Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Still Chasing 2013?

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
-Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Monday, December 30, 2013

Delphic Principles

Celebrating Pythagoras of Samos

Middle Class? WHAT Middle Class?

If the old capitalism ideally involved an entrepreneur who invested (his own or borrowed) money into production that he organised and ran, and then reaped the profit from it, a new ideal type is emerging today: no longer the entrepreneur who owns his company, but the expert manager (or a managerial board presided over by a CEO) who runs a company owned by banks (also run by managers who don’t own the bank) or dispersed investors. In this new ideal type of capitalism, the old bourgeoisie, rendered non-functional, is refunctionalised as salaried management: the members of the new bourgeoisie get wages, and even if they own part of their company, earn stocks as part of their remuneration (‘bonuses’ for their ‘success’).

This new bourgeoisie still appropriates surplus value, but in the (mystified) form of what has been called ‘surplus wage’: they are paid rather more than the proletarian ‘minimum wage’ (an often mythic point of reference whose only real example in today’s global economy is the wage of a sweatshop worker in China or Indonesia), and it is this distinction from common proletarians which determines their status. The bourgeoisie in the classic sense thus tends to disappear: capitalists reappear as a subset of salaried workers, as managers who are qualified to earn more by virtue of their competence (which is why pseudo-scientific ‘evaluation’ is crucial: it legitimises disparities). Far from being limited to managers, the category of workers earning a surplus wage extends to all sorts of experts, administrators, public servants, doctors, lawyers, journalists, intellectuals and artists. The surplus takes two forms: more money (for managers etc), but also less work and more free time (for – some – intellectuals, but also for state administrators etc).

The evaluative procedure used to decide which workers receive a surplus wage is an arbitrary mechanism of power and ideology, with no serious link to actual competence; the surplus wage exists not for economic but for political reasons: to maintain a ‘middle class’ for the purpose of social stability. The arbitrariness of social hierarchy is not a mistake, but the whole point, with the arbitrariness of evaluation playing an analogous role to the arbitrariness of market success. Violence threatens to explode not when there is too much contingency in the social space, but when one tries to eliminate contingency. In La Marque du sacré, Jean-Pierre Dupuy conceives hierarchy as one of four procedures (‘dispositifs symboliques’) whose function is to make the relationship of superiority non-humiliating: hierarchy itself (an externally imposed order that allows me to experience my lower social status as independent of my inherent value); demystification (the ideological procedure which demonstrates that society is not a meritocracy but the product of objective social struggles, enabling me to avoid the painful conclusion that someone else’s superiority is the result of his merit and achievements); contingency (a similar mechanism, by which we come to understand that our position on the social scale depends on a natural and social lottery; the lucky ones are those born with the right genes in rich families); and complexity (uncontrollable forces have unpredictable consequences; for instance, the invisible hand of the market may lead to my failure and my neighbour’s success, even if I work much harder and am much more intelligent). Contrary to appearances, these mechanisms don’t contest or threaten hierarchy, but make it palatable, since ‘what triggers the turmoil of envy is the idea that the other deserves his good luck and not the opposite idea – which is the only one that can be openly expressed.’ Dupuy draws from this premise the conclusion that it is a great mistake to think that a reasonably just society which also perceives itself as just will be free of resentment: on the contrary, it is in such societies that those who occupy inferior positions will find an outlet for their hurt pride in violent outbursts of resentment.

Connected to this is the impasse faced by today’s China: the ideal goal of Deng’s reforms was to introduce capitalism without a bourgeoisie (since it would form the new ruling class); now, however, China’s leaders are making the painful discovery that capitalism without the settled hierarchy enabled by the existence of a bourgeoisie generates permanent instability. So what path will China take? Former Communists generally are emerging as the most efficient managers of capitalism because their historical enmity towards the bourgeoisie as a class perfectly fits the tendency of today’s capitalism to become a managerial capitalism without a bourgeoisie – in both cases, as Stalin put it long ago, ‘cadres decide everything.’ (An interesting difference between today’s China and Russia: in Russia, university teachers are ridiculously underpaid – they are de facto already part of the proletariat – while in China they are provided with a comfortable surplus wage to guarantee their docility.)

