Monday, July 27, 2015

Wither Democracy?

The unexpectedly strong No in the Greek referendum was a historical vote, cast in a desperate situation. In my work I often use the well-known joke from the last decade of the Soviet Union about Rabinovitch, a Jew who wants to emigrate. The bureaucrat at the emigration office asks him why, and Rabinovitch answers: “There are two reasons why. The first is that I’m afraid that in the Soviet Union the Communists will lose power, and the new power will put all the blame for the Communist crimes on us, Jews – there will again be anti-Jewish pogroms . . .”

“But,” the bureaucrat interrupts him, “this is pure nonsense. Nothing can change in the Soviet Union, the power of the Communists will last for ever!”.

“Well,” responds Rabinovitch calmly, “that’s my second reason.”

I was informed that a new version of this joke is now circulating in Athens. A young Greek man visits the Australian consulate in Athens and asks for a work visa. “Why do you want to leave Greece?” asks the official.

“For two reasons,” replies the Greek. “First, I am worried that Greece will leave the EU, which will lead to new poverty and chaos in the country . . .”

“But,” interrupts the official, “this is pure nonsense: Greece will remain in the EU and submit to financial discipline!”

“Well,” responds the Greek calmly, “this is my second reason.”

Are then both choices worse, to paraphrase Stalin?

The moment has come to move beyond the irrelevant debates about the possible mistakes and misjudgments of the Greek government. The stakes are now much too high.

That a compromise formula always eludes in the last moment in the ongoing negotiations between Greece and the EU administrators is in itself deeply symptomatic, since it doesn’t really concern actual financial issues – at this level, the difference is minimal. The EU usually accuse Greeks of talking only in general terms, making vague promises without specific details, while Greeks accuse the EU of trying to control even the tiniest details and imposing on Greece conditions that are more harsh than those imposed on the previous government. But what lurks behind these reproaches is another, much deeper conflict. The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, recently remarked that if he were to meet alone with Angela Merkel for dinner, they would have found a formula in two hours. His point was that he and Merkel, the two politicians, would treat the disagreement as a political one, in contrast to technocratic administrators such as the Eurogroup president, Jeroen Dijsselbloem. If there is an emblematic bad guy in this whole story, it is Dijsselbloem whose motto is: “If I get into the ideological side of things, I won’t achieve anything.”

This brings us to the crux of the matter: Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister who resigned on 6 July, talk as if they are part of an open political process where decisions are ultimately “ideological” (based on normative preferences), while the EU technocrats talk as if it is all a matter of detailed regulatory measures. When the Greeks reject this approach and raise more fundamental political issues, they are accused of lying, of avoiding concrete solutions, and so on. And it is clear that the truth here is on the Greek side: the denial of “the ideological side” advocated by Dijsselbloem is ideology at its purest. It masks (falsely presents) as purely expert regulatory measures that are effectively grounded in politico-ideological decisions.

On account of this asymmetry, the “dialogue” between Tsipras or Varoufakis and their EU partners often appears as a dialogue between a young student who wants a serious debate on basic issues, and an arrogant professor who, in his answers, humiliatingly ignores the issue and scolds the student with technical points (“You didn’t formulate that correctly! You didn’t take into account that regulation!”). Or even as a dialogue between a rape victim who desperately reports on what happened to her and a policeman who continuously interrupts her with requests for administrative details. This passage from politics proper to neutral expert administration characterises our entire political process: strategic decisions based on power are more and more masked as administrative regulations based on neutral expert knowledge, and they are more and more negotiated in secrecy and enforced without democratic consultation. The struggle that goes on is the struggle for the European economic and political Leitkultur (the guiding culture). The EU powers stand for the technocratic status quo that has kept Europe in inertia for decades.

In his Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, the great conservative T S Eliot remarked that there are moments when the only choice is the one between heresy and non-belief, ie, when the only way to keep a religion alive is to perform a sectarian split from its main corpse. This is our position today with regard to Europe: only a new “heresy” (represented at this moment by Syriza) can save what is worth saving in European legacy: democracy, trust in people, egalitarian solidarity. The Europe that will win if Syriza is outmaneuvered is a “Europe with Asian values” (which, of course, has nothing to do with Asia, but all with the clear and present tendency of contemporary capitalism to suspend democracy).

