During the semester I dream of the happy days of Winter and Summer break, where finally I’ll have the time to sit down and do some sustained reading, writing, and blogging. Yet strangely, when some vacation comes along– right now it’s Thanksgiving break in the States –I find it very difficult to motivate myself to do anything, and generally fall into a dark malaise. I’ll wake up late in the morning, have my coffee, and surf about the various blogs to see what’s being discussed. Perhaps someone will have responded to me, yet I won’t respond back as I’ll worry about disappointing them (I suppose I’m still a bit glum about the article, even though another article was recently published and I have another journal breathing down my neck for an article on Zizek and Badiou), feeling as if my brain has fallen out of my ear. Suspiciously I’ll look at the books sitting on the table next to me, unable to bring myself to pick them up. “I’m still waking up, I’m hungry, I should cut back the foilage in my yard, I don’t feel up to concentrating.” So then I’ll make myself something to eat with the intention of giving myself the intention to concentrate. Yet having eaten, I then need to digest, so I’ll either find myself before the television searching cable for a bad movie that perhaps I’ll be able to overinterpret so as to justify my poor taste, or before the computer playing Civilization III as per the suggestion of the scary and wicked N.Pepperell, feeling stupid because I don’t have the patience to evolve my kingdom much beyond the stage of monarchy. Inevitably these activities lead me to take a nap, losing yet more time with respect to doing the things I would genuinely like to be doing.
In a very nice passage from The Fragile Absolute, Zizek gives a lucid account of the objet a. Speaking in the context of Marx’s account of capitalism being propelled by its own internal antagonisms, Zizek writes,
So where, precisely, did Marx go wrong with regard to surplus-value? One is tempted to search for an answer in the key Lacanian distinction between the object of desire and surplus-enjoyment as its cause. Henry Krips evokes the lovely example of the chaperone in seduction: the chaperone is an ugly elderly lady who is officially the obstacle to the direct goal– object (the woman the suitor is courting); but precisely as such, she is the key intermediary moment that effectively makes the beloved woman desirable– without her the whole economy of seduction would collapse. Or, take another example from a different level: the lock of curly blond hair, that fatal detail of Madeleine in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. When, in the love scene in the barn towards the end of the film, Scottie passionately embraces Judy refashioned into the dead Madeleine, during their famous 360-degree kiss, he stops kissing her and withdraws just long enough to steal a look at her newly blonde hair, as if to reassure himself that the particular feature which transforms her into the object of desire is still there… Crucial here is the opposition between the vortex that threatens to engulf Scottie (the ‘vertigo’ of the film’s title, the deadly Thing) and the blonde curl that imitates the vertigo of the Thing, but in a miniaturized, gentrified form.
This curl is the objet petit a which condenses the impossible-deadly Thing, serving as its stand-in and thus enabling us to entertain a livable relationship with it, wihtout being swallowed up by it. As Jewish children put it when they play gently aggressive games: ‘Please, bite me, but not too hard…’ [? I must be Jewish as I enjoy these games]. This is the difference between ‘normal’ sexual repression and fetishism: in ‘normal’ sexuality, we think that the detail-feature that serves as the cause of desire is just a secondary obstacle that prevents our direct access to the Thing– that is, we overlook its key role; while in fetishism we simply make the cause of desire directly into our object of desire: a fetishist in Vertigo would not care about Madeleine, but simply focus his desire directly on the lock of hair; a fetishist suitor would engage directly with the chaperone and forget about the lady herself, the official goal of his endeavours.
So there is always a gap between the object of desire itself and its cause, the mediating feature or element that makes this object desirable. What happens in melancholy is that we get the object of desire deprived of its cause. For the melancholic, the object is there but what is missing is the specific intermediary feature that makes it desirable. For that reason there is always at least a trace of melancholy in every true love: in love, the object is not deprived of its cause; it is, rather, that the very distance between object and cause collapses. This, precisely, is what distinguishes love from desire: in desire, as we have just seen, cause is distinct from object; while in love, the two inexplicably coincide– I magically love the beloved one for itself, finding in it the very point from which I find it worthy of love. (20-21)
So I suppose that I’m experiencing a bit of melancholy, having been deprived of the cause of my desire by not having teaching, grading, and committee work interfere with my writing and research. Why can’t I simply enjoy these activities of research and writing without these obstacles? Why am I unable to go directly to the enjoyment? Why must my enjoyment take the form of a theft from my symbolically sanctioned duties and obligations? I shudder to think of what would happen were I ever to get a nice academic position with a 2/2 or 3/3 load.