Zizek on the Paradoxes of Rape

There is something erroneous about Zizek’s logic on the paradoxes of the rape fantasy. Here are the two steps in his argument: (1) he claims that the fantasy of rape meets a traumatic moment when it is performed in real life, and (2) he claims, with the help of a David Lynch clip, that there is a devastation when the man in the scene arouses the rape fantasy in the woman and then declines to perform that function.  

 

So, let us produce a table to illustrate the problem. Let “Fantasy” indicate where the rape fantasy is present, “Reality” indicate that the rape has been performed, and “Trauma” indicate that there is a trauma present.

 

Fantasy | (1) No   (2) No  (3) Yes   (4) Yes
Reality  | (1) Yes  (2) No  (3) Yes   (4) No
Trauma | (1) Yes  (2) No  (3) Yes   (4) Yes

 

In case (1) we can see that the fantasy is not present, the reality is present, and therefore, without much surprise, the trauma is inflicted. In other words, we know that if somebody is raped, without them secretly desiring the rape, that it may provoke a trauma. Let us describe this as the “common understanding.” This is not the understanding that Zizek is providing.

 

In case (2) we can see that there has been no rape fantasy, no actual rape, and no trauma. We can describe this as the “commonplace preference,” a description I am happy to change. Zizek is also not outlining this position.

 

The final two positions are Zizek’s. In case (3) we can see that the fantasy is present and it is precisely because the fantasy is present that the reality of the rape is all the more traumatic. We might describe this position as “the violence of achieving our fantasies.” This is summarized well by Zizek when we wrote:

 

The ultimate point of irreconciliable difference between psychoanalysis and feminism is that of rape (and/or the masochist fantasies that sustain it). For standard feminism, at least, it is an a priori axiom that rape is a violence imposed from without: even if a woman fantasizes about being raped, this only bears witness to the deplorable fact that she has internalized the male attitude. The reaction is here one of pure panic: the moment one mentions that a woman may fantasize about being raped or at least brutally mishandled, one hears the objections: ‘This is like saying that Jews fantasize about being gassed in the camps, or African-Americans fantasize about being lynched!’ From this perspective, the split hysterical position (that of complaining about being sexually misused and exploited, while simultaneously desiring it and provoking a man to seduce her) is secondary, while for Freud, it is primary, constitutive of subjectivity. Consequently, the problem with rape for Freud is that it has such a traumatic impact not simply because it is a case of such brutal external violence, but because it also touches on something disavowed in the victim herself. So when Freud writes, ‘If what [neurotics] long for the most intensely in their phantasies is presented them in reality, they none the less flee from it’, his point is not merely that this aversion occurs because of censorship, but, rather, that the core of our fantasy is unbearable to us. (Of course, this insight in no way justifies rape along the infamous lines ‘she just got what she fantasized about…’ – if anything, it makes it more violent: what could be more brutal than to impose on someone the traumatic core of his/her fantasy?)

 
It is the final, fourth, position which seems odd to me. If, in the third position, Zizek has claimed that rape is all the more traumatic if we fantasy it and then get it. Why is it that, in the fourth position, it is fantasizing about it and not getting it that is traumatic and brutal? In other words, Zizek claims that rejecting the fantasy results in psychological devastation. Within the clinic, psychoanalysts have long noted the prevalence of the rape fantasy – particularly among women. Unfortunately, the evidence on this is undeniable. Some people, many times these people are women, really do fantasy about being raped. However, these fantasies are not for them always traumatic or devastating. Why, then, does Zizek suggest that they are?

Here, I think Zizek may have made a slip.

There are times when simply having a rape fantasy is not troubling in of itself. Even after careful and prolonged analysis we might find that the rape fantasy was not at all the core of the problem, and neither did it contribute to any particular trauma. Indeed, many women who have rape fantasies are not at all victims of a trauma.

Yet, at the same time, if the rape fantasy has become dominant within the sexual life of a person then having that fantasy thwarted can indeed produce anxiety. For example, there is plenty of clinical evidence which suggests that some women who are in relationships with men who are do not ‘take charge’ in the bed room are unhappy sexually. On the other hand, there are plenty of women who do not want a man to ‘take charge’ in the bedroom and would not at all be put off if a man was more tender and humble while love making.

So, where does that leave us?

The man in the film may have imposed or triggered a rape fantasy within the woman but in his declining it we are supposed to or indeed permitted to understand that this was devastating for the woman. But was it more devastating than indeed achieving in reality the fantasy which was brought out in the woman? In other words, which is more traumatic: to achieve one’s fantasy in actual life or else to have it thwarted?

This is the question that was not addressed by Zizek.

This question is a much more difficult one to answer. Truthfully, there are cases when it is much more traumatic to achieve one’s fantasy than it is to have that fantasy thwarted, and yet there are also cases when it is much more traumatic to have a fantasy thwarted rather than to achieve it in reality. To answer this question we need to pay particular attention to the structure of the individual.

