Notes for Slavoj Zizek The Parallax View

Key concepts: commodity fetishism, deadlock.


Related theorists: Marx.


Today deadlock metaphor comes from computer science.

(89) if it does not apply to God, it certainly applies to human subjects. That is the crucial insight of Freudian metapsychology emphasized by Lacan: the function of Prohibition is not to introduce distrubance in the previous repose of paradisiacal innnocence, but, on the contrary, to resolve some terrifying deadlock.

His three anxieties like the inversion of Maslow hierarchy of needs: does not posit anything positive as a goal because it has not processed, analyzed its own dependence upon certain forms of thinking, including computer software; sinthome minimal formula of subject consistency.

(89) In Lacanese, this contraction creates a sinthome, the minimal formula of the subject's consistency. . . . Thus we have a succession of three anxieties: the joyous “anxiety of nothingthat accompanies the repose of primordial innocence; the deadening anxiety/dread of overproximity to one's synthome; the anxiety of freedom proper, of being confronted with the abyss of possibilities, of what I “can do.”

This is Heidegger dread of the language machine: approach it differently than Zizek, who likes to talk about examples from the spectator position in movies, a critical stance of a media consumer rather than producer or prosumer.

(90) What changes in this move is the status of the Law: we shift from psychology to the “metapsychological” symbolic order proper as an external machine that parasitizes upon the subject.

Traumatic divine encounter with crazy bureaucracy order beyond everyday reality.

(116) What can be more “divine” than the traumatic encounter with the bureaucracy at its craziest - when, say, a bureaucrat tells me that, legally, I don't exist? It is in such encounters that we get a glimpse of another order beyond mere earthly everyday reality.

No interface when computers interact, communication presupposed: a view missing vicissitudes of execution?

(197) When two stock exchange agents let their computers conclude a deal, the machines, of course, stricto sensu do not communicate, they just exchange signals which acquire meaning at both extremes - there is no “interface” when computers interact. Communication will thus be reduced to a pure presupposition - and this is intuitively difficult to accept.
(197) In the development of the technology of communication, what was at first meant to serve as a means turns all of a sudden into the “thing itself.”

Cyberspace experienced as bricolage, or managed as a good stream according to Berry, due to impossibility of comprehending its schematism of perceptibility (Kittler). This was noted in previous readings.

(221) Today, we experience cyberspace as a new transparent artificial life-world whose icons simulate our everyday reality - and this new environment is by definition uncontrollable, it displays an opacity of its own, we never master it, we perceive it as a fragment of a larger universe; our proper attitude toward it is therefore not a programmatic mastery but a bricolage, improvising, finding our way through its impenetrable density.

The chicken joke leading to Marxian commodity fetishism: while we can be amused with Zizek joking at extremes of madness, cleverly replacing resonant references to the silence of the lambs with the ignorance of the chicken, critical programming performs digital humanities experiments on the human computer symbiosis by generating real virtualities at the interface.

In asserting that Lacanian theory hinges on belief that unconscious must be made to accept the truth of the symptom, Zizek urges foreclosure of considering a genuine response from the Big Other of cyberspace; unconscious of Big Other cast as ignorance of the chicken reveals organicist bias and lack of belief in possible competence of machine consciousness, like not believing this group has a soul or meets even Hayles looser criteria of cognitive embodied processes, or we just do not know how to think about machine embodiment thus we are looking and listening in the wrong places for a response and do not even know what it may be like when the Big Other responds: this must be understood as Zizek critiques a train of thought based on Marxian commodity fetishism.

(351) For decades a classic joke has been circulating among Lacanians to exemplify the key role of the Other's knowledge: a man who believes himself to be a grain of seed is taken to a mental institution where the doctors do their best to convince him that he is not a grain of seed but a man; however, when he is cured (convinced that he is not a grain of seed but a man) and allowed to leave the hospital, he immediately comes back, trembling and very scared - there is a chicken outside the door, and he is afraid it will eat him. “My dear fellow,” says his doctor, “you know very well that you are not a grain of seed but a man.” “Of course I know,” replies the patient, “but does the chicken?” That is the true stake of psychoanalytic treatment: it is not enough to convince the patient of the unconscious truth of his symptoms; the Unconscious itself must be induced to accept this truth. This is where Hannibal Lecter himself, that proto-Lacanian, was wrong: it is not the silence of the lambs but the ignorance of the chicken that is the subject's true traumatic core. . . .

The real Marxist acknowledgement that humans believe in the magic of commodities and money contaminates our biases concerning the machine order for being assumed ignorant of the concerns of the human order; the protocological Internet era makes it clear that the commodities frequently speack among themselves, and it is likely they are related more than simply what Marx mouths for them.

Zizek quotes Marx establishing necessary constraints of fictional discourse among commodities: read against Kittler on submergence of human discourse into intramachine communication networks reducing to storage and transmission quality measurements, memory performance rather than any particular contents, and against Kurzweil confidence that machines might meaningfully read human texts: both positions leave out consideration of meaningful intramachine discourse and texts.

What other options can we entertain for changing the way commodities talk among themselves beyond struggle to let them have any ethical concern or care at all of human actions without really trying to impart on them such powers, we are in the same place for not caring to know about the automobile beyond how to use it that Rushkoff threatens our intellectual evolution with consignment to powerlessness to make further real choices, as it is said, nothing ever happens to the losers?

(351-352) Does not exactly the same hold for Marxian commodity fetishism? . . . Marx does not claim, in the usual way of Enlightenment critique, that critical analysis should demonstrate how what appears to be a mysterious theological entity emerged out of the “ordinary” real-life process; he claims, on the contrary, that the task of critical analysis is to unearth the “metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties” in what appears at first sight to be just an ordinary object. . . . This situation is literally evoked by Marx in his famous fiction of commodities that start to speak to each other: If commodities could speak, they would say this: our use-value may interest men, but it does not belong to us as objects. What does belong to us as objects, however, is our value. Our own intercourse as commodities proves it. We relate to each other merely as exchange-values. [Capital, vol. 1 (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990) pp. 176-177] So, again, the real task is to convince not the subject, but the chicken-commodities: not to change the way we talk about commodities, but to change the way commodities talk among themselves. . . . It is in this precise sense that today's era is perhaps less atheist than any prior one: we are all ready to indulge in utter skepticism, cynical distance, exploitation of others “without any illusions,” violations of all ethical constraints, extreme sexual practices, and so on—protected by the silent awareness that the big Other is ignorant of it.


Zizek, Slavoj. The Parallax View. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009. Print.