The notion of surplus wage also throws new light on the continuing ‘anti-capitalist’ protests. In times of crisis, the obvious candidates for ‘belt-tightening’ are the lower levels of the salaried bourgeoisie: political protest is their only recourse if they are to avoid joining the proletariat. Although their protests are nominally directed against the brutal logic of the market, they are in effect protesting about the gradual erosion of their (politically) privileged economic place. Ayn Rand has a fantasy in Atlas Shrugged of striking ‘creative’ capitalists, a fantasy that finds its perverted realisation in today’s strikes, most of which are held by a ‘salaried bourgeoisie’ driven by fear of losing their surplus wage. These are not proletarian protests, but protests against the threat of being reduced to proletarians. Who dares strike today, when having a permanent job is itself a privilege? Not low-paid workers in (what remains of) the textile industry etc, but those privileged workers who have guaranteed jobs (teachers, public transport workers, police). This also accounts for the wave of student protests: their main motivation is arguably the fear that higher education will no longer guarantee them a surplus wage in later life.

At the same time it is clear that the huge revival of protest over the past year, from the Arab Spring to Western Europe, from Occupy Wall Street to China, from Spain to Greece, should not be dismissed merely as a revolt of the salaried bourgeoisie. Each case should be taken on its own merits. The student protests against university reform in the UK were clearly different from August’s riots, which were a consumerist carnival of destruction, a true outburst of the excluded. One could argue that the uprisings in Egypt began in part as a revolt of the salaried bourgeoisie (with educated young people protesting about their lack of prospects), but this was only one aspect of a larger protest against an oppressive regime. On the other hand, the protest didn’t really mobilise poor workers and peasants and the Islamists’ electoral victory makes clear the narrow social base of the original secular protest. Greece is a special case: in the last decades, a new salaried bourgeoisie (especially in the over-extended state administration) was created thanks to EU financial help, and the protests were motivated in large part by the threat of an end to this.

The proletarianisation of the lower salaried bourgeoisie is matched at the opposite extreme by the irrationally high remuneration of top managers and bankers (irrational since, as investigations have demonstrated in the US, it tends to be inversely proportional to a company’s success). Rather than submit these trends to moralising criticism, we should read them as signs that the capitalist system is no longer capable of self-regulated stability – it threatens, in other words, to run out of control.
- Slavoj Zizek, "The Revolt of the Salaried Bourgeosie"

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Cynical Distance - "I know what I am doing, but I am nevertheless doing it"

"Soave sia il vento...Gentle be the breeze,
Tranquilla sia l'onda,..and calm the wave,
Ed ogni elemento...and may all elements
Benigno risponda...be favorable
Ai nostri/vostri desir....to our need."
The fundamental gesture of cynicism is to denounce "genuine authority" as a pose, whose sole effective content is raw coercion or submission for the sake of some material gain, while an ironist doubts if a cold calculating utilitarian is really what he pretends to be, i.e,. he suspects that this appearance of calculating distance can conceal a much deeper commitment. The cynicist is quick to denounce the ridiculous pretense of solemn authority; the ironist is able to discern true attachment in dismissive disdain or in feigned indifference. In matters of love, for example, the cynicist excels in denigrating exalted declarations of deep spiritual affinity as a stratagem to exploit sexually or otherwise the partner, whereas the ironist is prone to ascertain, in a melancholic mood, how the brutal making sport of our partner, even humiliation, often just expresses our unreadiness to admit to ourselves the full depth of our attachment… Perhaps, the artist of irony par excellence was none other than Mozart — suffice it to recall his masterpiece Cosi fan tutte. The trio "Soave il vento", of course, can be read in a cynical way, as the faked imitation of a sad farewell which barely conceals a glee at the coming erotic intrigue; the ironic point of it is that the subjects who sing it, inclusive of don Alfonzo, the manipulator who staged the event, are nonetheless authentically taken with the sadness of the situation — this unexpected authenticity is what eludes the grasp of the cynicist.

