From Critical Inquiry 43, no. 1 (Autumn 2016): 60-83.
The notion of the ugly as an aesthetic category was first systematically deployed by Karl Rosenkranz—editor and scholar of G. W. F. Hegel, author of his first “official” biography, although himself a reluctant Hegelian—in his Ästhetik des Häßlichen (Aesthetics of the Ugly, 1853).1 Rosenkranz’s starting point is the historical process of the gradual abandonment of the unity of true, good, and beautiful; not only can something ugly be true and good but ugliness can also be an immanent aesthetic notion; in other words, an object can be ugly and an aesthetic object, an object of art. Rosenkranz remains within the long tradition from Homer onwards that associates physical ugliness with moral monstrosity; for him, ugly is das Negativschöne (the negatively beautiful): “The pure image of the beautiful arises all the more shining against the dark background/foil of the ugly.”2 Rosenkranz distinguishes here between a healthy and a pathological mode of enjoying the ugly in a work of art; in order to be aesthetically enjoyable and, as such, edifying and permissible, ugliness has to remain as a foil of the beautiful. Ugliness for the sake of itself is a pathological enjoyment of art.
Ugliness is, as such, immanent to beauty, a moment of the latter’s self development. Like every concept, beauty contains its opposite within it self, and Rosenkranz provides a systematic Hegelian deployment of all the modalities of the ugly, from formless chaos to the perverted distortions of the beautiful. The basic matrix of his conceptualization of the ugly is the triad of the beautiful, the ugly, and the comical, where the ugly serves as the middle, the intermediate moment, between the beautiful and the comical: “A caricature pushes something particular over its proper mea sure and creates thereby a disproportion which, insofar as it recalls its ideal counterpart, becomes comical.”3
A whole series of issues arises here. First, can this third term not also be conceived of as the sublime, insofar as the ugly in its chaotic and over whelming monstrosity that threatens to destroy the subject recalls its op posite, the indestructible fact of reason and of moral law? Which, then, is the triad: the beautiful, the ugly, and the comical (ridiculous)? Or the beautiful, the ugly, and the sublime? It may appear that it depends on what kind of ugliness we are dealing with, the excessive monstrous one or the ridiculous one. However, excess can also be comical, and du sublime au ridicule, il n’y a qu’un pas. The sublime can appear (turn into) the ridicu lous, and the ridiculous can appear (turn into) the sublime, as we learned from Charlie Chaplin’s late films.
Second, the notion of the ugly as the foil for the appearance of the beautiful is in its very core profoundly ambiguous. It can be read (as it is by Rosenkranz) in the traditional Hegelian way: the ugly is the subordi nated moment in the game the beautiful is playing with itself, its imma nent selfnegation that lays the (back)ground for its full appearance; or it can be read in a much stronger literal sense, as the very (back)ground of the beautiful that precedes the beautiful and out of which the beautiful arises—the reading proposed by Theodor Adorno in his Aesthetic Theory: “If there is any causal connection at all between the beautiful and the ugly, it is from the ugly as cause to the beautiful as effect, and not the other way around. If one originated in the other, it is beauty that originated in the ugly and not the reverse.”4 (In a homologous way, one should turn around the standard Thomist notion of evil as a privative mode of the good: what if it is the good itself that is a privative mode of evil? What if, in order to arrive at the good, we just have to take away excess from the evil?) Adorno’s point is here double. First, in general terms, concerning the very notion of art, the ugly is the archaic or primitive chaotic (Dionysian) life substance that a work of art gentrifies, elevates into the aesthetic form, but the price for this is the mortification of the life substance; the ugly is the force of life against the death imposed by the aesthetic form. Second, with a specific reference to the modern era in which the ugly became an aesthetic category, Adorno claims that art has to deal with the ugly “in order to denounce, in the Ugly, the world which created it and reproduces it in its image.”5 The underlying premise is that art is a medium of truth, not just an escapist play of beautiful appearances; in a historical situation in which the beautiful is irreparably discredited as kitsch, it is only by pre senting the ugly in its ugliness that art can keep open the utopian horizon of beauty.
Third, what if the reversal of the ugly into the comical (or the sublime) does not occur? Herman Parret describes such an option with regard to the Kantian sublime. If the overwhelming pressure of the ugly gets too strong, it becomes monstrous and can no longer be sublated/negated into the sublime. It’s thus a question of an acceptable limit:
there is for Kant a progression from the colossal to the monstrous, i.e. towards the total annihilation of our faculty of presentation [ver nichtet]. If the colossal can already be considered a sublime correlate, then it remains certainly inside an acceptable limit; with the mon strous, on the other hand, one has passed beyond the acceptable limit, in full terror and total unpleasure. With the monstrous we are in the margin of the acceptable where the imagination is fully blocked to function. It looks as if the monstrous is the Thing, inexpressible and abyssal. The monstrous does violence to subjectivity without submit ting it to any legality.6
The sublime pleasure is a pleasure in unpleasure, while the monstrous generates only unpleasure, but, as such, it provides enjoyment. In short, what Kant already elaborated in the distinction between pleasure (Lust, regulated by the pleasure principle, which makes us avoid all painful ex cess, even the excess of pleasure itself) and enjoyment (Genuss, jouissance). Therein resides the link between enjoyment and disgust:
The “disgust for the object” arises from a certain “enjoyment” [Ge nuss] in the “matter of sensation” which distances the subject from its purposiveness. Pleasure [Lust] is opposed to “enjoyment” insofar as “pleasure is culture” [wo die Lust zugleich Kultur ist] . . . . “enjoyment” in matter, in contrast, provokes disgust. In addition, this enjoyment of losing oneself in the matter of “charms and emotions” has a direct impact on the health of our body: it generates disgust which manifests itself in corporeal reactions like nausea, vomiting and convulsions. Pleasureunpleasure [Lust/Unlust] in the feeling of the sublime has nothing to do with that “enjoyment” [Genuss] destructive of culture and generative of disgust. [“U”]
What, precisely, is the ontological status of this weird Genuss that threat ens to drag us into its selfdestructive, vicious cycle? It is clearly not culture, but it is also not nature, as it is an “unnatural” excess that totally derails nature. So, should we not posit a link, an identity even, between this Genuss and what Immanuel Kant isolated as the
“unnatural” savagery (Wildheit) or passion for freedom specific to hu man nature: “Savagery [or unruliness, Wildheit] is independence from laws. Through discipline the human being is submitted to the laws of humanity and is first made to feel their constraint. . . . Thus, for example, children are sent to school initially not already with the intention that they should learn something there, but rather that they may grow accustomed to sitting still and observing punctually what they are told, so that in the future they may not put into practice actually and instantly each notion that strikes them. Now by nature the human being has such a powerful propensity towards freedom that when he has grown accustomed to it for a while, he will sacrifice everything for it.” The predominant form of appearance of this weird “savagery” is passion, an attachment to a particular choice so strong that it sus pends rational comparison with other possible choices. When in the thrall of a passion, we stick to a certain choice whatever it may cost: “Inclination that prevents reason from comparing it with the sum of all inclinations in respect to a certain choice is passion (passio animi).” As such, passion is morally reprehensible: “far worse than all those transitory emotions that at least stir up the resolution to be better; instead, passion is an enchantment that also refuses recuperation. . . . Passions are cancerous sores for pure practical reason, and for the most part they are incurable because the sick person does not want to be cured and flees from the dominion of principles, by which alone a cure could occur…… And, as the subdivision “On the inclination to freedom as a passion” tells us, “For the natural human being this is the most violent [heftigste] inclination of all.” Passion is as such purely human; animals have no passions, just instincts. The Kantian savagery is “unnatural” in the precise sense that it seems to break or suspend the causal chain that determines all natural phenomena—it is as if in its terrifying manifestations, noumenal freedom transpires for a moment in our phenomenal universe.7
