note: in terms of animal studies, these views are questionable. Animals have consciousness, produce means to live for themselves, keep themselves alive, and have sex to reproduce themselves. The argument might be made that Marxism can be applied to animals by analyzing animal’s base and superstructures since animals have rituals and “ideology” in a way, especially the more sophisticated primates and mammals]

Marx starts from material history—not ideas. [For example, texts, like everything else, are produced and determined by history and context, not freely shaped by ideas of an author. Those ideas an author has are shaped by his/her material reality and history]. Even the materiality of body affects the manner in which you think. If your body is being tortured, that will shape the way you think. If you are wearing certain clothing—fashionable clothing, tight clothing, comfortable clothing—will shape the way you think].

In terms of literary criticism: Some critics will look at author as if he/she didn’t exist in a certain historical moment. The critic examines the text in an idealist manner or non-materialist manner. Idealism—a way of thinking that divorces consciousness from history; 1-in the realm of which you fall down, scrape your knee, eat dinner, all of material history; 2- in the realm in which you think about this things (in 1) or imagine these things. Idealism believes these two points are separate.

Marxist critic believes, however, that an author is a product of his time and produced in a certain historical moment. The author, furthermore, is a producer of his time. An author takes raw materials (language, old texts, form, style, etc.) and will produce a story by transforming those material, creating a text. As in any production, a surplus remains that in Marxism is Signification: the text says more than the author meant to say because the text uses all these other voices, raw materials in its creation. Also, the text carries a tension between the author’s intention/meaning and the linguistic capacity of these other voices of the text.

A bourgeois critic thinks the author is to be found in the raw materials (the cotton) of the text, but a Marxist critic would say that the tension needs examination. The text becomes fissured, decentered. The text’s historical time dictates what the text can say so that there are certain things the text cannot say or even think. For a Marxist literary critic, the questions to explore are what is impossible for the text to say? What couldn’t the author say because of ideology? How does the text perform society?

Thomas Docherty at the University of Warwick has an excellent ItunesU podcast on literary theory. Here are some notes I got from his lecture, which you can find here:

The class also has a blog:

My notes from the above:

Marxism Notes:

Critique is an investigation into how a form of knowledge is possible, which stems from Kant. Exploration, then, attempts to examine the origins and limitations of a system; for instance, Marx’s critique of capitalism.

Kant attempted a transcendental critique (which is also Hegelian)—In other words, Kant attempted to get outside the system he was exploring. Marx, on the other hand, wanted to examine a system from within.

The whole question of Marxism arises from political commitment. In the 18th primer he states, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under given circumstances directly in terms and inherited from the past. The traditions of the old generations of the dead weigh like a nightmare on the brain of the loving.”

We are historically situated so that our possibilities to make our own history are de-limited in certain ways and it is de-limited by our historical situation.

Marxist literary criticism strives to go beyond merely relating a text to society (more than a mimesis: how a text represents something else). Marxist literary criticism reacts against formalism’s wish to look at the words for themselves, outside of historical context; the
bourgeoisie way of looking at a text (since Matthew Arnold) was in objectifying the text, isolating it from its context and attempt a scientific examination.

Marxist views text as produced in a historical context: the environment shapes everything about a text—words, content, form, etc.—, along with the historical and social moment. For Marxist critics, our social, historical juncture defines and determines what it is we can write and how.

Our social moment and historical time determines text since writers do not write in a vacuum; they write in context and are affected by society.

The bourgeois writer is working at the level of the superstructure; Marx wants to find out what makes the superstructure possible.

In classic Marxism the Base means the economic base (mode of production and of economics). The supersctructure is the ideology of society and culture. Economic relations are predominate in a given society and shapes every thing else. The superstructure keeps society in line and reproducing itself.

If our basic human relations are goverened by economic structures—for instance capitalism that shapes and dominates our society—then we can understand how we realte to one another. For instance, through economic terms:

Employer and employee: Employer has a certain amount of capital and wants to make that capital bigger, so he will use the employee to produce more. The employee has no capital so he is beholden to the employer for capital.

[For example: a worker makes shoes by using the employer’s capital; the employer sells those shoes for 200 dollars, but only gives 5 dollars to the worker and keeps the surplus. Thus, we created a system based on exploitation]

That structure shapes everything else in society. Think of all societal interactions: you fall in love, you make an investment of time and emotions hoping for a pay off; you go to school and make an investment in your future and you hope to get a job; you spend time with people and hope it will pay off in friendship, etc… Since we have this economic base, it shapes everything else in society.

Problems arise when my interest as a worker conflicts with your interest as an employer. If we end up acknowledging that conflict, then the worker might feel exploited and tell employer to stop, and the worker would rise up and seize control in order to more evenly spread the wealth. Of course, capitalism suppresses worker revolt.

