I’m a big fan of Norman McLaren’s work. I wasn’t familiar with his animations until I was on a theology and film panel in 2009. One of the other papers was on McLaren and I was hooked. I heard the other day that a substantial amount of his work is available at the NFB’s website. It’s definitely worth checking out.
Here’s the introduction:
Lacan’s four discourses schematize the possible social functions of language. It is the closest he comes to charting the nature of ideology. His description of the imposition and cultivation of master signifiers, as well as the forms of resistance, operates by quarter turns. Moving through the master, university, hysteric, and analyst’s discourses, these turns show how the subject’s alienation from the master signifier generate forms of resistance which are nonetheless indebted to the master signifiers they oppose. This dependent resistance is the focus of this essay. Using Lacan to analyze the relationship between different discourses shows how the imposition of a symbolic regime in the master’s discourse can be simultaneously opposed and maintained by the hysteric’s. This insight is crucial in the consideration of ideology. It is recognising this dependence that leads to a genuine revolution, one which not only changes elements of a particular social or political situation, but changes the understanding of the situation itself.
And my favourite paragraph:
For example, Zizek’s cutting critiques of the master signifiers of our age – capital, liberalism, inclusion, and so on – has produced a great deal of knowledge. Yet, for all the exposing of the contingency of these master signifiers, his work never makes the turn beyond this interrogation. Pointing this out, just as with liberation theology, is not necessarily a criticism. Indeed liberation theology posits different levels of the task of liberation. While configuration may vary between different liberation theologians, Leonardo and Clodovis Boff’s model of popular, pastoral, and professional is typical. There are those engaged in direct action and community organisation, those who lead communities and offer counsel, and those who provide necessary theoretical reflection on those actions and leadership. Given this division, there is nothing to require that Zizek move beyond his interrogations. Nonetheless, until such a quarter turn occurs, we never move from the analysis of an inadequate situation to the production of something new. Moreover, we should not confuse the work of theory with the struggle of praxis. Politically oriented strands of current materialist philosophy are quick to denounce the corrupting influence of religion. While those denunciations bear elements of truth, liberation theology reminds us that if the choice is between philosophical precision and political action, the latter is usually to be preferred.
The volume has essays by a variety of people, including Zizek, Adrian Johnston and Tina Beattie. The essay was the last thing I wrote on Lacan before shifting my focus to Hegel, so it’s kind of bittersweet to see it published.
I’ve been thinking more about this notion of the uncritiquable. Over the weekend I was reading Kant’s ‘What is Enlightenment?’ alongside Foucault’s essay of the same name. Foucault famously rejects the label ‘postmodern’ and many have been puzzled by his self-identification with Kant and the project of the Enlightenment. Amy Allen proposes that we understand Foucault’s relationship to Kant as ‘continuation-through-transformation’. Foucault is identifying with Kant’s description of critique as a transformation of the present. Foucault wants to continue this transformation, but in rejecting the global and universal, must pursue this transformation immanently. In short, he has to critique Kant in order to continue the Kantian tradition of transformation through critique.
This continuation-through-transformation seems a workable alternative to the operation Barber describes. While Zizek is guilty of pushing the ‘good’ Hegel, someone like Adrian Johnston finds in Hegel a project worth continuing, but in a way that transforms that project. These approaches don’t, however, devote much time to the questioning and naming of operations.
In contrast, Foucault’s critique (‘genealogical in its design and archeological in its method’) requires this naming of operations as part of the ‘historico-practical test of the limits that we may go beyond’. I for one find Foucault too dismissive of radical projects, but nonetheless agree with his conclusion:
The critical ontology of ourselves has to be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating; it has to be conceived as an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them.