***
In western Europe we like to look on Greece as if we are detached observers who follow with compassion and sympathy the plight of the impoverished nation. Such a comfortable standpoint relies on a fateful illusion – what has been happening in Greece these last weeks concerns all of us; it is the future of Europe that is at stake. So when we read about Greece, we should always bear in mind that, as the old saying goes, de te fabula narrator (the name changed, the story applies to you).

An ideal is gradually emerging from the European establishment’s reaction to the Greek referendum, the ideal best rendered by the headline of a recent Gideon Rachman column in the Financial Times: “Eurozone’s weakest link is the voters.”

In this ideal world, Europe gets rid of this “weakest link” and experts gain the power to directly impose necessary economic measures – if elections take place at all, their function is just to confirm the consensus of experts. The problem is that this policy of experts is based on a fiction, the fiction of “extend and pretend” (extending the payback period, but pretending that all debts will eventually be paid).

Why is the fiction so stubborn? It is not only that this fiction makes debt extension more acceptable to German voters; it is also not only that the write-off of the Greek debt may trigger similar demands from Portugal, Ireland, Spain. It is that those in power do not really want the debt fully repaid. The debt providers and caretakers of debt accuse the indebted countries of not feeling enough guilt – they are accused of feeling innocent. Their pressure fits perfectly what psychoanalysis calls “superego”: the paradox of the superego is that, as Freud saw it, the more we obey its demands, the more we feel guilty.

Imagine a vicious teacher who gives to his pupils impossible tasks, and then sadistically jeers when he sees their anxiety and panic. The true goal of lending money to the debtor is not to get the debt reimbursed with a profit, but the indefinite continuation of the debt that keeps the debtor in permanent dependency and subordination. For most of the debtors, for there are debtors and debtors. Not only Greece but also the US will not be able even theoretically to repay its debt, as it is now publicly recognised. So there are debtors who can blackmail their creditors because they cannot be allowed to fail (big banks), debtors who can control the conditions of their repayment (US government), and, finally, debtors who can be pushed around and humiliated (Greece).

The debt providers and caretakers of debt basically accuse the Syriza government of not feeling enough guilt – they are accused of feeling innocent. That’s what is so disturbing for the EU establishment about the Syriza government: that it admits debt, but without guilt. They got rid of the superego pressure. Varoufakis personified this stance in his dealings with Brussels: he fully acknowledged the weight of the debt, and he argued quite rationally that, since the EU policy obviously didn’t work, another option should be found.

Paradoxically, the point Varoufakis and Tsipras are making repeatedly is that the Syriza government is the only chance for the debt providers to get at least part of their money back. Varufakis himself wonders about the enigma of why banks were pouring money into Greece and collaborating with a clientelist state while knowing very well how things stood – Greece would never have got so heavily indebted without the connivance of the western establishment. The Syriza government is well aware that the main threat does not come from Brussels – it resides in Greece itself, a clientelist corrupted state if there ever was one. What the EU bureaucracy should be blamed for is that, while it criticized Greece for its corruption and inefficiency, it supported the very political force (the New Democracy party) that embodied this corruption and inefficiency.

The Syriza government aims precisely at breaking this deadlock – see Varoufakis’s programmatic declaration (published in the Guardian) which renders the ultimate strategic goal of the Syriza government:

A Greek or a Portuguese or an Italian exit from the eurozone would soon lead to a fragmentation of European capitalism, yielding a seriously recessionary surplus region east of the Rhine and north of the Alps, while the rest of Europe would be in the grip of vicious stagflation. Who do you think would benefit from this development? A progressive left, that will rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of Europe’s public institutions? Or the Golden Dawn Nazis, the assorted neofascists, the xenophobes and the spivs? I have absolutely no doubt as to which of the two will do best from a disintegration of the eurozone. I, for one, am not prepared to blow fresh wind into the sails of this postmodern version of the 1930s. If this means that it is we, the suitably erratic Marxists, who must try to save European capitalism from itself, so be it. Not out of love for European capitalism, for the eurozone, for Brussels, or for the European Central Bank, but just because we want to minimise the unnecessary human toll from this crisis.

The financial politics of the Syriza government followed closely these guidelines: no deficit, tight discipline, more money raised through taxes. Some German media recently characterised Varoufakis as a psychotic who lives in his own universe different from ours – but is he so radical?