This is why we can say that trauma is a universal category of suffering even while the way in which this trauma is produced is not at all universal.

Postmodern Racism

In the United States, racial segregation was once justified to protect “whites,” now, with California State University as an example, racial segregation is justified to protect “blacks.” This is not to claim that there is something like “reverse racism” going on. On the contrary, what I want to highlight is the way ideological distortion functions to make the same situation – racial segregation – appear entirely different. Let us compare: first, whites have their own safe spaces (washrooms, classrooms, etc) from blacks to protect them from the invasion of decadence. The softening of the effect of this reality was to claim “separate but equal” status; second, today, blacks are said to have their own safe space to protect them from racism, build solidarity, etc.

If, in the first case, whites had the choice of segregation, then, in the second choice, blacks have the choice for segregation. So, what is the difference? The second choice is all the more racist and ruthless precisely because it shifts the choice onto the blacks for the segregation. Let us take the example that Zizek provides of the “modern” versus the “postmodern” father. The “modern” father orders the child to go to his grandmother. The result is that the child goes to his grandmother but retains an object of excuse, an object of hatred, an object of blame: the father. The way toward freedom is simply to overthrow or kill the father. But the “postmodern” father accepts the child’s choice to go to the grandmother. What is the consequence? If the child chooses to go to the grandmother then the same result is effected. But if the child chooses not to go then he has only to blame himself and live with the consequences: guilt. The “postmodern” father is therefore a much more effective and brutal authoritarian.

Is this not exactly what we see now playing out on the field of American racial politics? Here we have racial segregation in either case. If blacks do not freely choose to be segregated into their own “safe spaces” then they are nonetheless subjected to intensified racism. So, truthfully, segregation is here not a choice at all. If they choose to be segregated into safe spaces then the result is that they have participated in precisely the sort of racial segregation that American society has been built upon. The choice is therefore not one between segregation or integration – just as, in politics, the choice is not between revolution or reform. The problem runs much deeper than all of this: we must make a choice toward insurrection, that is, toward the uprooting of the racist ideology which exists deep within the unconscious of American civilization. The only way to do that, unfortunately, is to accept that it happened, that we are responsible for it, and that, finally, it won’t be easy to work through toward a solution.

Adam’s Fig

One of the basic lessons of psychoanalysis is that the object stands in place of the lack of a phallus. This is all the more apparent in the story of Adam from the three religions of the book. From Genesis, I highlight the following:

 

[2:25] And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

[…]

[3:1] Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
[3:2] The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;
[3:3] but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die. ‘”
[3:4] But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die;
[3:5] for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
[3:6] So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.
[3:7] Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
[3:8] They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
[3:9] But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”
[3:10] He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
[3:11] He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
[3:12] The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”
[3:13] Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

Above, we can read about the story of the origin of clothing.

In Lacan’s fourth seminar on object relations, when Lacan discussed the object of fetishism, he had this to say:

[…] we did not need to wait for Freud in order to broach the psychology of clothing. In every use of clothing, there is something that participates in the function of transvestism [defined as the address toward the lack in the other by way of the imaginary veil]. If the immediate, current, common understanding of the function of clothing is to hide the pudenda, the question must be complicated be it ever so little in the eyes of the analyst. […] Clothing is not only made to hide what one has, in the sense of having it or not, but also precisely what one does not have. Both functions are essential. It is not a matter, essentially and always, of hiding the object, but also of hiding the lack of the object.

I highlight this passage only to demonstrate the timeless truth concerning the function of clothing for the human animal: to hide what is missing, to veil what one doesn’t anyway already have. Note, then, that the three religions of the book have highlighted precisely that the clothing was to hide “nakedness” and not, as it were, to hide the substantial genital organs.

Isn’t this in of itself interesting enough? The wisdom of the book is to play against our typical understanding of clothing to hide our body parts. Instead, the book claims that clothing hides what is already hidden anyway, nakedness.

Thus, when G-d asked Adam, “who told you that you were naked?” The only answer could have been: the serpent, that is, what analysts refer to as the “phallic function.” It is only by obtaining some knowledge – made possible precisely by the castration complex, the phallic function – that knowledge of the lack, knowledge of being naked, is made possible. Knowledge therefore is the price we pay for our passage through the phallic function. I need not turn to Ecclesiastes to remind you that knowledge, though beneficial in some respects, always, inevitably, runs to its limit. Freud, when discussing the end of analysis, referred to this as the hard rock of castration.

