Jodi Dean has a short post up on critics who interrogate how much Zizek writes:
This is an old topic, much trodden in these parts. But, I’m finally getting around to writing a review that was due 18 months ago (it has now become a review essay) and so I’m returning to old themes. Why, why, why do ‘critics’ attack Zizek for writing too much? An essay in one book I’m reviewing treats the amount of his writing as a symptom. What amount is symptomatic?
Even the title of this post is interesting, for it speaks to the difference between pleasure (which is homeostatic in nature) and jouissance, which always walks the line between pleasure and pain. In our discussions of style we’ve so far discussed the manner in which certain forms of style can produce attachments and identification, the institutional apparatus in academia and how style can function to reinforce certain class distributions, and a number of issues pertaining to the relationship between style and content. I wonder if Jodi doesn’t implicitly raise another issue here. What is interesting in these critiques of Zizek– regardless of what one thinks about Zizek theoretically or politically –is the way in which they seem to treat the symptom in perjorative terms. A symptom, these critiques imply, is something deviant, something that we’re supposed to escape, something we’re supposed to overcome. A symptom is conceived here, in short, as a sickness.
Nothing could be further from the Freudo-Lacanian position. Within the Freudian framework, a symptom is not a sickness, a cancerous tumor to be excised, but is rather a solution or a cure on the part of the subject. Lacan will go one step further and claim that there is no subject without a symptom. The aim of analysis is thus not to excise the symptom– which would lead to a collapse of the subject as the symptom is the subject’s ontological support in being –but to redirect this site of jouissance elsewhere so that the subject might find less painful forms of jouissance. For Lacan, then, the symptom is not something that disappears in analysis. The symptom, for Lacan, is thus the singularity of the subject.
Nonetheless, there is something to this critique of Zizek. Here I am not referring to it’s moralistic tone, but rather to the jouissance and relation to jouissance that underlies this response to Zizek. In Seminar 23, The Sinthome, Lacan, in his discussion of Joyce, states that we are never interested in another subject’s symptom. Indeed, when confronted with the symptom of another, there’s often a sense of horror. In part this has to do with neurotic structurations of desire (the tale would be very different for a perverse subject), which functions as a strategy for evading jouissance through maintaining desire (the hysteric subject striving to keep the desire of the Other unsatisfied so as to escape jouissance, the obsessional subject striving to negate all desire by satisfying every demand, thereby deflating or undermining all jouissance). Neurosis is a defense against jouissance. The neurotic lives in a terror of being the object of jouissance.
Does this not add another dimension to discussions of certain forms of style. Is not, in part, the visceral reaction to certain forms of style in figures like Hegel, Lacan, Levinas, late Heidegger, Deleuze, Derrida, etc., a horror at the jouissance of the writer, and a terror that one’s status as a subject will fade and disappear in this encounter with style? That is, these texts drip jouissance in the sense that they seem to enjoy the signifier themselves. In this way, desire seems to evaporate and there seems to be nothing save disappearance in this jouissance. This would account for the experience so many have that a game is being played with them by these authors. Of course, this would speak to the common fantasy of being a masochistic puppet of enjoyment in many neurotics. The question, of course, would not be one of condemning these styles, but one of how we might devise strategies to overcome these neurotic responses.