What is so enervating about Varoufakis is not his radicalism but his rational pragmatic modesty – if one looks closely at the proposals offered by Syriza, one cannot help noticing that they were once part of the standard moderate social democratic agenda (in Sweden of the 1960s, the programme of the government was much more radical). It is a sad sign of our times that today you have to belong to a “radical” left to advocate these same measures – a sign of dark times but also a chance for the left to occupy the space which, decades ago, was that of moderate centre left.

But, perhaps, the endlessly repeated point about how modest Syriza’s politics are, just good old social democracy, somehow misses its target – as if, if we repeat it often enough, the eurocrats will finally realise we’re not really dangerous and will help us. Syriza effectively is dangerous, it does pose a threat to the present orientation of the EU – today’s global capitalism cannot afford a return to the old welfare state.
So there is something hypocritical in the reassurances of the modesty of what Syriza wants: it effectively want something that is not possible within the coordinates of the existing global system. A serious strategic choice will have to be made: what if the moment has come to drop the mask of modesty and openly advocate a much more radical change that is needed to secure even a modest gain?

Many critics of the Greek referendum claimed that it was a case of pure demagogic posturing, mockingly pointing out that it was not clear what the referendum was about. If anything, the referendum was not about the euro or drachma, about Greece in EU or outside it: the Greek government repeatedly emphasised its desire to remain in the EU and in the eurozone. Again, the critics automatically translated the key political question raised by the referendum into an administrative decision about particular economic measures.

***
In an interview with Bloomberg on 2 July, Varoufakis made clear the true stakes of the referendum. The choice was between the continuation of the EU politics of the last years that brought Greece to the edge of ruin – the fiction of “extend and pretend” (extending the payback period, but pretending that all debts will eventually be paid) – and a new realist beginning that would no longer rely on such fictions, and would provide a concrete plan about how to start the actual recovery of the Greek economy.

Without such a plan, the crisis would just reproduce itself again and again. On the same day, even the IMF conceded that Greece needs a large-scale debt relief to create “a breathing space” and get the economy moving (it proposes a 20-year moratorium on debt payments).

The No in the Greek referendum was thus much more than a simple choice between two different approaches to economic crisis. The Greek people have heroically resisted the despicable campaign of fear that mobilised the lowest instincts of self-preservation. They have seen through the brutal manipulation of their opponents who falsely presented the referendum as a choice between euro and drachma, between Greece in Europe and “Grexit”.

Their No was a No to the eurocrats who prove daily that they are unable to drag Europe out of its inertia. It was a No to the continuation of business as usual; a desperate cry telling us all that things cannot go on the usual way. It was a decision for authentic political vision against the strange combination of cold technocracy and hot racist clichés about the lazy, free-spending Greeks. It was a rare victory of principles against egotist and ultimately self-destructive opportunism. The No that won was a Yes to full awareness of the crisis in Europe; a Yes to the need to enact a new beginning.

It is now up to the EU to act. Will it be able to awaken from its self-satisfied inertia and understand the sign of hope delivered by the Greek people? Or will it unleash its wrath on Greece in order to be able to continue its dogmatic dream?
- Slavoj Zizek, "Greferendum: The Greeks are Correct"

Sunday, July 26, 2015

What is Fundamentalism?

....a reaction to the problems of global capitalism?

from the Washington Post
Dissatisfaction and protest are roiling the politics of summer 2015. They are evident in the response to the angry rhetoric from Donald Trump, in the crowds that come to hear Bernie Sanders bash Wall Street and in the rallies demanding racial justice. For presidential candidates, there is no safe harbor. Ignore the mood at your peril; engage it at your peril.

The discontent is real, whether economic, racial or cultural. It knows no particular ideological boundaries. It currently disrupts both the Republican and Democratic parties. It reflects grievances that long have been bubbling. It reflects, too, the impatience with many political leaders — what they say and how they say it.

The economic collapse of 2008 continues to ripple through the lives of many families, despite the drop in unemployment. Steady but slow growth has not been balm enough to give these families, many of whom see a system rife with inequity, much optimism about the future. Instead, they see the American Dream as part of the nation’s past.