In a first approach, cynicism may appear to involve a much more radical distance than irony: is irony not a benevolent ridicule "from above", from within the confines of the symbolic order, i.e. the distance of a subject who views the world from the elevated position of the big Other towards those who are enticed by vulgar earthly pleasures, an awareness of their ultimate vanity, while cynicism relies on the "earthly" point-of-view which undermines "from below" our belief in the binding power of the Word, of the symbolic pact, and advances the substance of enjoyment as the only thing that really matters — Socrates versus Diogenes the Cynicist? The true relationship is, however, the reverse: from the right premise that "the big Other doesn't exist", i.e. that the symbolic order is a fiction, the cynicist draws the wrong conclusion that the big Other doesn't "function", that its role can simply be discounted — due to his failure to notice how the symbolic fiction nonetheless regulates his relationship to the real of enjoyment, he remains all the more enslaved to the symbolic context that defines his access to the Thing- Enjoyment, caught in the symbolic ritual he publicly mocks. This, preciely, is what Lacan has in mind with his "les non-dupes errent": those who are not duped by the symbolic fiction are most deeply in error. The ironist's apparently "softer" approach, on the other hand, far more effectively unbinds the nodal points that hold together the symbolic universe, i.e. it is the ironist who effectively assumes the non-existence of the Other.
- Slavoj Zizek, "From Joyce the Symptom to the Symptom of Power"

Friday, December 27, 2013

Symptoms of Increased Repression

..."a cynic doesn't believe in words (in the "symbolic efficiency"), but only in the real of jouissance..."
-Slavoj Zizek, "From Joyce the Symptom to the Symptom of Power"

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Living a Slow Motion Life in a Fast Motion World


To Ezra Pound;With much friendship and admiration and some differences of opinion
The Poet took his walking-stick
Of fine and polished ebony.
Set in the close-grained wood
Were quaint devices;
Patterns in ambers,
And in the clouded green of jades.
The top was of smooth, yellow ivory,
And a tassel of tarnished gold
Hung by a faded cord from a hole
Pierced in the hard wood,
Circled with silver.
For years the Poet had wrought upon this cane.
His wealth had gone to enrich it,
His experiences to pattern it,
His labour to fashion and burnish it.
To him it was perfect,
A work of art and a weapon,
A delight and a defence.
The Poet took his walking-stick
And walked abroad.

Peace be with you, Brother.

The Poet came to a meadow.
Sifted through the grass were daisies,
Open-mouthed, wondering, they gazed at the sun.
The Poet struck them with his cane.
The little heads flew off, and they lay
Dying, open-mouthed and wondering,
On the hard ground.
"They are useless. They are not roses," said the Poet.

Peace be with you, Brother. Go your ways.

The Poet came to a stream.
Purple and blue flags waded in the water;
In among them hopped the speckled frogs;
The wind slid through them, rustling.
The Poet lifted his cane,
And the iris heads fell into the water.
They floated away, torn and drowning.
"Wretched flowers," said the Poet,
"They are not roses."

Peace be with you, Brother. It is your affair.

The Poet came to a garden.
Dahlias ripened against a wall,
Gillyflowers stood up bravely for all their short stature,
And a trumpet-vine covered an arbour
With the red and gold of its blossoms.
Red and gold like the brass notes of trumpets.
The Poet knocked off the stiff heads of the dahlias,
And his cane lopped the gillyflowers at the ground.
Then he severed the trumpet-blossoms from their stems.
Red and gold they lay scattered,
Red and gold, as on a battle field;
Red and gold, prone and dying.
"They were not roses," said the Poet.

Peace be with you, Brother.
But behind you is destruction, and waste places.

The Poet came home at evening,
And in the candle-light
He wiped and polished his cane.
The orange candle flame leaped in the yellow ambers,
And made the jades undulate like green pools.
It played along the bright ebony,
And glowed in the top of cream-coloured ivory.
But these things were dead,
Only the candle-light made them seem to move.
"It is a pity there were no roses," said the Poet.

Peace be with you, Brother. You have chosen your part.
- Amy Lowell, Astigmatism from "Sword Blades & Poppy Seed" (1874-1925)

“Poetry is prose in slow motion.”― Nicholson Baker, The Anthologist

Friday, December 20, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

SoCal Memories

Ethereal dweller, neath southern skies,
With shining, yellow hair
Where gloom awing with wishing flies
And life is fond and fair.