Do we not get here even an echo of what Julia Kristeva calls the abject? The object of enjoyment is by definition disgusting, and what makes it disgusting is a weird superego injunction that appears to emanate from it, a call to enjoy it even if (and precisely because) we find it ugly and desper ately try to resist being dragged into it:
Kant insists on the nonrepresentability of ugliness in art: “[in] disgust . . . that strange sensation, which rests on nothing but imagination, the object is presented as if it insisted, as it were, on our enjoying it even though that is just what we are forcefully resisting.” This is a typically Kantian approach: in a single phrase, there is a gleichsam (as it were) and an als ob (as if). The ugly object has no reasonable effect on the Gemüth. Instead, an excited and dangerously disconcerted imagination petrifies the subject in its corporeity. This is the very essence of disgusting ugliness: it threatens the stability of our corporeity, our body ‘forcefully resists’ the incitement to enjoy that ugliness deceitfully imposes on us. [“U”]
This, finally, brings us to the very heart of disgust: the object of disgust “threatens the stability of our corporeity”; it destabilizes the line that sep arates the inside of our body from its outside. Disgust arises when the bor der that separates the inside of our body from its outside is violated, when the inside penetrates out, as in the case of blood or shit. “It’s similar with the saliva: as we all know, although we can without problem swallow our own saliva, we find it extremely repulsive to swallow again a saliva [which was spit into a glass] out of our body—again a case of violating the inside/outside frontier.”8 What
distinguishes man from animals is that, with humans, the disposal of shit becomes a problem: not because it has a bad smell, but because it issued from our innards. We are ashamed of shit because, in it, we expose/externalize our innermost intimacy. Animals do not have a problem with it because they do not have an “interior,” as humans do. Hence I should refer to Otto Weininger, who called volcanic lava “the shit of the earth.” It comes from inside the body, and this inside is evil, criminal: “The Inner of the body is very criminal.”9
One should return here to Sigmund Freud who, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, describes how the living substance:
floats about in an outer world which is charged with the most potent energies, and it would be destroyed by the operation of the stimuli proceeding from this world if it were not furnished with a protection against stimulation (Reizschutz). It acquires this through its outermost layer—which gives the structure that belongs to living matter—becoming in a measure inorganic, and this now operates as a special integument or membrane that keeps off the stimuli, i.e. makes it impossible for the energies of the outer world to act with more than a fragment of their intensity on the layers immediately below which have preserved their vitality. These are now able under cover of the protecting layer to devote themselves to the reception of those stimulus masses that have been let through. But the outer layer has by its own death secured all the deeper layers from a like fate—at least so long as no stimuli present themselves of such strength as to break through the protective barrier. For the living organism protection against stimuli is almost a more important task than reception of stimuli; the protective barrier is equipped with its own store of energy and must above all endeavor to protect the special forms of energytransformations going on within itself from the equalizing and therefore destructive influence of the enormous energies at work in the outer world.10
Or, as Ray Brassier put it concisely, “the separation between organic interiority and inorganic exteriority is won at the cost of part of the primitive organism itself, and it is this death that gives rise to the protective shield. Thus, individuated organic life is won at the cost of this aboriginal death whereby the organism first becomes capable of separating itself from the inorganic outside.”11
Disgust arises when the dead barrier is broken and the organic inte riority penetrates the surface. One should be clear here and draw all the consequences; the ultimate object of disgust is bare life itself, life deprived of the protective barrier. Life is a disgusting thing, a sleazy object moving out of itself, secreting humid warmth, crawling, stinking, growing. The birth itself of a human being is an Alien-like event: a monstrous event of something erupting out from the inside of a body, a big, stupid, hairy body crawling around. Spirit is above life; it is death in life, an attempt to escape life while alive, like the Freudian death drive that is not life but pure repetitive movement.
How, then, does ugly relate to subjectivity? Is a subject—which is exces sive in its very notion—simply ugly, an outgrowth disturbing the harmony of the world, opening up a gap in its very heart? One has to draw a clear distinction here: ugly is ultimately the inside of a living object (like the depth of Irma’s throat from Freud’s dream about Irma’s injection), while the inside of a subject is creepy. As Adam Kotsko has shown in Creepiness, creepy is today’s name for the Freudian uncanny, for the uncanny core of a neighbor; every neighbor is ultimately creepy, which is why the title of the book’s last subchapter is quite appropriately “The Creepiness of All Flesh.”12 What makes a neighbor creepy is not his weird acts but the im penetrability of the desire that sustains these acts. For example, it is not primarily the content of Marquis de Sade’s writings that is creepy (their content is rather dull and repetitive); it is the question, why is he doing it? everything in Sade is a sadist perversion, everything except his writing, the act of doing it, which cannot be accounted for as a perversion. So the question is: what does a creepy neighbor want? What does he get out of it? An experience, an encounter, gets creepy when we all of a sudden suspect that he is not doing it for the obvious reason one does what he is doing:
In the case of a sleazy guy who insists on propositioning every woman he meets, the element of enigma may seem to be missing insofar as he clearly wants sex. And yet it seems strange that simply wanting sex would be creepy, because a man who politely asks a woman on a date and then accepts the answer is, all things being equal, not being creepy. What makes the sleazy guy creepy, then, is not that he is simply asking too many women out, but that his constant failure seems to indicate that he doesn’t care that his methods are ineffective. It’s as though he’s directly “getting off” on the very act of approaching women, with no regard for the ostensible goal of sleeping with them. When we recognize this, we can’t help but ask, “What is he getting out of this?” even the most seemingly obvious creepy desire turns out to be enigmatic on closer examination. [C, pp. 11–12]
Here enters the Lacanian distinction between the object of desire and the object cause of desire, that which sustains our desire for the object. The creepy effect arises when we perceive that the subject in front of us is doing what he is doing directly for the object cause of desire, remaining indifferent towards the object of his desire—in short, when there occurs a kind of short circuit between the object and object cause so that the object becomes directly the object cause. For example, what sustains my desire for a woman are the locks of her hair. So, what if I simply directly focus on that, forgetting about full sex and finding satisfaction in just caressing her hair? This short circuit defines perversion.
