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Racism, Anti-Semitism and the Imperative to Enjoyment!

Racism and anti-Semitism are both social and psychic structures. The unconscious, psychic, aspects of these processes are exemplary of superegoic structures.

Both racism and anti-Semitism are inherently contradictory ideologies.

In the United state, for example, we constantly hear and read in the media that immigrants are 'flooding' the country in order to feeload on the welfare of the state. At the same time, these very same immigrants are attacked for stealing our jobs and therefore putting ordinary citizens out of work. There is clearly a contradiction here - if immigrants are living a life of luxury on state benefits then they are not working; if on the other hand, they are working hard and taking out jobs, then they are clearly not living off the state but contributing to it.

What psychoanalysis adds to our understanding of this process is how subjects manage to sustain thee contradictory beliefs.

The relationship between racism and anti-Semitism is a complex and changing one. Zizek observes that traditionally anti-Semitim haas always been considered as an 'exception' and concpetualized differently to other forms of racism. Whereas classicla racism propounds an ideology of national superiority, whereby so-called 'inferior' races were enslaved, anti-Semitism involves the systematic and organized annihiliation of the Jewish people. Moreoer, Nazi propaganda linked the need for genoicde to another fundamental element of its ideology. It was not just that the Jews had to be killed because they represented a threat to the state, but more importantly that the socio-symbolic order itself - the new Aryan state - could not be fully realized without that process taking place; and it is here that the notion of the superego comes into play.

The 'Jew', or the Jewish race, is presented within fascinst propaganda as a figure who transgresses and undermiens the law and as such must be first punished and eventually eradicated so that a new harmonious Aryan society can emerge.

For authoritarian regime to exist, however totalitarian it may be, the active participation and support of a population is required, toerwise the regime will very quickly collapse. And yet, why would any population support an overtly repressive regime? This is where the ambiugity of the father and what LAcan calls the superegoic imperative to Enjoy comes in. When a subject identifies with a leader/father figur,e he or she identifies witha position of Oedipal power and authority. At the same time, however, the subject identifies with that curel and licentious father of the primal horde. If we do not have access to pleasure and enjoyment, we assume that it is because someone else has usurped our position and taken it from us. Hence the inflated iamges of power and potency ascribed to other 'minority' groups. Accoridng to Zizek, this is the logic that is at work in anti-Semitism. The efficacy of the figure of the 'Jew' relies on the assumption of a certain surplus - that Jews possess somthing that we do not and therefore they ahve access to pleasures that we are denied. For racism and anti-Semtiism to function psychically an impossible, unfathomable nejoyment, allegedly stolen from us, msut be attributed to the other. Paradoixcally, argues Zizek, what 'holds together' a given community is "not so much identification with the public or symbolic Law that regulates the communty's 'normal' everyday life, but rather identification with a specific form of transgression of the Law, of the Law's suspension (in psychoanalytic terms, with a specific form of enjoyment).[1]

More specifically, what holds communitites together is the attribution of excessive enjoyment to other or alien groups; for instance, the sterotypical fantasy of seuxal potency associated with blakc men. This attribution of excessive enjoyment to the other then comes to operate as a specific form of theft for the subject - the theft of one's own enjoyment.

Psychoanalysis argues that the inehrent ambiguity of these psychic structrues - the superego, the father and fantasy - is a necessary and constituive part of all social roders and essential to their proper funcitoning. If the threat is not actually, empirically, there then it will have to be invented, just as Nazi ideology had to construct the 'conceptual Jew' in order to justify its own repressive regime. The poitn is that the Jews is not hte cause of that ideology, but rather something that is constitued in its effects, that it to say, the Jew is posited retrosepctively as the condition of possibility for the fascist regime. The notion of the 'conceptual Jew' is what gives the irrationality of fascist ideology its coherence nad consistency. Within racism and anti-Semitism, enjoyment, and aspecifically an 'excess' of enjoyment, is always imputed to the other: "the other may be lazy but they still have more fun than us; they live off our hard work, etc." However that is not enoguh in itself for racism to take hold. The enjoyment of the other must also be seen as depriving us of our own enjoyment: "we work hard to build a community we cna be proud of and be happy within, but this goal is denied us by lazy scrounging foreginers. We can therefor not enjoy our community because they have stolen away from ust aht which would most fully realize our enjoyment." This is what Zizek sees as the logic of racism and anti-Semitism: the theft of enjoyment.

Furthermore, the Nazis claimed that, because there were so many Jewish people who occupied positions of wealth and power, then the state mus tbe strong and authoritative to counteract them.

On the one hand, therefore, we find in fascinst propaganda the portrayal of Jewish people as less than human -as insects and rodents - o that it is easier to rationally justify their extermination and, on the other, the attribution to them of excessive power and influence. That is to sya, a dual process is taking plce whereby the dehumanizing of the o ther is accompanied by an inflation of the other's power and strenght. If a particular group is so small and significant that we can simply stamp them out then why bother? They cannot pose that much of a threat. We must eradicat ethe other precisely because by they are rich, powerful and influential they are depriving us of our rightful position in society. What wee find in anti-Semitism is that vicious cycle arituclated through the superego, whereby the law - the prohibition that maintains and regulates the social order - draws its strength from that which it excludes. The more authoritarian a regime becomes the greater the threat against it mus tbe presumed to be. Nazi ideology, therefore, involves a particualr fantasy structure that allows that subject to reconcile the apprently contradictory positions that the Jewish people are at once less than human and as such represent an insidious threat to 'our way of life' and at the same time are superhuman, hence their greater power, influence and success.

According to psychoanalysis, there is always a good and a bade side to fantasy. There is the blissful dream state beyond the mundane aspects of our lives and the horrors of modern civilization, but this is always acompanied by a darker side that involves envy, irritation and malice. Totalitarianism povides a perfect illustration of this dual structure. FIrs,t there is the utopian side - the fantasy of the perfect state as a unified harmonious community of organically, naturally, linked people. This utopianism however, is always accompanied by its opposite - those fantasies of plots, conspiracies and threats that stop the realization of this utopia. THus, argues Zizek, insoar as a community expeirences its reality as regulated and harmoniously structured, it has to repress the inehrent conflcit at its veyr heart. In other words, for a utopian fantasy to work, it presupposes the disavowal and repression of part of itself, and its effectiveness depends on how wwell it does this. Fo the Nazis, the Jews performed precisely this function. The figure of 'the Jew' is the preconditon for anti-Semitic ideology; it is that which sustains anti-Semitism. What Zizek calls the 'conceptual Jew' must be invented and sustained at the level of fantasy for anti-Semitic ideology to work. Interestingly, aruges Zizek, Nazi ideology was often most virulent in those areas of Germany that had the fewest Jews. PAradoxically, then the smaller the threat and the actual number of Jews present, the greater their power was perceived to be. This in turn, of course, legitimates a greater use of repression and force, which in turn presupposes a stronger threat agaisnt it.

This is the vicious, self-punishing, cycle of the superego.

  1. 1994:55