But why did G-d ask Adam the question (e.g., “who told you that you were naked?”)? It is clear that G-d already knows “the secrets of heaven and earth, […] what ye reveal and what ye conceal.” Then, why did he ask the question if he already knew? Perhaps, he asked because of what we do not know – that is, what we are not capable of knowing, which is the lack itself. G-d perhaps wanted to see if our knowledge was properly situated in the field of the serpent, in the field of the Other, but he also wanted to highlight the fundamental fantasy which structures our dwelling in language. In other words, he wanted not simply to ensure for that the separation from the divine place (the Mother) had happened, but rather to ask us the question about our knowledge of the separation so that we might see for ourselves that the separation has happened – and the price we must pay for it.

Anarchism & Horizontal Identifications

Thomas Svolos makes a point that I think is particularly relevant for American anarchists. After all, there is a reason the logic of affinity, the groundless solidarity networks, consensus decision making, etc., take flight in anarchist circles within this continent. Freud, in his “Civilization and its Discontents, actually identified “horizontal identification” as a unique aspect of American civilization and its ego relations. Svolos continues, “[t]his sharp observation has many ramifications, including its impact on the very formation of Lacanian psychoanalysis and its institutions in the United States, where the levelling aspect of American equality identified by de Tocqueville — with its horizontal identifications — is more challenging terrain to the development of psychoanalysis with its focus on singularity — in contrast to any identification — than the hierarchical, vertically identified, social structures of Europe, more conducive to the establishment of the psychoanalytic transference (Svolos, 2005).

Does this not explain, among other things, why post-anarchism has become more popular in Anglo-American circles, despite the fact that it draws heavily from the continental French tradition of philosophy? But why? It is because the Anglo-American anarchist has found in French continental philosophy something that is missing within French continental philosophy: anarchism. The accentuation, then, is on the horizontal identifications of groups, etc., rather than, for example, the radically individualist – if I may put it like that – characterization of French continental philosophy.

Three Points: Philosophical, Psychoanalytical, and Mystical

Today I find a shared truth among four traditions of thinking: Lacanian, Badiouan, Masonic, and Islamic. More broadly, I would say that this is a truth shared among psychoanalysis, philosophy, and mysticism.

I begin with Lacan.

Lacan claimed that the real can only be taken in in ‘bits,’ that is, point by point. The symbol “<>,” which finds itself between each of the two terms of many Lacanian mathemes, is named a “punch” (from the French “poincon”). The original French word has some relation to the word “point” in English. This makes sense given the context of the Borromean knot: there where two rings are brought together, at the point of intersection, is what Lacan names a “point.” Thus, in the twenty-second seminar, Lacan said: “There is nonetheless a way to defne what is named a ‘point’, namely, that it is something strange, which Euclidean geometry has not defned […] A point within Euclidean geometry has no dimension at all, zero dimensions. It is contrary to the line […] [which has] one, two, three dimensions. Is it not, in the defnition given to us of a point from Euclidean geometry, that which intersects two straight lines?”

Interestingly, if we separate the French root word for “point” from “poincon” we are left with “con,” which means any number of things, including: “cunt,” “asshole,” “shit,” “prick,” and even “bloody.” We are here dealing with the rims of the erogenous zones (e.g., asshole), as well as objects of those zones (e.g., shit). I can not provide a full account of the punch within Lacanian mathemes. In a sense, I am using it in a fairly restricted way to imply ‘is in some relation with’ (e.g.,‘Object is put in some relation with Object’). However, I do want to point out that a punch represents the possibility of at least four relations for Lacan, including envelopment (‘>’), development (‘<’), disjunction (‘∧’), and conjunction (‘∨’).

A point must be that which from within infnity folds back upon itself, as if by two strings overlapping one another, or as if by one string overlapping itself, so as to produce a buckle within the plane of infnity itself, and so as to establish, in the case of Euclid, an entire system of transcendental geometry. Recall that the frst defnition in Euclid’s Elements, which, it should be mentioned, was preceded by absolutely nothing, was the following: “a point is that which has no part.” An entire system of philosophy, of mathematical geometry, was founded upon a single point. Here we could even claim that the Euclidean concept of a point is not altogether different from Badiou’s notion of a point. Badiou has claimed that:

A point in a world is something like a crucial decision in existence: you have to choose between two possibilities [and only two possibilities]. The first one is completely negative, and will destroy the whole process of a truth […] The second one is completely affirmative, and will […] clarify the truth […] But we have no certainty concerning the choice. It is a bet. A point is the moment where a truth have to pass without guarantee.

