Ethics and Politics

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Although Zizek tries to isolate a certain emancipatory kenrel of religion, he emphasizes that he is an absolute materialist.

One of the trends to which he is very mcuh opposed is the recent post-secular theological turn of deconstruction; the idea being that while there is no ontotheological God there is nonetheless some kind of unconditional ethical injunction up to which we cannot ever live.

What re-emerges here is a split between ethics and politics. Ethics stands for the unconditional injunction which you can never fulfil and so you have to accept the gap between unconditional injunction and the always contingent failed interventions that you make. Ethics becomes the domain of the unconditional, spectrality, Otherness and so on, whereas politics consists of practical interventions. This Levinasian Otherness can then be forumalted directly as the divine dimension, or it can be forumalted just as the messianic utopian dimension inherent to language as such and so on.

Zizek thinks Lacanian ethics breaks out of this. Lacan cannot be incorporated into this paradigm. What LAcan does is rpecisely to assert the radical politicization of ethics; not in the sense tat ethics should be subordianted to power struggles, but in terms of accepting radical contingency. THe elementary political position is one that affirms this contingency and this means that you don not have any guarantee in any norms whatsoever. You have to risk and to decide. This is the lesson of Lacan. DO not compromise your desire. Do not look for support in any form of big Other. You must risk the act without guarantee.

In this sense the ultimate foundation of ethics is political. And for Lacan, depoliticized ethics is an ethical betrayal because you put the blame on the Other. Depoliticized ethics means that you rely on some figure of the big Other. But the Lacanian act is precisely the act in which you assum e that there is no big Other.

The Lacanian politicization of ethics, in terms of the subject's full responsibility for the act, would also seem to imply that ethical acts are Real acts insofar as they do not rely on any symbolic Other. THe Real in ethico-politics is not simply an ultimate blockage that we cannot do anything about, but becomes a basic dimension of any emancipatory act.

The usual reading of the Lacanian Real is that of a transcendental a prior obstacle which is then misrepresented as a contingent external obstacle. Here, the impossibility of the Real is understood in the sense that it is impossible to happen. THis is the anamorphic view of the Real, where all you ahve is secondary approximations, partial approaches and so on; Real is the central thing that we cannot approach directly. The sexual act as Real would mean that it's never fully the Real tThing. This perspective on the Real presents Lacanian theory as a kind of elevation of failure: all we can do is fail in an authentic way and then we can never get the THing itself.

Zizek argues that this is not hte ultimate horizon of the Lacanian Real and that in a way Real-as-impossible means that it happens. For Lacan miracles happen and that's the Lacanian Real. The Real is impossible only in the sense that you canot symbolize or accept it. For example, when you do something cracy, like a heroic act, which goes against all your interests, there the Real happens - you cannot justify or explain it. So the Lacanian Real is not Real-as-impossible in the sence that it cannot happen or that we can never encounter it. The ethical act is Real. If we read Real-as-impossible in this basic sense of failure, then this would simply mean in Kantian terms that we cannot ever be sure that we really did the real thing; that it really was a free act. As Kant says, we cannot ever be sure that any of ours acts was truly an ethical act. There is always a suspicion that we did it for some pathological reasons; even if you truly risk your life, maybe you had a narcissitic fatnasy of howyou would be admired afterwards and so on. SO you cannot ever be sure.

For Zizek, we do perform the Real thing, the free act, but we find it too traumatic to accept it; which is why we like to rationalize them in symbolic terms.

The truly traumatic thing is that miracles do happen but its very difficult to come to terms with them. For Lacan, Real is not this kind of Thing-in-itself that we cannot approach; Real is, rather, freedom as a radical cut in the texture of reality.