The uproar over illegal immigration underscores the anger over what many still see as broken borders, an issue heightened by the recent killing in San Francisco of a young woman by an illegal immigrant with a criminal record who had been deported but returned to the country. But immigration also is tied to the broader cultural reaction to demographic changes that continue to remake the face of the country and generate tensions that are at the heart of political differences.

Racial issues remain front and center, whether the killings in a black church in Charleston by a young man who wanted to start a race war or repeated episodes that have raised hard questions of how police and law enforcement officials treat African Americans. All this is a reminder that, almost seven years after the election of the nation’s first black president and all of the progress that made that possible, work remains to be done.

It is tempting to try to dismiss Trump for what he is — a reality TV showman who talks as much about himself as anything else. The support he is receiving in national polls, however, suggests more than just a response to a celebrity with a loud voice. He has tapped into something.

Trump is not particularly conservative — or, more accurately, he seems to have no fixed ideology. He amplifies dissatisfaction without proposing real solutions to the country’s problems, other than building a big wall. Yet he speaks about things in a language so blunt and uncharacteristic of politicians that it wins visceral approval from disaffected Americans.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says Trump brings out the “crazies” in the Republican Party on the issue of immigration. In fact, Trump’s candidacy highlights the reality that there is an unresolved debate within the GOP about what to do about it. This is an argument of long standing. Each time McCain and other Republicans have stepped up to solve it with a comprehensive solution, they have been rebuffed by the party’s conservative base. Trump has scratched at the wound again this summer.

Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont who is running for the Democratic nomination, seems to be an extension of the Occupy Wall Street movement that began four years ago. That movement struggled to find political traction the way the tea party movement had two years earlier. But it nonetheless had an indelible impact on the political dialogue by framing the economic debate as the 99 percent vs. the 1 percent.

Obama carefully subsumed the unrest represented by the Occupy Wall Street movement into his middle-class message in 2012. In Mitt Romney, he found the perfect foil, an opponent he portrayed as an out-of-touch plutocrat. That was enough to win reelection.

Yet four years later, the Democrats find themselves debating not just Republicans about the economy but one another, as well. They debate how far left they should move to deal with the issues of income and wealth inequality and the power of what Sanders calls “the billionaire class.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton is part of the way there in responding to the economic unrest, at least rhetorically. Sanders says that she and he continue to have major disagreements on the particulars of what to do. The outpouring of support he has seen at events around the country and the recent rise in his poll numbers in New Hampshire and Iowa will keep the pressure on Clinton to keep responding. She will try to calibrate the extent of her move to the left.

The signs of discontent have flummoxed many of the presidential candidates. Each party wants this election to be about the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the other. Yet the intraparty strife cannot easily be ignored.

Republican candidates were slow to challenge Trump’s language on immigration — both those who strongly disagree with his positions and those who generally agree. Engaging Trump carries risks. He swings back hard, sometimes wildly but sometimes with the nimbleness and precision of a practiced politician.

Many Republicans want Trump to go away. But they are wary about trying to hasten his fall because they fear they will pay too high a price among those for whom he has provided a voice.

Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley went to the Netroots Nation convention a week ago, no doubt looking to find a sympathetic audience for their populist economic message. It was an event, after all, that Clinton did not attend, for the obvious reason that she likely would not have been welcomed.

Instead, though, Sanders and O’Malley were caught unprepared for the interruptions from the Black Lives Matter movement, and neither looked particularly adept or comfortable as they responded. Sanders seemed to throw up his hands in frustration over the interruption. Then he invoked his civil rights work as evidence that he stood with African Americans. O’Malley said that “all lives matter” and later apologized. Clinton was the lucky one for not having attended, but she will not escape the issue, either.

[Why Democrats are struggling to grasp Black Lives Matter]

Few Republicans expect Trump to become their party’s nominee. They worry that his candidacy alone, if left to run for months, could condemn them to another defeat in November 2016, even if he eventually disappears. Their other concern is that Trump might eventually run as an independent, in which case he could drain more than enough votes from their nominee to cost them the general election.

Not many Democrats yet think Sanders has the staying power to defeat Clinton, even if he can give her a good scare. Strange things happen in nomination contests. But Clinton’s advisers vow they will not be caught by surprise by an insurgency from the left.