In the “revolutionary” 1960s, it was fashionable to assert perversion against the compromise of hysteria. A pervert directly violates social norms; he does openly what a hysteric only dreams about or articulates ambiguously in his or her symptoms. In other words, the pervert effectively moves beyond the master and his law, while the hysteric merely provokes her master in an ambiguous way, which can also be read as the demand for a more authentic real master. Against this view, Freud and Jacques Lacan consistently emphasized that perversion, far from being subversive, is the hidden obverse of power; every power needs perversion as its inherent and sustaining transgression.“In the hysterical link,” on the contrary,
the $ over a stands for the subject who is divided, traumatized, by what for an object she is for the Other, what role she plays in the Other’s desire: ‘Why am I what you’re saying that I am?,’ or, to quote Shakespeare’s Juliet, ‘Why am I that name?’ . . . What she expects from the Other-master is knowledge about what she is as object. . . . What produces the unbearable castrating effect is not the fact of being deprived of ‘it,’ but, on the contrary, the fact of clearly ‘possessing it’; the hysteric is horrified at being ‘reduced to an object,’ that is to say, at being invested with the agalma that makes him or her the object of other’s desire. In contrast to hysteria, the pervert knows perfectly what he is for the Other: a knowledge supports his position as the object of Other’s (divided subject’s) jouissance.13
So far from being a compromiser, the hysterical subject is deeply justified in resisting the temptation of fully throwing herself into pervert transgression; what the hysteric perceives (or, rather, suspects) is precisely the falsity of the pervert’s transgression, the way the pervert’s activity sustains legal power. Kotsko therefore characterizes hysteria as:
a way of creeping out the social order itself. And just as in the case of the individual psyche, the social order is only susceptible to being creeped out due to the creepiness it carries within itself. Under normal circumstances, the social order appears to be obsessive in structure, opting for certain acceptable desires while repressing or excluding others. Yet from the hysteric’s perspective, the most salient fact about the social order is the way it is continually setting us up to fail, so that it can even seem that the social order needs transgression and the illicit, creepy enjoyment that it provides. The social order’s wink and nod of unofficial permission toward our creepy indulgences simultaneously makes social constraints more bearable and binds us more closely to the social order insofar as it makes those creepy indulgences possible. In short, the hysteric is uniquely positioned to see that the pervert has a point. [C, pp. 109–10]
Hysteria, is as such, always a historical formation; it reacts to the predominant mode of ideological interpellation (identification). This historical approach also allows us to refute the standard argument according to which, in today’s permissive era, we no longer get hysterical patients whose symptoms are caused by oppressed sexuality. What is usually referred to as borderline is precisely hysteria in our time of permissiveness and when the traditional figure of the master is more often replaced by the neutral expert legitimized by his (scientific) knowledge:
Thankfully, the social order no longer explicitly backs women so completely into a corner as in the age of the housewife. Yet women still face conflicting pressures, such as those that Carrie feverishly attempts to navigate in her quest to avoid being “that girl” in Sex and the City. Indeed, some of the contradictions have even been intensified and complicated as, for example, women are expected to excel in profes sional life while still meeting traditional requirements of motherhood. If anything, women suffer from having too many mutually contradictory outlets for their desire. Hence the contemporary manifestation of hysteria is not the psychosomatic intrusion of the body into the social order—in the face of the impossible demand to “have it all,” the hysteric effectively goes on strike, refusing desire altogether. [C, p. 108]
The borderline subject is thus a hysteric without a master, a hysteric who is not oppressed by the master but solicited by some expert-advisor figure to realize all his or her potentials and have it all, leading a full life. Such a solicitation, of course, immediately acquires the superego dimension of an inexorable pressure to which the subject can only respond by withdrawing from desire. Is this desire on strike not a perfect formula for the borderline as the contemporary form of hysteria?
For the borderline to be a mode of hysteria, the line that separates in side from outside is still maintained, but what happens when this line itself vacillates? Recall our unease when we stumble upon a decaying hu man corpse or, in a more ordinary case, upon an open wound, shit, vomit, brutally tornout nails or eyes, or the skin that forms on the surface of warm milk. What we experience in such situations is not just a disgusting object but something much more radical: the disintegration of the very ontological coordinates that enable me to locate an object into external reality out there. The phenomenological description of such experiences is Kristeva’s starting point in her elaboration of the notion of abject: the reaction of horror, disgust, withdrawal, and ambiguous fascination triggered by objects or occurrences that undermine the clear distinction between subject and object, between myself and reality out there.14 The abject is definitely external to the subject, but it is also more radically external to the very space within which the subject can distinguish itself from reality out there. Maybe we can apply here Lacan’s neologism “extimate”:15 the abject is so thoroughly internal to the subject that this very overintimacy makes it external, uncanny, inadmissible. For this reason, the status of the abject with regard to the pleasure principle is profoundly ambiguous. It is repulsive, provoking horror and disgust, but at the same time it exerts an irresistible fascination and attracts our gaze to its very horror: “One thus understands why so many victims of the abject are its fascinated victims— if not its submissive and willing ones” (P, p. 9). Such a mixture of horror and pleasure points towards a domain beyond the pleasure principle, the domain of jouissance: “One does not know it, one does not desire it, one enjoys in it [on en jouit]. Violently and painfully. A passion” (P, p. 9).
