Friday, May 26, 2006

Zizek on the Jew as symptom and Fascist social fantasy

From _The Sublime Object of Ideology_:

[...] At first sight it could seem that what is pertinent in an analysis of ideology is only the way it functions as a discourse, the way the series of floating signifiers is totalized, transformed by a unified field through the interventions of certain 'nodal points'. Briefly: the way the discursive mechanisms constitute the field of ideological meaning; in this perspective the enjoyment-in-signifier would be simply pre-ideological, irrelevant for ideology as a social bond. But the case of so-called 'totalitarianism' demonstrates what applies to every ideology, to ideology as such: the last support of the ideological effect (of the way an ideological network of signifiers 'holds' us) is the non-sensical, pre-ideological kernel of enjoyment. In ideology 'all is not ideology (that is ideological meaning)', but it is this very surplus which is the last support of ideology. That is why we could say that there are two complementary procedures of the 'criticism of ideology':
-one is *discursive*, the 'symptomal reading' of the ideological text bringing 'deconstruction' of the spontaneous experience of its meaning--that is, demonstrating how a given ideologcal field is a result of a montage of heterogeneous 'floating signifiers', of their totalization through the intervention of certain 'nodal points';--the other aims at extracting the kernel *enjoyment*, at articulating the way in which--beyond the field of meaning but at the same time internal to it--ideology implies, manipulates, produces a pre-ideological enjoyment structured in fantasy.

To exempify this necessity of supplementing the analysis of discourse with the logic of enjoyment we have only to look again at the special case of ideology, which is perhaps the purest incarnation of ideology as such: anti-semitism. To put it bluntly: 'Society doesn't exist', and the Jew is its symptom.
On the level of discourse analysis, it is not difficult to articulate the network of symbolic overdetermination invested in the figure of the Jew. First, there is displacement: the basic trick of anti-semitism is to displace social antagonism into antagonism between the sound social texture, social body, and the Jew as the force corroding it, the force of corruption. Thus it is not society itself which is 'impossible', based on antagonism--the source of corruption is located in a particular entity, the Jew. This displacement is made possible by the association of Jews with financial dealings: the source of exploitation and of class antagonism is located not in the basic relation between the working and ruling classes but in the relation between the 'productive' forces (workers, organizers of production...) and the merchants who exploit the 'productive' classes, replacing organic co-operation with class struggle.
This displacement is, of course, supported by condensation: the figure of the Jew condenses opposing features, features associated with lower and upper classes: Jews are supposed to be dirty and intellectual, volumptuous and impotent, and so on. What gives energy, so to speak, to the displacement is therefore the way the figure of the Jew condenses a series of heterogeneous antagonisms: economic (Jew as profiteer), political, (Jew as schemer, retainer of a secret power), moral-religious (Jew as corrupt anti-Christian), sexual (Jew as seducer of our innocent girls).... In short, it can easily be shown how the figure of the Jew is a symptom in the sense of coded message, a cypher, a disfigured representation of social antagonism; by undoing this work of displacement/condensation, we can determine its meaning.
But this logic of metaphoric-metonymic displacement is not sufficent to explain how the figure of the Jew captures our desire; to penetrate its fascinating force, we must take into account the way 'Jew' enters the framework of fantasy structuring our enjoyment. Fantasy is basically a scenario filling out the empty space of a fundamental impossibility, a screen masking a void. 'There is no sexual relationship', and this impossibility is filled out by the fascinating fantasy-scenario -- that is why fantasy is, in the last resort, always a fantasy of the sexual relationship, a staging of it. As such, fantasy is not to be interpreted, only 'traversed': all we have to do is experience how there is nothing 'behind' it, and how fantasy masks precisely this 'nothing'. (But there is a lot behind a symptom, a whole network of symbolic overdetermination, which is why the symptom involves its interpretation.)
It is now clear how we can use this notion of fantasy in the domain of ideology proper: here also 'there is no class relationship', society is always traversed by a antagonistic split which cannot be integrated into the symbolic order. And the stake of social-ideological fantasy is to construct a vision of society which *does* exist, a society which is not split by an antagonistic division, a society in which the relation between its parts is organic, complementary. The clearest case is, of course, the corporatist vision of Society as an organic Whole, a social Body in which different classes are like extremities, members each contributing to the Whole according to its function--we may say that 'Society as a corporate Body' is the fundamental ideological fantasy. How then do we take account of the distance between this corporatist vision and the factual society split by antagonistic struggles? The answer is, of course, the Jew: an external element, a foreign body introducing corruption into the sound social fabric. In short 'Jew' is a fetish which simultaneously denies and embodies the structural impossibility of 'Society': it is as if in the figure of the Jew this impossibility has acquired a positive, palpable existence--and that is why it marks the eruption of enjoyment in the social field.
The notion of sexual fantasy is therefore a necessary counterpart to the concept of antagonism: fantasy is precisely the way the antagonistic fissure is masked. In other words, *fantasy is a means for an ideology to take its own failure into account in advance.* The thesis of Laclau and Mouffe that 'Society doesn't exist', that the Social is always an inconsistent field structured around a constitutive impossibility, traversed by a central 'antagonism'-this implies that every process of identification conferring on us a fixed socio-symbolic identity is ultimately doomed to fail. The function of ideological fantasy is to mask this inconsistency, the fact that 'Society doesn't exist',and thus to compensate us for the failed identification.
The 'Jew' is the means, for Fascism, of taking into account, of representing its own impossibility: in its positive presence, it is only the embodiment of the ultimate impossibility of the totalitarian project--of its immanent limit. This is why it is insufficient t designate the totalitarian project as impossible, utopian, wanting to establish a totally transparent and homogeneous society--the problem is that in a way, totalitarian ideology *knows it*, recognizes it in advance:in the figure of the 'Jew' it includes this knowledge in its edifice. The whole Fascist ideology is structured as a struggle against the element which holds the place of the immanent impossibility of the Fascist project: the 'Jew' is nothing but the fetishistic embodiment of a certain fundamental blockage.
The'criticism of ideology' must therefore invert the linking of causality as perceived by the totalitarian gaze: far from being the positive cause of social antagonism, the 'Jew' is just the embodiment of a certain blockage--of the impossibility which prevents society from its full identity as a closed, homogeneous totality. Far from being the positive cause of social negativity, *the'Jew is a point at which social negativity as such assumes positive existence.* In this way we can articulate another formula of the basic procedure of the 'criticism of ideology',supplementing the one given above: to detect, in a given ideological edifice, the element which represents within its own impossibility. Society is not prevented from acheiving its full identity because of Jews: it is prevented by its own antagonistic nature, by its own immanent blockage, and it 'projects'this internal negativity into the figure of the 'Jew'. In other words, what is excluded from the Symbolic (from the frame of the corporatist socio-symbolic order) returns in the Real as a paranoid construction of the 'Jew'.
We can also see, now how 'going through' the social fantasy is likewise correlative to identification with a symptom. Jews are clearly a social symptom: the point at which immanent social antagonism assumes a positive form, erupts on to the social surface, the point at which it becomes obvious that society 'doesn't work', that the social mechanism 'creaks'. If we look at it through the frame of (corporatist) fantasy, the 'Jew' appears as an intruder who introduces from outside disorder, decomposition and corruption of the social edifice--it appears as an outward positive cause whose elimination would enable us to restore order, stability and identity. But in 'going through the fantasy' we must in the same move identify the symptom: we must recognize in the properties atrributed to 'Jew' the necessary product of our very social system; we must recognze in the 'excesses' attributed to 'Jews' the truth about ourslves. (124-128)

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