We’re having a great vacation here at Dauphin Island. We spent the morning on the beach (now I’m a bit burnt), and ate blue crab we caught right of the ocean for lunch. Lizzie is having an amazing time, building sand castles, playing in the surf, and collecting shells. Tonight we’re doing a shrimp boil with fresh gulf shrimp, red potatoes, corn, and andouille. Clearly, for me, travel is always about the food.
At any rate, over at Object-Oriented Philosophy Graham has a post up on Zizek’s remarks about wikileaks in interview:
My least favorite moment in Žižek’s Guardian interview (which I otherwise loved: see HERE) was the Wikileaks analysis, where he critiqued the “liberal” interpretation of Wikileaks as simply an augmented form of investigative journalism, and treated it instead as an “emperor has no clothes” moment for the whole of capitalism.
I have a slightly different take. I don’t think Zizek was attempting to disparage or dismiss the importance of Assange or wikileaks by any means. Rather, I think Zizek was trying to formulate why these events have been important. One of Zizek’s favorite moves is to talk about the “logic of the re-remark”. This is a very strange logic. With the re-mark, nothing new is articulated, the exact same thing is repeated, yet somehow the repetition changes everything. In the psychoanalytic setting, tye analyst might merely repeat what the analysand said, yet somehow the repetition of that phrase brings it to resonate differently. This has to do with the nature of repression. Repression does not mean, necessarily, that something is hidden or withdrawn. The repressed can be right there, on the surface, as in the case of Freud’s famous example of repression by negation in the “Negation” essay. The patient says “I don’t know who that woman was in my dream, but she definitely wasn’t my mother!” The repressed content is the patient’s mother. This content is entirely present in the patient’s speech, but is under the bar of repression through the negation. In a situation like this, the analyst might merely repeat “your mother” in an intonation that hovers ambiguously between question and statement. This repetition can have the effect of generating an entirely new series of association, indicating that the analytic intervention has hit the truth or mark.
The logic of the re-mark thus works through subtraction amd grafting, pulling something that is already inscribed yet repressed into presence. Consider some more familiar examples: an abusive alcoholic father and a gay son. In the first instance, everyone in the family knows the father is abusive and alcoholic, but it is never spoken or talked about. One day a distant aunt visits and, at dinner, after the father has behaved horribly, she casually remarks “you know he’s an abusive alcoholic, don’t you?” Even though everyone in the family knew this, they are nonetheless shocked and scandalized. The gay son is anfavorite popular example of this logic as well. Everyone in the family knows the son is gay, yet it is never spoken and the son himself doesn’t conceive himself this way either. One day a teacher, believing this was common family knowledge, says something about his homosexuality, shocking everyone.
The best example of acephalous knowledge and the logic of the re-mark is, of course, The Sixth Sense. Bruce Willis’s character clearly knows that he’s dead. We can see this because he studiously avoids anything that might remind him of his death. Yet this knowledge is acephalous in that he refuses to know what he knows, he represses this knowledge, and thisnrepressed signifier thereby determines all his actions. When the boy reveals that he’s dead at tye end of the film he re-marks this knowledge, lifting the bar of repression. Everything changes.
In these situations, nothing new is said, no new knowledge has become available, but the re-marking of this acephalous knowledge changes everything. I call this knowledge “acephalous” because it is “without a head”. It is there, but without being posited for the subject’s involved. It operates, but in an unfree fashion. Why unfree? Because everywhere this headless knowledge operates like an automaton, creating all sorts of compulsion repetitions characteristic of the symptom, without those involved being able to take up a position with respect to these signifiers. As Lacan argues in his commentary on Poe’s Purloined Letter, the letter, the signifier, determines the position of all the subject’s involved as an acephalous automaton that structures their relations. By re-marking the letter, freedom arrives or becomes available apbecause now we can take up a position with respect to these things and begin to work through them.
I believe this is what Zizek is getting at with respect to Assange. The radicality of Assange’s act is not what he revealed to us, but that he revealed it. Everyone knew that the government is corrupt, that it was covering things up, that it was making shady deals with corporations, etc. Yet this was never spoken… At least publicly in the media. What Assange did was re-mark this knowledge, inscribing it publicly. He attacked the key ideological prohibition upon which contemporary governmemts are based: speaking about their corruption. Instead, the standard ideological mode of operation consists in the narrative that states really are working on behave of the welfare of average people, that they really are struggling on behalf of the public good (rather than continuously making shady backroom deals with the wealtheists so as to advance their interests and the interests of these forces, both of whom seem to think their guys really are pursuing their interests and not just using them for their own aims). We all know this more or less (unless we’re ardent Obama supporters or blinkered members of the Tea Party) yet we’re never supposed to articulate it publicly. In comparing Assange to the boy in the Emperor’s story, I helieve he was giving him the highest praise, arguing that he occupies the position of the analyst, not the university in the four discourses. I somewhat get Graham’s point about the problem with saying governments are corrupt to the core, but I also believe that if we don’t adopt a realist position with respect to how monied interests structure governments and continually pull strjngs it’s impossible to engage in any effective politics. Would I prefer to be in the US as opposed to China? Of course. Does that change the fact that the system is rotten to the core? No.