If the entire Euclidean geometry was built off of the notion of a point, a concept which has no ground, finds itself to be dimensionless, and serves as the symbolic foundation (S1) of everything which followed it, then, with Badiou, we could think that it was a wager, a choice, a bet, which secured for thousands of years a ground for philosophical and mathematical thought. With the point we have to make a decision: to remain ignorant of the geometric laws which were so important to the craftsman and philosophers of the time, or to take a leap to faith and assume the point as foundation. Thus, a point has at least two defnitions: frst, it is represented topologically as the intersection of one string over itself, or of one string over another, and; second, it is understood as a decision to remain true to something which has yet no proper existence in the world of thought.

yod-in-a-triangle

Within Masonic thought we often refer to “yod,” in fact it is one of the principal logos on our Scottish Rite rings. Mackey claims:

[Yod is] initial letter of the word Jehovah, the Tetragrammaton, and hence [it] was peculiarly sacred among the Talmudists. Basnage, while treating of the mysteries of the name of Jehovah among the Jews, says of this letter: the yod in Jehovah is one of those things which eye hath not seen, but which has been concealed from all mankind. Its essence and matter are incomprehensible; it is not lawful so much as to meditate upon it.

Man may lawfully revolve his thoughts from one end of the heavens to the other, but he cannot approach that inaccessible light, that primitive existence, contained in the letter Yod and indeed the masters call the letter thought or idea, and prescribe no bounds to its efficacy. It was this letter which, flowing from the primitive light, gave being to emanations. It wearied itself by the way, but assumed a new vigor by the sense of the letter t which makes the second letter of the Ineffable Name.

In Symbolic Freemasonry, the god has been replaced by the letter G. But in the advanced Degrees it is retained, and within a triangle, as in the illustration, constitutes the symbol of the Deity.

Here we have an approach toward a profound truth, once again. The Yod, which is a point with a bit of a tapered off tail attached to it, is the beginning of the symbolic word.

alif-letter-chart

Similarly, in the Sufi tradition there has been extensive thought put into the ‘mystery letters’ of the Qur’an. These are frequently referred to as “Muqatta`at” or the “disconnected” or “disjoined” letters. The significance of the letters are unknown to readers of the Qur’an, and we are not permitted to have a dogmatic attitude when we speculative about them. However, we may speculate. The founder of the Baha’i Faith wrote a commentary on those letters, in which he stated that Allah cried: “O Pen! Set down the mysteries of pre-existence upon the Perspicuous, Snow-White Tablet.” The pen then weeps tears and stands up “between the hands of G-d,” and “there appear[s] within its tears a black hue.” This black hue forms a drop and falls onto the Tablet. He continues, “whereupon the Point [is] made manifest in the world of origination.”

What happens next is rather incredible. After the point, there formed the Alif – the Alif is, if you look at it closely, remarkably similar in form to the Hebrew Yod. You might even claim that they are essentially the same character.

Thus, through three traditions, or four bodies of thought, a shared truth exists. The question I find myself asking is the following: is it possible to work through these traditions to reveal the way in which they share fundamental understandings of the process of a truth? My belief is that only philosophy can articulate this, only psychoanalysis can produce this, and only mysticism can experience this.

The Instance of the Letter in the Qur’an

I do not have time to develop this so I am merely keeping record of it here in my blog. Recall in a previous post that I argued that the Quranic teachings are some of the most sane teachings there are in the religious world. In Lacanian thought, to be put in a very basic way, it is the letter or the record – the re-cord, which is like a cord that wraps around itself into a knot – that produces our fundamental sense of sanity, our neuroses (rather than, for example, psychoses). The alternative is an unknotting, or a not-knot, that is, madness.

In the Qur’an, Surah 68, it is written (translation):

By the Pen

And by the (Record)

Which (men) write —

Thou art not,

By the grace of thy Lord,

Mad or possessed.

The “Bar” and the “Split” Subject

pink-shorts-split-o

The distinction that I am trying to add to the traditional discussion of the “split subject” concerns the “bar” and the “split.” It is possible that some theorists might be tempted to describe the split only as a “bar” (e.g., what Lacan coined the “s-barred”), a bar which keeps the speaking-being from accessing the ontological coordinates of subjectivity. For example, in traditional Lacanian semiotic theory the “bar” operates to keep the system of signifiers from ever reaching the signified except by introducing another signifier or another meaning.1 The etymological distinction between “bar” and “signifier” is crucial: if “bar” describes an attempt to “fasten” or “obstruct” so as to prevent something dangerous from spilling out – it is therefore a barrier – then “split” describes an attempt by the subject to separate a given unity or whole by promoting an inherent crack of fissure. The bar is an act of primary repressive defence against the powerful effects of the real. In this case, the subject is at war with itself, but, ultimately, must be located on the side of the repressive defence mechanism, the ego. But the split is an act of subjectivity itself, it is the widening of a crack or fissure in the ego and an attempt to push through the walls of defence. Does this not help to explain why Jacques-Alain Miller wrote that “this barred ‘s’ is fundamentally a subject who does not keep to his place”?2

1“[The signified] is always moving towards […] another meaning” (Lacan, Seminar III., p. 137).

2Jacques-Alain Miller. “‘A’ and ‘a’ in Clinical Structures,” The Symptom. As Retrieved on August 19th, 2016 from <http://www.lacan.com/symptom6_articles/miller.html>