Even if both Trump and Sanders end up merely as interesting characters rather than long-distance runners, the unrest that has contributed to the attention they are now receiving will remain. Distrust of the political class will infect the campaign, adding to the burdens the major party nominees will carry into the general election and beyond. It is embedded in the politics of now.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Necessary Dualisms

Already blushes in thy cheek
The bosom-thought which thou must speak;
The bird, how far it haply roam
By cloud or isle, is flying home;
The maiden fears, and fearing runs
Into the charmed snare she shuns;
And every man, in love or pride,
Of his fate is never wide.

Will a woman's fan the ocean smooth?
Or prayers the stony Parcae sooth,
Or coax the thunder from its mark?
Or tapers light the chaos dark?
In spite of Virtue and the Muse,
Nemesis will have her dues,
And all our struggles and our toils
Tighter wind the giant coils.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, July 24, 2015

From the Abstract to the Concrete

Paintings from the 1999 Bruce Beresford film, "Double Jeopardy"
(1) a publication

(2) a newspaper

(3) The San Francisco Chronicle

(4) the May 18 edition of the The San Francisco Chronicle

(5) my copy of the May 18 edition of the The San Francisco Chronicle

(6) my copy of the May 18 edition of the The San Francisco Chronicle as it was when I first picked it up (as contrasted with my copy as it was a few days later: in my fireplace, burning)
Wassily Kandinsky, "Study for the cover of der Blaue Reiter Almanac" (1911)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Scientia potentia est...

...In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographer's Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

- Suarez Miranda, Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV, Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658
- Jorge Luis Borges, "On Exactitude in Science" (translated by Andrew Hurley)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Do you have pulse? Are you breathing?

"Liberty is a bitch who must be bedded on a mattress of corpses."

"What constitutes a republic is the total destruction of everything that stands in opposition to it."

"The conspirators who have died, think you they were the children of liberty, because for one brief moment they resembled them?"

"Those who would make revolutions in the world, those who want to do good in this world must sleep only in the tomb."
- Louis Antoine Léon Florelle de Saint-Just

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Form vs. Substance?

The subject ($) is trapped by the Other through a paradoxical object-cause of desire in the midst if it (a), through this secret supposed to be hidden in the Other: $<>a -- the Lacanian formula of fantasy. (...) The fundamental Lacanian thesis of fantasy is that in the opposition between dream and reality, fantasy is on the side of reality: it is, as Lacan once said, the support that gives consistency to what we call 'reality'.

When Lacan says that the last support of what we call 'reality' is a fantasy, this is definitely not to be understood in the sense of 'life is just a dream', 'what we call reality is just an illusion', and so forth. (...) The Lacanian thesis is, on the contrary, that there is always a kernel, a leftover which persists and cannot be reduced to a universal play of illusory mirroring. The difference between Lacan and 'naive realism' is that for Lacan, the only point at which we approach this hard kernel of the Real is indeed the dream. When we awaken into reality after a dream, we usually say to ourselves 'it was just a dream', thereby blinding ourselves to the fact that in our everyday, wakening reality we are nothing but a consciousness of this dream. It was only in the dream that we approached the fantasy-framework which determines our activity, our mode of acting in reality itself.

The fascinating 'secret' [of a narration] is precisely the Lacanian objet petit a, the chimerical object of fantasy, the object causing our desire and at the same time--this is the paradox--posed retroactively by this desire; in 'going through the fantasy' we experience how this fantasy-object (the 'secret') only materializes the void of our desire.

[Lacan] tried to isolate [the] dimension of enjoyment as that of fantasy, and to oppose symptom ond fantasy through a whole set of distinctive features: symptom is a signifying formation which, so to speak, 'overtakes itself' towards its interpretation--that is, which can be analysed; fantasy is an inert consruction which cannot be analysed, which resists interpretation. Symptom implies and addresses some non-barred, consistent big-Other which will retroactively confer on it its meaning; fantasy implies a crossed out, blocked, barred, non-whole, inconsistent Other--that is to say, it is filling out a void in the Other.

Lacan put, at the end of the curve designating the question 'Che vuoi?' the formula of fantasy ($<>a): fantasy is an answer to this 'Che vuoi?' ; it is an attempt to fill out the gap of the question with an answer.

