Blog Contributors Wanted, Needed, and Desired (Hard!)

Sublime Objects (i.e., the blog you’re currently visiting) was originally envisioned as a group blog aimed at facilitating group discussion of issues mostly relating to radical political theory and philosophy (with an openness to posts on topics outside that main focus). Unfortunately, it has not been a regular, active site, so I’m basically calling it officially inactive, until there is more interest.

If you think you have an interest and could see yourself regularly, or semi-regularly contributing posts to this blog please email: allenganderson@yahoo.com

Until then, I’ll be blogging at The Grand Ampersand.

Zizek and the Ideology of “Spirituality Without Religion.”

At my other (solo) blog, The Grand Ampersand, I’ve posted a piece on Zizek, that might be of interest to those who have visited Sublime Objects. The other blog, is more focused on religious studies, theology, and Continental philosophy of religion. So if these topics interest anyone who may be reading this, go there. The Grand Ampersand will likely be the more active of the two blogs, until Sublime Objects can generate more interest.

Stockholm Syndrome and False Consciousness

Stockholm syndrome is a peculiar, but well-documented psychological phenomena, almost exclusively associated with the trauma of hostage situations (though it is also common among victims of sex-trafficking). Essentially, its a bizarre coping mechanism in which the victim, usually a hostage, acquires strong, positive feelings – empathy, sympathy – towards the captor. The phenomenon itself is apparently named for a bank robbery that took place in the seventies in Stockholm, Sweden. Hostages were held in a bank vault at gunpoint for four days, and when the police finally made an attempt to free them, the victims defended their captors and fought against the police. This interesting article lists the following as conditions under which Stockholm Syndrome may occur:

  • Perceived threat to survival and the belief that one’s captor is willing to act on that threat
  • The captive’s perception of small kindnesses from the captor within a context of terror
  • Isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor
  • Perceived inability to escape.

Interestingly, each of these conditions is present in some form within the relations of production that define present economic reality. The relationship of the working class – understood here as those who, lacking ownership of the means of production, must sell their labor to those who do in order to survive – to the capitalist class, is homologous to the hostage/captor relation. The predominance of “at-will employment,” for instance, represents a real, felt threat to the worker’s survival, and the willingness of the employer to allow the employee to work at all is, especially in times of economic recession, perceived as a great generosity. While it would be entirely too reductionist to propose something like this as a model for understanding “ideology” in general, perhaps something like a socio-economic “Stockholm Syndrome” plays a role in the production of ideology (or certain forms of ideology). I mean we’ve all witnessed the kind of manically self-imposed “just think positive thoughts” attitude that many exploited workers adopt – often vigorously defending their situation and turning a blind eye to how shitty the power dynamics in their workplace really are. Perhaps then this “Stockhlom Syndrome” plays a certain role in the repression of class-consciousness, or in the production of the kind of ideological “optimism” that Adorno and others in the Frankfurt school were so critical of. Questions? Comments? Criticisms?

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Updates and Hiatuses

by Allen G. Anderson

Apologies for the hiatus. I’m still working on getting the internet set up at the new apartment, so posting has been halted for the time being. Also, the original plan (to read through Ian Parker’s intro to Žižek) has been revised since the last post; after two more “general introductory” posts (on Žižek’s interpretation of Lacan, and Hegel respectively) we will be blogging through The Sublime Object of Ideology and skipping the secondary text. More to come soon…

Also I should mention that Adam Kotsko (of the blog An und für sich) has an interesting article in defense of Žižek in the LA Review of Books. Check it out here.

Ideology: From Marx to Žižek (via Althusser and…Pascal?)

by Allen G. Anderson

Following the schema borrowed from Tony Meyers, which I sketched out in the last blog, we can say that the motivation or purpose of Žižek’s writing is provided by Karl Marx (Meyers 18). This is the case because the overall aim of Žižek’s work is to fill a crucial theoretical gap in the Marxian critique of ideology. This is why the question of “how ideology effectively functions today?” is so central to Žižek’s work (and why one hears him repeat it so often). The concept of ideology, however, may not be clearly understood by most readers. We can get a better grasp of it by examining Marx’s Base/Superstructure model of society. I will then show how Žižek develops the classical Marxian notion of ideology in order to better apply it to our contemporary situation.

