Saturday, February 14, 2015

Behind the Law

The so-called 'Kafka's universe' is not a 'fantasy-image of social reality' but, on the contrary, the mise-en-scene of the fantasy which is at work in the midst of social reality itself: we all know very well that bureaucracy is not all-powerful, but our 'effective' conduct in the presence of bureaucratic machinery is already regulated by a belief in its almightiness... In contrast to the usual 'criticism of ideology' trying to deduce the ideological form of a determinate society from the conjunction of its effective social relations, the analytical approach aims above all at the ideological fantasy efficient in social reality itself.

What we call 'social reality' is in the last resort an ethical construction; it is supported by a certain as if (we act as if we believe in the almightiness of bureaucracy, as if the President incarnates the Will of the People, as if the Party expresses the objective interest of the working class...). As soon as the belief (which, let us remind ourselves again, is definitely not to be conceived at a 'psychological' level: it is embodied, materialized, in the effective functioning of the social field) is lost, the very texture of the social field disintegrates. This was already articulated by Pascal, one of Althussar's principle points of reference, in his attempt to develop the concept of "Ideological State Apparatuses'. According to Pascal, the interiority of our reasoning is determined by the external, nonsensical 'machine' - automatism of the signifier, of the symbolic network in which the subjects are caught:
For we must make no mistake about ourselves: we are as much automaton as mind... Proofs only convince the mind; habit provides the strongest proofs and those that are most believed. It inclines the automaton, which leads the mind unconsciously along with it.
Here Pascal produces the very Lacanian definition of the unconscious 'the automaton (i.e. the dead, senseless letter), which leads the mind unconsciously [sans le savoir] with 'it'. It follows, from this constitutively senseless character of the Law, that we must obey it not because it is just, good or even beneficial, but simply because it is the law - this tautology articulates the vicious circle of its' authority, the fact that the lat foundation of the Law's authority lies in its process of enunciation:
Custom is the whole equity for the sole reason that it is accepted. That is the mystic basis of its authority. Anyone who tries to bring it back to its first principle destroys it.
The only real obedience, then, is an 'external' one: obedience out of conviction is not real obedience because it is already 'mediated' through our subjectivity - that is, we are not really obeying the authority but simply following our judgement, which tells us that the authority deserves to be obeyed in so far as it is good, wise, beneficent.... Even more than for our relation to 'external' social authority, this inversion applies to our obedience to the internal authority of belief: it was Kierkegaard who wrote that to believe in Christ because we consider him wise and good is a dreadful blasphemy - it is, on the contrary, only the act of belief itself which can give us an insight into his goodness and wisdom. Certainly we must search for rational reasons which can substantiate our belief, our obedience to the religious command, but the crucial religious experience is that these reasons reveal themselves only to those who already believe - we find reasons attesting our belief because we already believe; we do not believe because we have found sufficient good reasons to believe.

'External' obedience to the Law is thus not submission to external pressure, to the so-called non-ideological 'brute-force', but obedience to the Command in so far as it is 'incomprehensible', not understood; in so far as it retains a 'traumatic', 'irrational' character: far from hiding its full authority, this traumatic, non-integrated character of the Law is a positive condition of it. This is the fundamental feature of the psychoanalytic concept of the Superego: an injunction which is experienced as traumatic, 'senseless' - that is, which cannot be integrated into the symbolic universe of the subject. But for the Law to function 'normally', this traumatic fact that the 'custom' is the whole of equity for the sole reason that it is accepted' - the dependence of the Law on its process of enunciation or, to use a concept developed by Laclau and Mouffe, its radically contingent character - must be repressed into the unconscious, through the ideological, imaginary experience of the 'meaning' of the Law, of its foundation in Justice, Truth [or, in a more modern way, functionality):
It would therefore be a good thing for us to obey laws and customs because they are laws... But people are not amenable to this doctrine, and thus, believing that truth can be found and resides in laws and customs, they believe them and take their antiquity as proof of their truth (and not just of their authority, without truth).
It is highly significant that we find exactly the same formulation in Kafka's Trial, at the end of the conversation between K. and the priest:
'I do not agree with that point of view,' said K., shaking his head, 'for if one accepts it, one must accept as true everything the door-keeper says. But you yourself have sufficiently proved how impossible it is to do that.' 'No,' said the priest, 'it is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.' 'A melancholy conclusion,' said K. "It turns lying into a universal principle.'
What is 'repressed' then, is not some obscure origin of the Law, but the very fact that the Law is not to be accepted as true, only as necessary - the fact that its authority is without truth. The necessary structural illusion which drives people to believe that truth can be found in laws describes precisely the mechanism of transference: transference i this supposition of Truth, of a Meaning behind the stupid, traumatic, inconsistent fact of the Law.
-Slavoj Zizek, "The Sublime Object of Ideology"

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