Is then the abject close to what Lacan calls objet petit a, the indivisible remainder of the process of symbolic representation that functions as the always already lost object cause of desire? Objet petit a as the object cause of desire is, in its very excessive nature, an immanent part of the symbolic process, the spectral/eluding embodiment of lack that motivates desire sustained by the (symbolic) law. In contrast to objet a, which functions within the order of meaning as its constitutive blind spot or stain, the abject “is radically excluded [from the space of symbolic community] and draws me toward the place where meaning collapses” (P, p. 2): “Abjection preserves what existed in the archaism of pre-objectal relationship, in the immemorial violence with which a body becomes separated from another body in order to be” (P, p. 10). The experience of abjection thus comes before the big distinctions between culture and nature, inside and outside, consciousness and the unconscious, repression and the repressed, and others; abjection does not stand for the immersion into nature, the primordial mother, but for the very violent process of differentiation. It is the vanishing mediator between nature and culture, a culture in becoming, which disappears from view once the subject dwells within culture. The abject is “what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules,” but not in the sense of the flow of nature undermining all cultural distinctions (P, p. 4); it renders palpable the “fragility of the law,” including of the laws of nature, which is why when a culture endeavors to stabilize itself it does so by way of referring to the laws (regular rhythms) of nature (day and night, regular movement of stars and sun, and others) (P, p. 4). The encounter of the abject arouses fear, not so much fear of a particular actual object (snakes, spiders, height), but a much more basic fear of the breakdown of what separates us from external reality; what we fear in an open wound or a dead body is not its ugliness but the blurring of the line between inside and outside.
The underlying conceptual matrix of the notion of the abject is that of a dangerous ground. The abject points towards a domain that is the source of our life-intensity; we draw our energy out of it, but we have to keep it at the right distance. If we exclude it, we lose our vitality, but if we get too close to it, we are swallowed by the self-destructive vortex of madness; this is why abjection does not step out of the symbolic but plays with it from within: “The abject is perverse because it neither gives up nor assumes a prohibition, a rule, or a law; but turns them aside, misleads, corrupts; uses them, takes advantage of them, the better to deny them” (P, p. 15).
This abjectal excess can also appear in the guise of an indivisible re mainder of the Real which resists the process of idealization/symbolization; in this sense, Kristeva mentions the pagan opponents of Western monotheism who praise the notion of remainder as that which prevents the teleological closure of creation, keeping the movement forever open: “the poet of the Atharva Veda extols the defiling and regenerating remain der (uchista) as precondition for all form. ‘Upon remainder the name and the form are founded, upon remainder the world is founded Being and non-being, both are in the remainder, death, vigor’ ”(P, p. 77).16 The remainder here is the support of the cyclic notion of the universe; it enables the rebirth of the universe. (We find the last traces of this logic even in Kabbalah where the evil in our universe is accounted for as the remainder of the previous universes created and then annihilated by God because he was dissatisfied with the result of his creation; remainder thus grounds repeated creation.) Hegel and Christian monotheism are here easy targets; they allegedly tend to abolish the remainder in a complete sublation of the evil in the good, in a fulfilled teleology that redeems all previous lower stages.17
In our daily lives, we deal with what Julia Kristeva calls ‘abject’ in a variety of ways: ignoring it, turning away from it with disgust, fearing it, constructing rituals made to keep it at a distance or constraining it to a secluded place (toilets for defecation, etc.). Disgust, horror, phobia . . .but there is yet another way to deal with abjection which is to enact a split between abjectal objects or acts and the symbolic ritualisation meant to cleanse us from defilement, i.e., to keep the two apart, as if there is no shared space where they may encounter each other since the abject (filth) in its actuality is simply foreclosed from the symbolic. Kristeva evokes the case of castes in India where the strong ritualisation of defilement (numerous rituals, prescribed in painful details, that regulate how one should purify oneself) [“]appears to be accompanied by one’s being totally blind to filth itself, even though it is the object of those rites. It is as if one had maintained, so to speak, only the sacred, prohibited facet of defilement, allowing the anal object that such a sacralization had in view to become lost within the dazzling light of unconsciousness if not of the unconscious. V. S. Naipaul points out that Hindus defecate everywhere without anyone ever mentioning, either in speech or in books, those squatting figures, because, quite simply, no one sees them. It is not a form of censorship due to modesty that would demand the omission in discourse of a function that has, in other respects, been ritualized. It is blunt foreclo sure that voids those acts and objects from conscious representation. A split seems to have set in between, on the one hand, the body’s territory where an authority without guilt prevails, a kind of fusion between mother and nature, and on the other hand, a totally different universe of socially signifying performances where embarrassment, shame, guilt, desire, etc. come into play—the order of the phallus. Such a split, which in another cultural universe would produce psychosis, thus finds in this context a perfect socialization. That may be because setting up the rite of defilement takes on the function of the hyphen, the virgule, allowing the two universes of filth and of prohibition to brush lightly against each other without necessarily being identified as such, as object and as law. On account of the flexibility at work in rites of defilement, the subjective economy of the speaking being who is involved abuts on both edges of the unnamable (the non-object, the off-limits) and the absolute (the relentless coherence of Prohibition, sole donor of Meaning [” (P, p. 74)]. Do we not find similar cases also in Christianity as well as in Islam? When, a decade ago, the (then) Iranian president Ahmadinejad visited New York to attend a UN general assembly session, he was invited to attend a live debate at Columbia University. When asked about homosexuality in Iran, his reply was rudely mistranslated into English as if he claimed that in Iran they have no problem with homosexuals since there are none there. An Iranian friend (very critical of Ahmadinejad) who was there told me that Ahmadinejad’s reply was in reality much more nuanced: what he hinted at was that in Iran they don’t talk about homosexuality in public, they condemn it officially and mostly ignore its actual occurrences, thereby ‘allowing the two universes of filth and of prohibition to brush lightly against each other without necessarily being identified as such, as object and as law’. And does the same not hold for paedophilia in the Catholic church? Paedophilia is publicly condemned while (till recently, at least) tolerated by being ignored in practice, as if public Law and material practice of sinful filth belong to different domains. This logic at work in Hinduism, Islam and Catholicism should not be confused with repression: nothing is ‘repressed’ or ‘unconscious’ about filth or homosexuality or paedophilia, the filthy act in question is practiced more or less openly and without any qualms, its practitioners are (mostly) not traumatised by their perverse desires or haunted by any deep guilt feelings, they just simply keep the two dimensions apart. Our problem today is that, within the predominant logic of Political Correctness, such a procedure of keeping the two domains apart no longer functions: the PC stance by definition collapses the two dimensions since it aims precisely at directly controlling and regulating ‘the body’s territory where an authority without guilt prevails, a kind of fusion between mother and nature’. (Kristeva, 