Transgression: that’s how they get you!

Christian Thorne has a really great essay on Zizek up, which promises to be the first of three. He argues that the main point of Zizek’s work is to provide a way out of the deadlock of enjoyment on the left — neither the ascetic and over-intellectualized Old Left nor the loosey-goosey, sexually liberated New Left have managed to deal with this problem adequately. Though Thorne doesn’t use the Lacanian lingo, the way he poses Zizek’s solution can be described essentially in terms of the shift from desire (which is based on the law’s inherent transgression) to drive (an autonomous jouissance that does not need any reference to authority to sustain it).

It’s the familiar formula that Zizek’s been hammering away at from the beginning: transgression (rebellion, sexual deviancy, even knowing cynical distance) gets us nowhere, because the law has already factored that in. Early on, he tended to emphasize the more truly subversive power of over-identifying with the “official” ideology without reference to its obscene supplement of enjoyment, and in his later work, it seems that he’s tended more toward the inscrutable inertia of drive — which seems to him to be the only point of “leverage” for starting something new (i.e., something that is not conceived in terms of the order it’s supposedly rebelling against).

I think it’s at this point that we can see clear parallels between Agamben and Zizek, both in their diagnosis of the structure of the law (which includes its own transgression/exception) and their attempt to get beyond rebellion or resistence and simply build something new (either conceived positively in terms of drive or negatively as in the messianic “as if not” strategy). If this comparison holds, then it may explain why I’ve been so attracted to both figures, even though many have viewed them as coming from very incompatible places.

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2 Responses to “Transgression: that’s how they get you!

  1. Hill Says:

    Incredible essay. Can’t wait to read the next one.

  2. Mike Grimshaw Says:

    The challenge ‘to get beyond’ needs to be perhaps considered in the possibilities of “but in spite of”. What can be built is a type of para-event whereby that which is sidelined by the ‘newly beyond’ of contemporary resistence or rebellion is expressed and offers possibilties in spite of the existing structures, limits, laws and claims of what is allowed and or possible. For the ‘hard truth’ claims and actions of resistence and rebellion in the end tend to only give more power and authority to that which they oppose. My reading would be link it into Vattimo’s ( and Zabala’s ) weakening/weak thought. What is new is weak in the sense that it does not attempt to claim appeals to what is still the power and authority- and demand – of metaphysical truth/s.


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