And by a prudent flight and cunning save A life which valour could not, from the grave. A better buckler I can soon regain, But who can get another life again? Archilochus

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Thiefs of the Left's Enjoyment...

In psychoanalysis, the thieves if enjoyment have basically two shapes.  One is the mythical "primordial father" who enjoys everything (all the tribe's females) and castrates everybody else (all the tribe's males): and the other is the doublegaenger who does the same.  The doublegaenger is that other ego who has access to enjoyment, takes away your enjoyment, and enjoys in your place: thus the doublegaenger is the prominent figure of the thief of enjoyment in Freud's theory, in his essay "The Uncanny".

- Zizek, et al, "Parallax: The Dialectics of Mind and World


Roshan De Silva Wijeyeratne, "Citizenship law, nationalism and the theft of enjoyment: a post-colonial narrative"
But that which institutes the dynamic of the 'theft of enjoyment' is not the actual reality that the Indian Tamil "other" happens to live in the predominantly Sinhalese province of Kandy, 'but the inner antagonism inherent' (Zizek 1993: 205, his emphasis) in ·the 'Sinhala nation' itself, (which remains both explicit and implicit in these debates on citizenship), by which the perception of the other is 'mediated by a symbolic-ideological structure which tries to cope with social antagonism) (Zizek 1993: 205). As such, 'the real "secret (ibid) of the Indian Tamil is the antagonism inherent to the 'Sinhala nation' itself: its inability to achieve authenticity. It is through this process of displacement 'that desire is constituted' (Zizek 1993: 206, his emphasis). It is through the discourse on citizenship and its attendant legislation, the purpose of which is to 'restore' the land back to the Kandyan peasantry (Hansard House of Representatives (1948) Vol IV: Col 451-55), that the Sinhalese (by transposing the inherent social antagonism of the 'Sinhala nation onto the other) constitute the 'fantasy-organisation of desire' (Zizek 1993: 2(6) through the narrative of(deprivation', the 'theft of enjoyment'.

As Zizek observes such a narrative exemplifies that 'enjoyment is ultimately always enjoyment of the Other, ie. enjoyment supposed, imputed to the Other, and that, conversely, the hatred of the Other's enjoyment is always the hatred of one's own enjoyment' (Zizek 1993: 206). Such fantasies of the Indian Tamil other's form of 'excessive enjoyment (Zizek 1993: 206), such as his/her 'special relationship' (Zizek f993: 206) to work or to the land is a means by which the Sinhalese 'organise [their] own enjoyment' (Zizek 1993: 206, my interpolation). The other 'gives a body' (ibid) to the inherent social antagonism of the 'Sinhala nation' itself and in doing so prevents the nation from achieving a full identity with itself (Zizek 1993: 206). What we encounter then in the articulation of the Indian Tamil other as a 'thief of enjoyment' is the Real, that traumatic moment in which the Symbolic order of the 'Sinhala nation' fails (Zizek 199: 20B11), in a manner analogous to the failure of .language to ever attain pure signification.

The narrative of 'theft' is the means by which the Sinhalese organise their 'enjoyment'. But the role of 'enjoyment' is that it gives effect to the structuration of Sinhalese 'desire around some traumatic element that cannot be symbolised' (Saled 1994: 15), the nation-Thing, around which 'reality' is constituted. This is a 'reality' determined by fantasy. As Seled observes '[s)ocial reality is always traversed by some fundamental impossibility, by an 'antagonism' which prevents reality from being fully symbolised' (Saled 1994: 15). She continues that'[it] is fantasy that attempts to symbolise or otherwise fill out this empty place of social reality. Fantasy thus functions as a scenario that conceals the ultimate inconsistency of society' (Saled 1994: 15).