The employer tells his employee that the surplus needs to go back into the business to invest in material, the factory, and pay other workers so that the workers can keep their jobs. This system ends up creating different classes with different interest; hence, this relation of class struggle affects all relations under a superstructure: non-material or cultural aspects of society. Marx finds this one opposition (class struggle) dominant, “Class struggle is the model of history.” Only through class struggle will tomorrow be different than today; it’s how we are IN history.

History progresses as classes struggle against each other for preeminence or for fundamental survival. Marxism aims for the dictatorship of the proletariat. In this way, Marxism is utilitarian: we should be aiming for the greatest happiness for the greatest amount. Marx says we should start from the biggest group—the working class (the small group is the employers/rich class). Therefore, we should pursue working class interest.

The ruling class knows its power, so it tries to convince everyone that we all have the same interest (this point is seen in political discourse and literary criticism alike with phrases such as “it’s common sense that…” “A common reading of the text is…” Discourse that makes appeals to “universal truths”).

Ruling class uses ideology to try to stop history and to control certain institutions. By appealing to universals of common interest, the ruling classes stay in power. For instance, marriage, which is less about equality, love, or sanctity, but hopes people will assume certain roles. By defining marriage, the ruling class contains conflicts because those who agree to marriage agree to following certain rules. [On a side note, one would think that the ruling classes would be all for same-sex marriage since it would inject more capital into the system with weddings and divorces, and would “control gays” because if they want to marry, they would have to follow the marriage rules].

The ruling class uses ideology: a system of beliefs and assumptions, which are dominant and normative in a society at a given moment. Beliefs don’t need to be true; they just need to be believed by all—and normative. For example, why are all priest men? Because that is a man’s job—and we don’t question the assertion but take it for granted. Pink is a girls color and blue a boys—just because, without question—that is ideology.

Marxism wants to question these normative beliefs and ideology and unmask them.

Ideology: the ways in which a social formation represents itself to itself. The way society thinks itself. The way society gains and accepts norms and beliefs that constrain or define it.

Chapter Two: Pathos (Allegories of Emotion):

Terada’s main focus in this chapter is de Man’s reading of other people. This analysis gets meta, very quickly, as it becomes Terada reading de Man’s reading of Rousseau, or other people’s reading of de Man’s reading of Rousseau…

She points out how de Man’s explores texts with real emotions, not fictive ones (such as in fiction novels or plays). For de Man, emotions are illusions that hide behind rhetoric. As Terada explains, “de Man is indeed skeptical about emotions in that he questions our motives for representing them and even having them: we use emotions, he argues, to mitigate epistemological uncertainties” (49). Emotions take the place of thought when we don’t know what to think. This analysis of de Man’s fully acknowledges the power of emotions; he does not doubt emotions. He wants to examine them, so he creates a theory of emotions and tests it against different readings.

Terada wants to use de Man because he is known for a detached prose and for being skeptical of emotions, which makes him a good case study. De Man defines passion as belonging to a system not to a subject; and while emotions are interpretative (are understood in language), they still fail to prove subjectivity.

Terada reads de Man’s idea of passion as being rhetorical as well. By examining representations of passion, we can see how passion regulates analogies. In de Man’s reading of Rousseau, love links inside and outside, where lover’s exchange identities and where love crosses over between two people: “lovers believe that their emotions leads them from outer traits to inner states and back” (50). Love helps us feel what others feel. De Man goes on to suggest that “one’s own emotion comes to be known in the first place only through connection with and confirmation from others” (51), which reminds me of Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters when the protagonist says that you can’t have a breakdown by yourself–that you need an audience to express emotions.

This passage confused me. We can only know emotions through others? Is there no other way to know emotions?

This view of emotions, as Terada points out, leads to the expressive hypothesis–that emotions prove subjectivity because a there needs to be a subject to feel anything and interpret that feeling. A closer analysis reveals how this interpretation actually undermines the expressive hypothesis.

Terada looks at de Man’s ambiguity: he says that emotions arise when we are uncertain so that emotions end uncertainty. Terada goes on to read de Man’s social theory, which arose out of dialogues with Rousseau’s “Profession of Faith.” De Man’s shows how “The sovereignty of Rousseau’s State exemplifies action independent from consciousness, significance, and emotion” (52)–actions without feelings. Since the state is a unified power, it can react, engage in actions, without feeling. Feelings only arise when the “subject” is divided; precisely since the subject is fragmented, divided, lacking, results in emotions arising. Emotions, however, are deceptive. De Man concludes that “one’s own emotion does not really provide access to the feelings of others or reflect the structure of reality, he seems to be saying, but the affective force of emotion understandably persuades us to think so” (55).