What gardens of the gods aglow
Were tended with thy care
Before this summer land could know
Thy spirit in the air?

Thou siren near the silvery shore
Of verdant flowery lands
The gods bend down to love thee more--
To kiss thy dimpled hands!

On rugged Sierra Madra's crest
The tall dark pines are sighing
That they might clasp thy virgin breast
Where moonbeams find thee lying.

And on the hardened ocean beach
The waves are laughing, foaming--
Then ever strive to nearer reach
Where thou art, ever roaming.

The orange trees stretch out their arms
With golden profferings laden
And nodding flowers bend low their charms
To worship such a maiden.
- Benjamin Franklin Field

Monday, December 16, 2013

Hippy Happy Days

How can we become 'reborn', liberated from the shackles that tie us to the ruling ideology? John Frankenheiomer's "Seconds" tells us the tragic story of a desperate middle aged man who gets to have a second life, but is unable to imagine an alternative. Zizek uses this and the scene of the mass orgy in "Zabriskie Point" as a starting point to explore how revolution is only possible if we are able to dream beyond our existing society.

'We are not simply submitted to our dreams, they just come from some unfathomable depths and we can't do anything about them. Our dreams stage our desires and our desires are not objective facts. We created them, we sustained them, we are responsible for them' says Zizek. "The Pervert's Guide to Ideology" shows us how cinema, as the art of dreams, reveals much about the form and status of our ideology.
- Press Package, "The Pervert's Guide to Ideology"

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Jouissance and the Clinic

from Wikipedia
Lacan's contribution to the clinic is paramount in regard to the operation of jouissance in neurosis, perversion and psychosis. The three structures can be viewed as strategies with respect to dealing with jouissance.


The neurotic subject does not want to sacrifice his/her castration to the jouissance of the Other (Écrits, 1977). It is an imaginary castration that is clung to in order not to have to acknowledge Symbolic castration, the subjection to language and its consequent loss of jouissance. The neurotic subject asks 'why me, that I have to sacrifice this castration, this piece of flesh, to the Other?' Here we encounter the neurotic belief that it would be possible to attain a complete jouissance if it were not forbidden and if it were not for some Other who is demanding his/her castration. Instead of seeing the lack in the Other the neurotic sees the Other's demand of him/her.


The Pervert imagines him-/herself to be the Other in order to ensure his/her jouissance. The perverse subject makes him-/herself the instrument of the Other's jouissance through putting the object a in the place of the barred Other, negating the Other as subject. His/her jouissance comes from placing him-/herself as an object in order to procure the jouissance of a phallus, even though he/she doesn't know to whom this phallus belongs. Although the pervert presents him-/herself as completely engaged in seeking jouissance, one of his/her aims is to make the law present. Lacan uses the term père-version, to demonstrate the way in which the pervert appeals to the father to fulfil the paternal function.


The practice of psychoanalysis examines the different ways and means the subject uses to produce jouissance. It is by means of the bien dire, the well-spoken, where the subject comes to speak in a new way, a way of speaking the truth, that a different distribution of jouissance may be achieved. The analytic act is a cut, a break with a certain mode of jouissance fixed in the fantasy. The consequent crossing of the fantasy leaves the subject having to endure being alone with his/her own jouissance and to encounter its operation in the drive, a unique, singular way of being alone with one's own jouissance. The cut of the analytic act leaves the subject having to make his/her own something that was formerly alien. This produces a new stance in relation to jouissance.


In psychosis, jouissance is reintroduced in the place of the Other. The jouissance involved here is called jouissance of the Other, because jouissance is sacrificed to the Other, often in the most mutilating ways, like cutting off a piece of the body as an offering to what is believed to be the command of the Other to be completed. The body is not emptied of jouissance via the effect of the signifier and castration, which usually operate to exteriorise jouissance and give order to the drives.

In Schreber we see the manifestation of the ways in which the body is not emptied of jouissance. Shreber describes a body invaded by a jouissance that is ascribed to the jouissance of the Other, the jouissance of God.