1982, p. 74). In other words, there is no domain left unseen, ignored by the PC law—its law tolerates no unwritten rules, there is no space here for a transgressive behaviour that violates explicit rules and is precisely as such not only tolerated but even solicited by the law Is the mechanism described here not a case of so-called fetishist disavowal? Kristeva locates the most radical fetishism, fetishist disavowal, into language itself: “But is not exactly language our ultimate and inseparable fetish? And language, precisely, is based on fetishist denial (‘I know that, but just the same’, ‘the sign is not the thing, but just the same,’ etc.) and defines us in our essence as speaking beings. Because of its founding status, the fetishism of ‘language’ is perhaps the only one that is unanalyzable.” (Kristeva, 1982, p. 37). Kristeva locates the fetishist dimension of language into the implicit overcoming of the gap that separates words (signs) from things: ‘I know that words are only signs with no immanent relation to things they designate, but I nonetheless . . . (believe in their magic influence on things)’. But where, exactly, is here fetishism? In his classic text, Octave Mannoni (Mannoni, 2003 ) distinguishes three modes of je sais bien, mais quand meme . . . , and reserves the name ‘fetishism’ only for the third one. The first mode is the standard functioning of the symbolic order, namely the relation between the symbolic title of a subject and his/her miserable reality as a person: ‘I know very well that this guy in front of me is a miserable stupid coward, but he wears the insignia of power, which means that it is the Law which speaks through him . . .’ Is it, however, accurate to characterise this basic ‘alienation’ in a symbolic title that changes our perception of an individual as a case of fetishism? Not yet, for Mannoni. Then there is the mode of falling into one’s own trap, like a guy who, in order to calm his small child when a storm is ravaging around their house, draws a circle on the floor with a chalk and assures him that one is safe if one stands inside the circle; when, soon thereafter, a lightning directly strikes the house, he in a moment of panic quickly steps into the circle, as if being there will protect him, ignoring the fact that he himself concocted the story about the magic property of the circle to calm down the child. For Mannoni, this is also not yet fetishism proper which only occurs when we have no need for any belief at all: we know how things really stand, plus we have the object-fetish with no magic belief attached to it. A foot fetishist has no illusions about feet, plus he simply has a strong libidinal investment in feet, playing with them generates immense enjoyment. So which among these three versions pertains to language as such? Maybe, all three are activated at different levels. First, there is the disavowal that characterises the symbolic mandate (‘I know very well that you are a miserable individual, but you are a judge and the authority of the law speaks through you’). Then, there is the self-deception of a manipulator who, as it were, falls into his own trap. In his Anthropology, Kant (Kant, 2006 ) explores how the love of the illusion of the good can lead to the love of the good itself: if one loves the illusion of the good and enacts this illusion in social intercourse, one might come to appreciate its worth and to love the good itself for its own sake. Correlatively from the point of view of the spectator, loving the illusion of the good in others may make us be polite in order to become lovable, which, in turn, exercises our self-mastery, leads us to control our passions and, eventually, to love the good for its own sake. In this sense, paradoxically, by deceiving others through politeness and social pretence, we in fact deceive ourselves and transform our pragmatic, polite behaviour into virtuous behaviour. . . . The difference between this and the first mode of disavowal is obvious: in the first mode, we are dealing with the straight confusion between an object/ person and the properties that belong to it only on behalf of its inscription into a symbolic network (to paraphrase Marx, a king is a king only because his subjects treat him as a king, but it appears to them that they treat him as a king because he is in himself a king), while in the second case, the illusion is generated purposefully and consciously (the subject produces an appearance in order to dupe another, and then he ends up falling into his own trap and believing in it himself). One should note how, although the cynical manipula tor consciously cheats and is in this sense less naïve than the subject of the first mode of disavowal, he ends up believing in a much more direct and naïve illusion: he fully falls into his own trap, in contrast to the first mode in which the subject retains to the end the distance towards his belief (‘I know very well it’s not true . . .’).18
Until now, we were dealing with the main modes of avoiding the abject. There are, however, two privileged ways of traversing abjection, of going through it and purifying ourselves of it: religion and art (poetic catharsis): “The various means of purifying the abject—the various catharses—make up the history of religions, and end up with that catharsis par excellence called art, both on the far and near side of religion” (P, p. 17). The whole of modern literature and art—from Antonin Artaud to Louis-Ferdinand Céline, from Wassily Kandinsky to Mark Rothko—confronts and tries to sublimate the abject; following Rainer Maria Rilke’s famous formula “beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror,” it weaves a screen that renders the abject not only tolerable but even pleasurable:19
On close inspection, all literature is probably a version of the apocalypse that seems to me rooted, no matter what its socio-historical conditions might be, on the fragile border (borderline cases) where identities (subject/object, etc.) do not exist or only barely so—double, fuzzy, heterogeneous, animal, metamorphosed, altered, abject. [P, p. 207]
In a detailed analysis, Kristeva presents the work of Céline as a long and tortuous confrontation with the abjectal dimension; this is what Journey to the End of the Night alludes to; the night is the night of the abject that suspends not only reason but the universe of meaning as such, not only at the level of content (describing the extreme states of dissolution) but also at the level of form (fragmented syntax) and others, as if some prelinguistic rhythm—“the ‘entirely other’ of signifiance”—is invading and undermining language:
It is as if Céline’s scription could only be justified to the extent that it confronted the “entirely other” of signifiance; as if it could only be by having this “entirely other” exist as such, in order to draw back from it but also in order to go to it as to a fountainhead; as if it could be born only through such a confrontation recalling the religions of defilement, abomination, and sin. [P, p. 149]
Céline carefully walks on the edge of this vortex of ecstatic negativity like the hero of edgar Allan Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelström” (1841), flirting with it but avoiding complete immersion into it, which would mean a descent into madness. Here, of course, Kristeva confronts the big problem. One would have expected that such a confrontation with the abject and its libidinal vortex, allowing it to penetrate our universe of meaning, would have a liberating effect, allowing us to break out of the constraints of symbolic rules and to recharge ourselves with a more primordial libidinal energy; however, as is well-known, Céline turned into a fully pledged fascist, supporting Nazis to their very defeat. So what went wrong? At a general level, Kristeva’s reply is to avoid both extremes; not only is the total exclusion of the abject mortifying, cutting us off from the source of our vitality (when the abject is excluded, “the borderline patient, even though he may be a fortified castle, is nevertheless an empty castle” [P, p. 49]), but the opposite also holds. every attempt to escape the patriarchal/rational symbolic order and enact a return to the pre-patriarchal feminine rhythm of drives necessarily ends up in anti-Semitic fascism: “Do not all attempts, in our own cultural sphere at least, at escaping from the Judeo-Christian compound by means of a unilateral call to return to what it has repressed (rhythm, drive, the feminine, etc.), converge on the same Célinian anti Semitic fantasy?” (P, p. 180).