Fantasy appears, then, as an answer to 'Che vuoi?' , to the unbearable enigma of the desire of the Other, of the lack in the Other; but is is at the same time fantasy itself which, so to speak, provides the co-ordinates of our desire--which constructs the frame enabling us to desire something. The usual definition of fantasy ('an imagined scenario representing the realization of desire') is therefore somewhat misleading, or at least ambiguous: in the fantasy-scene the desire is not fulfilled, 'satisfied', but constituted (given its objects, and so on)--through fantasy, we learn 'how to desire'. In this intermediate position lies the paradox lies the paradox of fantasy: it is the frame co-ordinating our desire, but at the same time a defence against 'Che vuoi?' , a screen concealing the gap, the abyss of desire of the Other. Sharpening the paradox to its utmost--to tautology--we could say that desire itself is a defence against desire: the desire structured through fantasy is a defence against the desire of the Other, against this 'pure', trans-phantasmic desire (i.e. the 'death drive' in its pure form).

The way fantasy functions can be explained through reference to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason: The role of fantasy in the economy of desire is homologous to that of transcendental schematism in the process of knowledge (Baas, 1987). In Kant, transcendental schematism is a mediator, an intermediary agency between empirical content (contingent, inner-worldly, empirical objects of experience) and the network of transcendental categories: it is the name of the mechanism through which empirical objects are included in the network of transcendental categories which determine the way we perceive and conceive them (as substances with properties, sunmitted to casual links, and so on). A homologous mechanism is at work with fantasy: how does an empirical, positively given object become an object of desire; how does it begin to contain some X, some unknown quality, something which is 'in it more than it' and makes it worthy of our desire? by entering the framework of fantasy, by being included in a fantasy-scene which gives consistency to the subject's desire.

Fantasy conceals the fact that the Other, the symbolic order, is structured around some traumatic impossibility, around something which cannot be symbolized--i.e. the real of jouissance: through fantasy, jouissance is domesticated, 'gentrified'--so what happens with desire afetr we 'traverse' fantasy? Lacan's answer, in the last pages of his Seminar XI, is drive, ultimately the death drive: 'beyond fantasy there is no yearning or some kindred sublime phenomenon, 'beyond fantasy' we find only drive, its pulsation around the sinthome. 'Going-through-the-fantasy' is therefore strictly correlative to identification with sinthome.

Fantasy is a basic scenario filling out the empty space of a fundamental impossibility, a screen masking a void. 'There is no sexual relationship', and this impossibility is filled out by the fascinating fantasy-scenario--that is why fantasy is, in the last resort, always a fantasy of the sexual relationship, a staging of it. As such, fantasy is not to be interpreted, only 'traversed': all we have to do is experience how there is nothing 'behind' it, and how fantasy masks precisely this 'nothing'.

In the third period [of the psychoanalytic cure we have the big Other, the symbolic order, with a traumatic element at its very heart; and in Lacanian theory the fantasy is conceived as a construction allowing the subject to come to terms with this traumatic kernel. At this level, the final moment of the analysis is defined as 'going through the fantasy [la traversée du fantasme]': not its symbolic interpretation but the experience of the fact that the fantasy-object, by its fascinating presence, is merely filling out a lack, a void in the Other. There is nothing 'behind' the fantasy; the fantasy is a construction whose function is to hide this void, this 'nothing'--that is, the lack in the Other.

The Real is therefore simultaneously both the hard, impenetrable kernel resisting symbolization and a pure chimerical entity which has in itself no ontological consistency. (...) As we have already seen, this is precisely what defines the notion of traumatic event: a point of failure of symbolization, but at the same time never given in its positivity--it can be constructed only backwards, from its structural effects. All its effectivity lies in the distortions it produces in the symbolic structure and, as such, the retroactive effect of this structure.

What the object is masking, dissimulating, by its massive, fascinating presence, is not some other positivity but its own place, the void, the lack that it is filling in by its presence--the lack in the Other. And what Lacan calls 'going-through the fantasy' consists precisely in the experience of such an inversion apropos of the fantasy-object: the subject must undergo the experience of how the ever-lacking object-cause of desire is in itself nothing but an objectification, and embodiment of a certain lack; of how its fascinating presence is here only to mask the emptiness of the place it occupies, the emptiness which is exactly the lack in the Other--which makes the big Other (the symbolic order) perforated, inconsistent.
Zizek, Slavoj. "The Sublime Object of Ideology" (1989)