From Base/Supertructure to Ideology:

For Marx, society could usefully be described as consisting of two fundamental parts: what he called the base, and the superstructure respectively. Here, base designates the “existing method of economic organization” (Meyers, p18) – in other words, it refers to the specific relations of production that constitute a given economic system. For instance, the base of modern American and European society is constituted by a capitalist system of economy – a particular arrangement of relations between bankers, investors, entrepreneurs, business owners, and hired laborers. Superstructure on the other hand refers to the “cultural, political, and legal framework of a society” or, in other words, to the dominant ideology in that society (p18). For Marx, the particular character of a given society’s superstructure is determined, in large part, by it’s base. Thus, feudalism (i.e., the economic system of Medieval Europe consisting of serfs, landlords, royalty, and so on) gave rise to one form of ideology, while capitalism gives rise to another (what Žižek sometimes refers to as liberal-democratic multiculturalism).

The crucial point to take home is that whatever the particular character of the ideology it inevitably functions to disguise whatever inequalities and injustices there may be in the base by making it’s particular way of arranging society appear as natural or necessary. Thus, capitalism appears to most as the only way economic production can be arranged. More specifically, economics just is capitalism. In this way a society’s ideological framework has the effect of ensuring the continued reproduction of it’s particular mode of economic organization.

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Žižek: A Brief Introduction to His Main Influences

by Allen G. Anderson

Before we begin posting our reflections on Ian Parker’s Slavoj Žižek: A Critical Introduction, I thought it might be of some benefit to provide, in a series of three brief posts, a preliminary outline of the major themes of Žižek’s thought – I’ll share some insights gleaned from articles and other introductory texts (e.g., Tony Meyers’s, and Marcus Pound’s introductions) that I found particularly helpful in bringing me from a state of total mystification to a pretty decent grasp of the main coordinates of Žižekian philosophy.

The three most important influences in Žižek’s work are, of course, those of Hegel, Marx, and Jacques Lacan. These three are the constant thread throughout Žižek’s entire ouevre. Not one of them, however, remains exactly as they were before Žižek. As Žižek employs them, these three form a kind of perichoresis, a mutual interpenetration in which each is shaped, refined and developed in relation to the others. Žižek is quite explicit about this, for instance, at the beginning of The Sublime Object of Ideology when he claims that his aim is to read Hegel through the lens of Lacan so that both psychoanalysis (Lacan) and Hegelian dialectics may “redeem themselves, shedding their old skins and emerging in a new unexpected shape.”

For the purposes of this post (which is just intended to be a “pointer” in the direction of the next three blogs) we can depict the location of these three figures within Žižek’s thought in the following way: Marx (specifically the Marxian concept of ideology) provides the theoretical motivation behind Žižek’s work. Lacan (especially his concepts of “The Imaginary, The Symbolic, and The Real”) provides Žižek with a theoretical framework, specifically for exploring how ideology comes to occupy it’s subjects. Finally, Hegel’s notion of dialectical reason provides Žižek with a method for analyzing ideological belief (though Žižek develops this and makes it his own), and his particular brand of German Idealism provides a way to bridge the gap between Lacan and philosophy – transforming his psychoanalytic system into a properly philosophical one.

Bearing this schema in mind, I will be following up with three brief posts in the next few days, weeks, MONTHS(!) introducing the main themes from each of these three thinkers and showing how each is important to Žižek’s work. Then we will turn to our discussion of Ian Parker’s book.

Beginning With Žižek

by Allen G. Anderson

For some time now, I and the other authors of this blog have been among those held in thrall by the public spectacle of Slavoj Žižek. If you asked any of us for a reason, however, I’m not certain we could give you one. The reason for this is pretty straightforward: Despite all the time we may spend reading articles written by or about him (or, if we’re more honest, watching Youtube videos), we simply don’t understand him. It’s more than just the thick Slovenian accent–we simply lack a grasp of what he aims to do and how he aims to do it. Of course, there are certain basic keypoints we are all familiar with–that he is a part of a larger “Slovene Lacanian” school of critical theory; that he, like the rest associated with this school, seeks to bring together insights from Hegel, Lacanian psychoanalysis, and Marxism – Nevertheless, we continue to fail to understand why these particular thinkers should figure so prominently in his thought, and just what it is that each contributes to Zizek’s singular style of philosophy.

For these reasons the authors here will be “blogging through Zizek – reading, summarizing, assessing, and discussing each section of a given book before we move on to the next. In order to get a general orientation, we will begin with a secondary text, namely Ian Parker’s Slavoj Zizek: A Critical Introduction and then make our way to some of Zizek’s own major works – the first of which will most likely be his The Sublime Object of Ideology. With any luck, this discussion will help us to better understand Zizek’s work. In the end we hope that this discussion will represent but a small part of a much larger project to “blog through” the major figures in contemporary “Continental” philosophy.

Ultimately our aim is to facilitate discussion. Comments, questions, criticisms, and other contributions are always welcome here.