The reason is, of course, that Judaism enacts in an exemplary way the monotheistic rejection of the maternal natural rhythms. However, Kristeva’s account of Céline’s move to fascism is more complex; the fascist anti-Semitism is not just a regression to the domain of the abject but also a regression controlled/totalized by reason. “The return to what [reason] has repressed (rhythm, drive, the feminine, etc.)” is in itself liberating; it brings about an inconsistent bubble of fresh insights. Problems arise when this anarchic schizodisorder, its mad dance, is totalized through a paranoiac stance that totalizes/unifies the entire field, generating a spectral object like “the Jew” that allegedly explains all antagonisms and dissatisfactions:
One has to admit that out of such logical oscillations there emerge a few striking words of truth. Such words present us with harsh X-rays of given areas of social and political experience; they turn into fantasies or deliriums only from the moment when reason attempts to globalize, unify, or totalize. Then the crushing anarchy or nihilism of discourse topples over and, as if it were the reverse of that nega tivism, an object appears—an object of hatred and desire, of threat and aggressivity, of envy and abomination. That object, the Jew, gives thought a focus where all contradictions are explained and satisfied. [P, pp. 177–78]
The limitation of Kristeva’s theory of the abject resides in the fact that she conceives the symbolic order and abjection as the two extremes between which one has to negotiate a middle way. What she neglects to do is to inquire into what the symbolic order itself is in terms of the abject. The symbolic order is not just always already embedded in the feminine hora (or what Kristeva in her earlier work referred to as the semiotic), pene trated by the materiality of its immanent libidinal rhythms that distort the purity of the symbolic articulations. If it is here, it had to emerge out of hora through a violent act of self-differentiation or splitting. Consequently, insofar as we accept Kristeva’s term abjection for this self-differentiation, then we should distinguish between hora and abjection; abjection points towards the very movement of withdrawal from hora, which is constitutive of subjectivity. This is why we had to further specify Kristeva’s diagnosis: every “unilateral call to return to what [the Judeo-Christian compound] has repressed (rhythm, drive, the feminine, etc.)” generates fascism (as in Céline’s work) not because it regresses from the symbolic but because it obfuscates abjection itself, the primordial repression that gives rise to the symbolic. The dream of such attempts is not to suspend the symbolic but to have the (symbolic) cake and eat it—in other words, to dwell in the symbolic without the price we have to pay for it (primordial repression, the subject’s ontological derailment, antagonism, out-of-joint, the violent gap of differentiation from natural substance), the ancient dream of a masculine universe of meaning, which remains harmonically rooted in the maternal substance of hora. In short, what fascism obfuscates (forecloses even) is not the symbolic as such but the gap that separates the symbolic from the real. This is why a figure like that of the Jew is needed; if the gap between the symbolic and the real is not constitutive of the symbolic, if a symbolic at home in the real is possible, then their antagonism has to be caused by a contingent external intruder—and what better candidate for this role than Judaism, with its violent monotheist assertion of the symbolic law and rejection of the earth-bound paganism?
The Jew as the enemy allows the anti-Semitic subject to avoid the choice between working class and capital: by blaming the Jew whose plotting foments class warfare, he can advocate the vision of a harmonious society in which work and capital collaborate. This is also why Julia Kristeva is right in linking the phobic object (the Jew whose plots anti-Semites fear) to the avoidance of a choice: ‘The phobic object is precisely avoidance of choice, it tries as long as possible to maintain the subject far from a decision.’ Does this proposition not hold especially for political phobia? Does the phobic object/abject, on the fear of which the rightist-populist ideology mobilizes its partisans (the Jew, the immigrant, today in europe the refugee), not embody a refusal to choose? Choose what? A position in class struggle.20
This is how anti-Semitism relies on a paranoiac totalization of playing with abjection; the antiSemitic fetish figure of the Jew is the last thing a subject sees just before he confronts social antagonism as constitutive of the social body.
From here follows another crucial consequence with regard to Kristeva’s theoretical edifice: hora (the semiotic) is not more primordial than the symbolic but strictly a secondary phenomenon, the return of the presymbolic mimicry (echoes, resemblances, imitations) within the field of symbolic differentiality. Roman Jakobson drew attention to the fact that we can discern in our language traces of direct resemblance between signifier and signified (some words signifying vocal phenomena seem to sound like what they signify, sometimes even the external form of a word resembles the form of the signified object, like the word locomotive, which resembles the old-fashioned steam locomotive with the elevated cabin and chim ney). This, however, in no way undermines the priority and ontological primacy of the differential character of linguistic signifiers (the identity and meaning of a signifier depends on its difference from other signifiers, not on its resemblance to its signified). What we are dealing with in the case of phenomena like these are the secondary mimetic echoes within a field that is already, in its basic constitution, radically different (contin gent, composed of differential relations). And the same holds for hora, for the immanent rhythm of pre-symbolic materiality that pervades the symbolic: what happens first is the violent cut of abjection that gives birth to the symbolic, and what Kristeva describes as hora is a strictly secondary phenomenon of pre-symbolic mimetic echoes within the symbolic field.