The practice of psychoanalysis with the psychotic differs from that of the neurotic. Given that the psychotic is in the position of the object of the Other's jouissance, where the Uncontrolled action of the death drive lies, what is aimed at is the modification of this position in regard to the jouissance in the structure. This involves an effort to link in a chain, the isolated, persecuting signifiers in order to initiate a place for the subject outside the jouissance of the Other. Psychoanalysis attempts to modify the effect of the Other's jouissance in the body, according to the shift of the subject in the structure. The psychotic does not escape the structure, but there can be a modification of unlimited, deadly jouissance.

Friday, December 6, 2013

What Function Does Ideology Serve?

Ideology is the 'self-evident' surface structure whose function is to conceal the underlying 'unbalanced', 'uncanny' structure.
- Slavoj Zizek, "The Plague of Fantasies"

Monday, December 2, 2013

Sexual Differentiation in the Human Brain

A pioneering study has shown for the first time that the brains of men and women are wired up differently which could explain some of the stereotypical differences in male and female behaviour, scientists have

Researchers found that many of the connections in a typical male brain run between the front and the back of the same side of the brain, whereas in women the connections are more likely to run from side to side between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

This difference in the way the nerve connections in the brain are “hardwired” occurs during adolescence when many of the secondary sexual characteristics such as facial hair in men and breasts in women develop under the influence of sex hormones, the study found.

The researchers believe the physical differences between the two sexes in the way the brain is hardwired could play an important role in understanding why men are in general better at spatial tasks involving muscle control while women are better at verbal tasks involving memory and intuition.

Psychological testing has consistently indicated a significant difference between the sexes in the ability to perform various mental tasks, with men outperforming women in some tests and women outperforming men in others. Now there seems to be a physical explanation, scientists said.

“These maps show us a stark difference - and complementarity - in the architecture of the human brain that helps to provide a potential neural basis as to why men excel at certain tasks, and women at others,” said Ragini Verma, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

“What we've identified is that, when looked at in groups, there are connections in the brain that are hardwired differently in men and women. Functional tests have already shown than when they carry out certain tasks, men and women engage different parts of the brain,” Professor Verma said.

The research was carried out on 949 individuals - 521 females and 428 males - aged between 8 and 22. The brain differences between the sexes only became apparent after adolescence, the study found.

A special brain-scanning technique called diffusion tensor imaging, which can measure the flow of water along a nerve pathway, established the level of connectivity between nearly 100 regions of the brain, creating a neural map of the brain called the “connectome”, Professor Verma said.

“It tells you whether one region of the brain is physically connected to another part of the brain and you can get significant differences between two populations,” Professor Verma said.

“In women most of the connections go between left and right across the two hemispheres while in men most of the connections go between the front and the back of the brain,” she said.

Because the female connections link the left hemisphere, which is associated with logical thinking, with the right, which is linked with intuition, this could help to explain why women tend to do better than men at intuitive tasks, she added.

“Intuition is thinking without thinking. It's what people call gut feelings. Women tend to be better than men at these kinds of skill which are linked with being good mothers,” Professor Verma said.

Many previous psychological studies have revealed significant differences between the sexes in the ability to perform various cognitive tests.

Men tend to outperform women involving spatial tasks and motor skills - such as map reading - while women tend to better in memory tests, such as remembering words and faces, and social cognition tests, which try to measure empathy and “emotional intelligence”.

A separate study published last month found that the genes expressed in the human brain did so differently in men and women. Post-mortem tests on the brain and spinal cord of 100 individuals showed significant genetic differences between the sexes, which could account for the observed gender differences in neurological disorders, such as autism, according to scientists from University College London.

For instance, one theory of autism, which is affects about five times as many boys as girls, is that it is a manifestation of the “extreme male brain”, which is denoted by a failure to be able to show empathy towards others.

The latest study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that the differences in the male and female “connectomes” develop during at the same age of onset of the gender differences seen in psychological tests.

The only part of the brain where right-left connectivity was greater in men than in women was in the cerebellum, an evolutionary ancient part of the brain that is linked with motor control.

“It's quite striking how complementary the brains of women and men really are,” said Rubin Gur of Pennsylvania University, a co-author of the study.

“Detailed connectome maps of the brain will not only help us better understand the differences between how men and women think, but it will also give us more insight into the roots of neurological disorders, which are often sex related,” Dr Gur said.