Terada explores de Man’s reading of Derrida’s views on emotions because this encounter sparks de Man’s views of emotions. De Man goes back to Rousseau’s reading of “fear” and the giant. Fear comes to point in two directions: first, as the inner state of the frightened person–the “I am afraid;” second, in the outer state–the object of fear “This may be frightening” (57). However, neither of these two have an objective claim, necessarily. Terada posits “As an interpretation of the predicament, “fear” is “in the nature of permanent hypothesis'” (57). The metaphor fails because the tenor (giant-the thing being spoken of) is ontological, while the vehicle fear (the thing) is hypothetical. The emotion itself, however, also is mere interpretation. Furthermore, “fear’s figurative status” fails to lesson it. The emotion of fear exist wether or not the object (giant) is real.

Terada then looks at de Man’s reading of Narcisse . Some points to take away:

The I’s of cogito (and Lacan already hints at this) are both virtual. Everything is simulacra, and de Man reads this story as falling in love with representation, not with self. We can never know ourselves nor a person because we are stuck in representation: the ‘I’ that can be known is virtual. This analysis explains how de Man sees emotions as arises out of uncertainty. In this story, the emotion (love) ends interpretation by positing an object (the portrait that Valerie falls in love with), thus ending the metaphor. Terada reads de Man’s reading of love here against his earlier readings of fear: “Earlier de Man contrast fear to metaphor [the metaphor turns to literalization where the giant becomes ontological and the emotion, fear, remains hypothetical]; he now likens love to metaphor….the purpose of emotions shifts…from registering the vacillation between possible interpretations to ending it” (61). I am oly hypothetically afraid of the “giannt”– depending on the giant, my interpretation shifts, but in this example with the portrait, the portrait is the thing, interpretation ends.

Emotions hypothesize confusion–fear of giant is a hypothesis of the other; and resolves confusion–when I become angry, I assign an object to my confusion, resolving what I am angry about.

De Man reads Schiller’s sublime as a way to help us cope; the sublime helps us confront something terrible without actually confronting it. As de Man puts it, we are better off imagining the boat being tossed around in the ocean than actually being on the boat. The sublime helps us cope with danger when we can experience it through a theatrical presentation. The sublime, like anxiety, has the power to motivate us to action or to paralyze us with fear.

The allegories of emotion present the sign, itself as the cause (thing, itself) of emotions. Concepts and figure of speeches undermine themselves. De Man uses these ideas of the undermining of allegory to posit his theory of emotion–Terada explores de Man’s readings of different texts.

An interesting reading Terada teases out his de Man’s reading of Rousseau’s reading of judgment. Morals are built on comparative judgments, which circle back on themselves. Feelings lead to judgments that we compare because we are unsure about which judgments are right or wrong, so we fall back on feeling– what feels right or wrong, which depends on judgments. De Man then deconstructs Rousseau’s interpretation of the State and the State’s “happiness,” which Terada uses to explain her thinking on emotions: “individuals and states must be seen as feeling nonsubjects, but the executive power of the State must be seen as a nonfeeling subjects” (77-78). Rousseau’s social contract requires the state and individuals to verbalize their relationship, which the state does through generalizations, and generalization have a different “figural structure” than the metaphorical structures of emotions. The state is “happy” insofar as it knows itself and what’s outside it. The state is defined in sovereignty, but nonsubjects have no ground to stand on, which is where emotions arise from.

The state is not conscious enough to feel. For de Man, a “real” subject lacks the centrality of states; that is, “Far from containing emotions…or possessing a consciousness capable of directing feelings, a ‘truly in-dividual, un0divided’ being would lack the self-differentiality that makes experience possible at all” (81).

And I can’t go on much longer from here, as none of this barely makes sense to me. Next she looks at Gasché’s reading of Kant to make her point about the non-subject.

Looking at Kant’s theory of lacking emotion, Terada points out how not having emotions is an emotions.

I wonder, though, is it a “lack of feeling”– the Modest Mouse lyric example of “I don’t feel anything and it feels great”? Or is it rather that feeling overwhelms the senses and so confuses the subject? Is apatheia a result of emotions having to be understood in words, and words failing to capture emotions that it “feels” like we don’t have any emotions?

Terada connects de Man’s theory of apatheia here with Heidegger’s theory of moods. We are never not in a mood, Heidegger would say. De Man points out how complicated this gets when he evokes Yeats’s idea of how to separate the dancer from the dance: how do we separate the emotion from the subject?

I think both Heidegger and Lacan can deter this concern. As Terada points out, emotions exist precisely because there is no subject–because the subject is divided, fragmented, and in language, emotions arise as a way to try to make sense of this experience of non-subjectivity.

But that is all my brain can process now…