A similar limitation characterizes Catherine Malabou’s“ontology of the accident,” which brings negativity to its extreme in the guise of an external organic or physical catastrophe that totally destroys the symbolic texture of the subject’s psychic life, allowing for no interpretation, no symbolic appropriation.21 Malabou’s “ontology of the accident” is thus
an ontology finally taking into account, as previous orientations have not yet done, explosive events of indigestible, meaningless traumas in which destructive plasticity goes so far as to destroy plasticity itself, in which plasticity is exposed, thanks to itself, to its own disruption. . . . The massive cerebrolesions of catastrophic neurotraumas produce the bodies of human organisms living on but not, as it were, living for, that is, not Inclining toward future plans, projects. Plasticity (including neuroplasticity) stands permanently under the shadow of the virtual danger of its liquidation.22
A materialist notion of humanity should effectively take into account the shadow of a permanent threat to our survival at a multitude of levels, from external threats (an asteroid hitting the earth, volcanic eruptions, and others) through individual catastrophes like Alzheimer’s up to the possibility that humanity will destroy itself as a nonintended consequence of its scientific and technological progress. Is there, however, a catastrophe that always already occurred and that is missing from the list of external threats: the catastrophe that is the emergence of subjectivity, of the human mind, out of nature? The exclusion of the real of this catastrophe (what Freud called primordial repression) is what introduces the gap that separates the real from reality—it is on account of this gap that what we experience as external reality always has to rely on a fantasy and that when the raw real is forced upon us it causes the experience of the loss of reality. G. K. Chesterton was on the right track here in his wonderful description of Charles Dickens’s realism:
[Dickens] was a dreamy child, thinking mostly of his own dreary prospects. Yet he saw and remembered much of the streets and squares he passed. Indeed, as a matter of fact, he went the right way to work unconsciously to do so. He did not go in for ‘observation,’ a priggish habit; he did not look at Charing Cross to improve his mind or count the lampposts in Holborn to practice his arithmetic. But unconsciously he made all these places the scenes of the monstrous drama in his miserable little soul. He walked in darkness under the lamps of Holborn, and was crucified at Charing Cross. So for him ever afterwards these places had the beauty that only belongs to battlefields. For our memory never fixes the facts which we have merely observed. The only way to remember a place for ever is to live in the place for an hour; and the only way to live in the place for an hour is to forget the place for an hour. The undying scenes we can all see if we shut our eyes are not the scenes that we have stared at under the direc tion of guidebooks; the scenes we see are the scenes at which we did not look at all—the scenes in which we walked when we were thinking about something else—about a sin, or a love affair, or some childish sorrow. We can see the background now because we did not see it then. So Dickens did not stamp these places on his mind; he stamped his mind on these places. For him ever afterwards these streets were mortally romantic; they were dipped in the purple dyes of youth and its tragedy, and rich with irrevocable sunsets.
Herein is the whole secret of that eerie realism with which Dickens could always vitalize some dark or dull corner of London. There are details in the Dickens descriptions—a window, or a railing, or the keyhole of a door—which he endows with demoniac life. Things seem more actual than they really are. Indeed, that degree of realism does not exist in reality; it is the unbearable realism of a dream. And this kind of realism can only be gained by walking dreamily in a place; it cannot be gained by walking observantly. Dickens himself has given a perfect instance of how these nightmare minutiæ grew upon him in his trance of abstraction. He mentions among the coffeeshops into which he crept in those wretched days one in St. Martin’s Lane, ‘of which I only recollect it stood near the church, and that in the door there was an oval glass plate with “COFFee ROOM” painted on it, addressed towards the street. If I ever find myself in a very different kind of coffeeroom now, but where there is an inscription on glass, and read it backwards on the wrong side, MOOR eeFFOC (as I often used to do then in a dismal reverie), a shock goes through my blood.’ That wild word, ‘Moor eeffoc’, is the motto of all effective realism; it is the masterpiece of the good realistic principle—the principle that the most fantastic thing of all is often the precise fact. And that elvish kind of realism Dickens adopted everywhere. His world was alive with inanimate objects.23
Strange realism whose exemplary case—“the motto of all effective realism” —is a signifier MOOR eeFFOC, whose lack of meaning (signified) is more than supplemented by a rich condensation of unconscious obscene libidinal echoes (fears, horrors, obscene imaginations) so that it effectively functions as a direct signifier (or, rather, cypher) of jouissance, signaling a point at which meaning breaks down! So if we are looking for the traces of das Ding in all this, they are not to be found in external reality the way it operates independently of our investments into it—say, the way oval glass plates on the doors of coffee rooms really are—but at those myste rious points within the universe of meaning where meaning breaks down and is overshadowed by a nameless abyss of jouissance. This is why when he stumbles upon the meaningless signifier MOOR eeFFOC, “a shock goes through [his] blood.” It may appear that Chesterton is here simply asserting the key role of inner psychic traumas, desires, obsessions, and fears: “Dickens did not stamp these places on his mind; he stamped his mind on these places.” That is, certain places impressed him deeply not because of their inherent qualities but because of the intense inner experiences (concerning sin and love) they served as a pretext for and gave birth to. One can easily imagine here a critic of psychoanalysis like Malabou sarcastically asking if a devastating catastrophe in external reality like a gigantic tsunami or being exposed to brutal torture also acquires weight only if a previous psychic trauma resonates in it. But are things as simple as that? What makes inanimate objects alive is the way they are enveloped by dreams; this is not the same as the famous Freudian dream where the burning cloth on the son’s coffin triggers in the sleeping father the terrifying dream image of his dread son approaching him with “Father, can’t you see I’m burning!” In Freud’s case, the dreamer (father) escapes from reality into a dream where he encounters an even more terrifying real. In Dickens, there is no escape from ordinary reality; a detail of reality itself gets spectralized, is experienced as a moment from a nightmarish dream. Something similar takes place continuously in Franz Kafka’s work; Kafka is also a master of “effective realism.” But let us rather take an unexpected example from cinema.
In James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) there is a short shot from above of an unidentified old couple lying embraced in their bed while the ship is already sinking, so their cabin is half-flooded and a stream of water is running all around the bed. This shot, although meant as a realistic shot, creates the impression of a dream scene—a bed with the tightly embraced couple in the midst of strong flow of water, touchingly rendering the stability of love in the midst of a disaster. This detail in an otherwise average commercial movie bears witness to an authentic cinematic touch, that of making reality appear as a dream scene. A variation of the same motif are those magic moments in some films when it seems as if an entity that belongs to fantasy space intervenes in ordinary reality so that the frontier that separates the fantasy space from ordinary reality is momentarily suspended.
