Zizek and the Event of the Past.

In his book “Event”, the chapter section ‘Connection 5.2’, Slavoj Zizek, in his usual manner of changing the stakes of the game in the middle of the game, discusses what he notes Delueze calls the “pure past”.

I think Zizek kind of fails at this attempt (at least we can safely excuse Delueze’s ‘Zennnnnnnnnnnn Ohhmmmmm’ descriptions for being too close to the Event). And this is significant because Zizek is famous for keeping his juggling balls in the air; I think he dropped one.

(around page 126)

…”eternal pure past which fully determines us itself subjected to retroactive change.”

“This perhaps, is the ultimate meaning of the singularity of Christ’s incarnation: it is an act which radically changes our destiny. Prior to Christ, we were determined by Fate, caught in the cycle of sin and its payment, while Christ’s erasing of our past sins means precisely that his sacrifice changes our virtual past and thus sets us free”

“…the real task of Caesar is to become worthy of the events he has created to embody.”

“…a kind of folding back of the condition onto the given it was the condition for: While the pure past is the transcendental condition for our acts, our acts do not only create new actual reality, they also retroactively change this very condition. “

First of all: When does this happen? I say, it doesn’t happen for everyone, that it only happens for some people. Explanation, even if it makes sudden sense to many people, does not ‘make it happen’ to them. It may allow them to deeply ponder the possibilities, but it doesn’t ‘make it happen’. More on that later.

Here (the quotes) is one moment where Zizek is just about losing it, has really no argument to make and such ‘fudges’ discourse to ‘push’ out a meaning. It really is discursive gymnastics, but this time he didn’t nail the landing. But it’s Zizek, so he can do those things and people just oooo and aaaa.

He is saying nothing there: He is putting out and taking away as if there is some residue of substance that remains in the motion.

The pure past as a condition which exists as a transcending condition which determines outcomes (eternally, atemporally), that actually places acts in the non-transcending reality, becomes changed by the very act of the act taking place as an act.

Sounds profound. But when one considers what it can mean as a possibility, which is to say, if we bring the meaning of the statement(s) into a field of meaning to try and have it compare to what is occurring in our consideration of it, it is actually saying that there is no ‘pure past’, or that the very notion of the ‘pure past’ that occurs in this way is utterly theoretical, and unconditional by its very nature (it is transcendent). We have to wonder then how we are even able to come to any understanding at all of what that can mean, since if the pure past is transcendent to the situation of the act, then how in the act can there ever have been a condition which transcends it? Only in a partial reality, one that defies Zizek’s psychoanalysis, can there be an aspect of something which transcends that same something.

We have only to conclude that we have found the opposite of what Z says earlier of the philosophical police that he talks about earlier: We are not in the business of finding where ‘nothing’ has been committed, in the effort to find the proponent of totality.

Our effort here is to find out where that totality has been breached, where ‘nothing’ is being posited as ‘actually something’. He has made an error by conflating his philosophical psychoanalytic with real (impossible) determinations. He has come upon an overt instance where, for his discourse to have weight, a totality and partiality must intertwine; so, where his psychanalytic is the situation of totality, he must be able to bridge totality into partiality in philosophical discourse. The problem here is that the only way he can do it is to resort to the transcendental aspect by which partiality is able to be partial; this is to say, he must leave his total psychanalytic world and admit that it is not a totality. In most of his discourses he does well at translating what is inherently partial (symbolic, imaginary) into what how it is not only real (unattainable and impossible to estimate or transcribe) but true (the description of the total system); his philosophy is that his Lacanese phychoanalysis can account for the totality in partial terms, which is to say he proposes to be speaking of reality but as well and most pertinent, all of human reality; this is his cultural theoretical part. But, in the effort here to describe how acts change the condition of past determinations, he has stepped too far out into the partial world that it becomes noticeable; the suturing, the discursive stitches can be seen.

We might come upon this view when we consider that we are not caught in an illusion of any sort, that from the psychoanalysis point of view, we come upon subjectivity through a total sense which designates as it marks off, coordinates as it distinguishes, every aspect of what we call reality. In this, we know what the past, present and future is, if only by mere convention.

Consider what Z is presenting here and what he is attempting to show. The Event, in this case, is the case of subjectivity as it has a past that determines the field of contingency which shows up in a life a reality. He is trying to show or describe that the past is changed as a necessary element of its constitution for a present subjectivity, and that this change is an Event, that this is what an event is. He is attempting this feat in light of what is usually understood as temporal order. The regular uncritical version of things is that events are understood laid down and fixed in their place, they occur and become manifested against the contingency of the present which occurs mediated through choice-act. Choice is commonly understood to fix variability into a specific and unchangeable state. The manner by which we go about life is that we make choices upon fixed situations, and these choices determine the condition of ‘future presents’ upon which choices will be then made.

Zizek, as usual, is disturbing this notion. He is saying that the act of choosing does more than determine a set of conditions for the future; he is saying that present acts change the past even while the past remains fixed in its determination, that the act (of choosing) also changes the condition of the past whereby we have a decision to make. In short, he is positing a blatant totality as partial, which is a weak move in one sense, and negating of the psychoanalytic he wields so well.

That is contradictory. If we are to remain in the true telling of a total reality (what Zizek does so well), we would like to be able not to notice blatant, unresolvable contradiction. What Zizek has done is presented us with such a contradiction and then fails to resolve or resituate it like he is famous for. He merely states the same contradiction in various ways, but he cannot get beyond the quite stubborn condition that the only way you can change an unchangeable state is to talk about a different state. Zizek is a master of transformation; the only way he can transform this particular state is to deny it, to use a smudging of discourse to appear like he is not merely saying outright that ‘here is another contradiction that I am resolving’; his talent is in showing us and thus transforming a state into a different state. Here, Zizek has merely used different phrases to show us that one and two are mutually exclusive but while saying that they are uniformly intersectional and interdependent. That is hardly the level of what we usually expect from Zizek and, frankly, clumsy and premature. But some situations cannot be glossed over, even by an expert glassier like Slavoj.

Good try.

4 thoughts on “Zizek and the Event of the Past.

  1. I find this post really interesting. But I need clarification, because I’d like to defend Zizek vis-a-vis the quotes you gave. But I understand where you are coming when you say “discursive gymnastics”, so rather than be a mindless sycophant for Zizek, I need to understand more about why you say his discourse is breaking down here. Is it because he’s just stretching how much the psychoanalytic theory really applies to reality? It seems to me he is definitely being metaphorical to a certain extent. For example, with the Event changing the past- its just a more complex version of “who controls the past, controls the future”. Or is it the apparent lack of self-awareness about the metaphorical aspect of this discourse?

    1. If you don’t mind, I think your question has allowed me to speak to this post more clearly, so I am putting your comment and my reply as a post.

      Absolutely please comment on my answer.

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