Suffice it to recall a scene from Possessed, Clarence Brown’s melodrama from 1931 with Joan Crawford. Crawford, playing a poor small-town girl, stares amazed at the luxurious private train that slowly passes in front of her at the local railway station; through the windows of the carriages she sees the rich life going on in the illuminated inside—dancing couples, cooks preparing dinner, and so on. The crucial feature of the scene is that we, the spectators, together with Crawford, perceive the train as a magic, immaterial apparition from another world. When the last carriage passes by, the train comes to a halt and we see on the observation desk a good-natured drunkard with a glass of champagne in his hand, which stretches over the railing towards Crawford—as if, for a brief moment, the fantasyspace intervened in reality.24
It is along these lines that we should understand also what Chesterton says about Dickens’s “eerie realism” in which “the most fantastic thing of all is often the precise fact”: “a shock goes through my blood” when I stumble upon a small material detail that stirs up something in my “inner life”—not some “deeper meaning” but something traumatic, nonsymbolizable, extimate (external in the very heart of my being). One should emphasize the hyperrealism of such moments; the spectralization of material reality overlaps with full focus on material objects. How is this paradox possible? There is only one solution: external reality itself is not simply out there, it is already transcendentally constituted so that it is experienced as such—as “normal” reality out there—only if it fits these transcendental coordinates.
Let’s take a traumatic event like the 9/11 World Trade Center (WTC) destruction. One “should therefore invert the standard reading according to which the WTC explosions were the intrusion of the Real which shattered our illusory Sphere; quite the reverse—it was before the WTC collapse that we lived in our reality, perceiving Third World horrors as something which was not actually part of our social reality, as something which existed (for us) as a spectral apparition on the (TV) screen—and what happened on September 11 was that this fantasmatic screen apparition entered our reality.”25 “In short, one should discern which part of reality is ‘transfunctionalized’ through fantasy, so that, although it is part of reality, it is perceived in a fictional mode”—exactly as our examples from Titanic and Possessed show in which part of reality is spectralized, acquires dreamlike quality. “Much more difficult than to denounce/unmask (what appears as) reality as fiction is to recognize in ‘real’ reality the part of fiction.”26
This, then, is what the Malabou-like critique misses when it accuses psychoanalysis of ignoring the bodily weight of traumatic events, thereby reducing their impact to their stirring up some previous dormant psychic trauma. Let us imagine witnessing or being submitted to extremely brutal torture. Precisely because the impact of the scene is so shattering—as it would undermine the basic coordinates of what we perceive as “solid external reality”—the scene would not be experienced as part of ordinary reality but as an unreal, nightmarish fiction. The sense of ordinary external reality and extreme trauma are mutually exclusive. This is the ultimate reason why, as Chesterton saw it clearly, dream and “effective realism” go together.
- Häßliche: ugly and, literally, worthy of hatred, that which provokes hatred, “hatable.” For more on Karl Rosenkranz, see Viktoras Bachmetjevas, “The Ugly in Art,” Man and the Word 9, 4 (2007): 29–34. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are our own.
- Karl Rosenkranz, Ästhetik des Häßlichen (Stuttgart, 2007), 36.
- , p. 145. Rosenkranz strangely ignores Hegel in his book on the ugly, although Hegel points the way towards Ästhetik des Häßlichen when he conceives romantic art as the art that liberates subjectivity in its contingency (ugliness) and culminates in humor as a way to subsume the ugly.
- Quoted in Bachmetjevas, “The Ugly in Art,” 33.
- Ibid., p. 34.
- Herman Parret, “The Ugly as the beyond of the Sublime,” hermanparret.be/media/articlesinprint/21_TheUglyastheBeyond.pdf; hereafter abbreviated “U.”
- Slavoj Žižek, Absolute Recoil: Towards a New Foundation of Dialectical Materialism (Brooklyn, N.Y., 2014), pp. 65–66.
- Žižek, Enjoy Your Symptom: Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out (New York, 2008), p. 265 n. 16.
- Žižek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (Cambridge, 2003), p. 150.
- Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, C. J. M. Hubback, ed. ernest Jones, www.bartleby.com/276/4.html
- Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction (London, 2007), 237.
- Adam Kostko, Creepiness (London, 2015), 119; hereafter abbreviated C.
- Žižek, “Lacan’s Four Discourses: A Political Reading,” in Desire of the Analysts: Psychoanalysis and Cultural Criticism, Greg Forter and Paul Allen Miller (Albany, N.Y., 2008). pp. 88–89.
- See Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, Leon S. Roudiez (New York, 1982); hereafter abbreviated P.
- See also Jacques-Alain Miller, “extimity,” The Symptom, lacan.com/symptom/
- The quotation within the quotation is from Charles Malamoud, “Observations sur la notion de ‘reste’ dans le brahmanisme,” Wiener Zeitschrift fur die Kunde Siidasiens 16 (1972): 5–26.
- Against such a reading, it suffices to recall that for Hegel the concluding moment of the dialectical process is not the complete sublation of all contingent particularity in the universality of a notion but its exact opposite: the insight into how a nonsublatable remainder is needed to close the process; the state as a rational totality is fully actualized in the (biologically, or contingently, determined) person of the monarch. In other words, the spurious infinity of the idealization of empirical contingency is brought to its end not when it finally succeeds but when that which seems its fatal obstacle is experienced as its point de capiton (quilting point).
- Žižek, “Abjection, Disavowal, and the Masquerade of Power,” Journal of the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research 26 (July 2015): jcfar.org.uk/jcfarbookshop/articles/jcfar26/slavojzizek/
- Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies, in Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, and ed. Stephen Mitchell (New York, 1995), p. 331.
- Žižek, “The Need to Traverse the Fantasy,” In These Times, com/article/18722/SlavojZizekonSyriarefugeeseurocentrismWesternValuesLacanIslam
- See Catherine Malabou, The Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity, trans. Carolyn Shread (New York, 2012).
- Adrian Johnston, Adventures in Transcendental Materialism: Dialogues with Contemporary Thinkers (edinburgh, 2014), 281.
- K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens, in The Everyman Chesterton (New York, 2011), pp. 70–71.
- Žižek, The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Women and Causality (Brooklyn, Y., 2005), p. 111 n. 21.
- Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates (New York, 2002), p. 16.
- Žižek, Organs without Bodies: Deleuze and Consequences (New York, 2004), 170.
Jela Krečič is a cinema theorist and cultural journalist, coeditor (together with Ivana Novak) of the volume of essays Lubitsch Can’t Wait (2014).
Slavoj Žižek, dialectical-materialist philosopher and psychoanalyst, is co-director at the International Center for Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London.