But what the citizenship legislation and the debates surrounding this legislation demand is a 'stable and clearly defined social body' (Zizek 1993: 211), one that cuts 'off the 'excessive' element' (ibid) and restores the 'Sinhala nation' to harmony. But this demand is destined to fail for what it displaces is the antagonism that is inherent to the 'Sinhala nation itself (Zizek 1993: 210). What the Indian Tamil other displaces is the (im)possibility of symbolising the (Sinhala nation). The nation hence occupies the place of the Real, in that the nation 'is an element in us that is 'more than our selves', something that defines us, but is at the same time always undefinable' (Saled 1994: 15). Citizenship is one means by which the ~empty place of the nation in the symbolic structure of society' (Salecl 1994: 15) is filled out. As such Ceylon citizenship is organised around fantasy and is a means by which the Sinhalese Buddhist nation can perceive 'itself as a homogeneous entity' (Salecl1994: 15).

Such an analysis reveals that the construction of citizenship legislation in Sri Lanka as a discursive process functions by virtue of its (fantasy-support' (Zizek 1993: 213). To the extent that citizenship constitutes a discourse in which its object(s) are constructed, fantasies organised around the 'deprivation' of land, medical services, and parliamentary representation, constitute a 'limit' that prevents the linguistic signs that make up Ceylon " citizenship from ever achieving a self-referential unity. That which is partially excluded in the affirmation of citizenship remains at the presubjective level of the unconscious (Obeyesekere 1990: 278), but momentarily reveals itself in the 'ambivalence toward the [Indian Tamil] other's fantasmatic enjoyment' (Zizek 1993: 213, my interpolation), an excessive 'enjoyment' which is encompassed within the hierarchical set of criteria established for the granting of citizenship in this legislation.

It follows that the determination of citizenship only succeeds in the paradoxical moment that announces the failure of its universalisation, 'the very moment of its splitting' (Zizek 1993: 222), a moment marked by-the partial separation of the 'inside' - citizenship - from the 'outside' - statelessness (Zizek 1993: 222). The classification of' Ceylon citizenship' operates in a manner that seeks to encompass the 'explosive potential' (Zizek 1993: 222) of the Indian Tamil other 'even if the price to be paid for such containment is the neglect of elementary democratic principles' (Zizek 1993: 222). Consequently, following Hegel, the collective Indian Tamil populace constitute a 'rabble' (cited by Zizek 1993: 224), the inevitable by-product of establishing Ceylon citizenship. As such they constitute a partially integrated 'segment in the legal order, prevented from partaking of its benefits, and for this very reason delivered from any responsibilities toward it- a necessary structural surplus [partially] excluded from the closed circuit of [the] social edifice' (Zizek 1993: 224, my interpolation).


Sri Lanka (or Ceylon until 1972) gained independence from Britain in 1948. The Sinhalese (predominantly Buddhist) comprise 74 percent of the population, the Tamils (predominantly Hindu) comprise 18.2 percent, the Muslims who are the descendants of both Arab traders and Tamil Hindu and possibly Sinhalese Buddhist converts to Islam comprise 7.1 percent, the Burghers (descendants of Portuguese and Dutch settler communities) and Eurasians comprise 0.3 percent, the Malays comprise 0.3 percent and the Veddhas (the indigenous inhabitants of the island) and other ethnic groups comprise 0.2 percent (de Silva 1986: 417)

The debates surrounding the law on citizenship are dominated by the, metaphor of 'deprivation', that is that the Indian Tamil other stole or took away certain privileges once enjoyed by the Sinhalese people and as such is open to an analysis that utilises a psychoanalytical account of nationalism as the 'theft of enjoyment' (Zizek 1991a, 1993).

Pali, a language derived from Sanskrit, is the sacred script of Buddhism. Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka in approximately 250 BCE from North India (Gombrich 1988: 1-3).

Dharmapala was born into a mercantile Buddhist family'" Under the influence of Madame Blavatsky he was introduced to Theosophy and learnt Pali. He adopted the name Dharmapala which means 'Defender of the Buddhist Doctrine'. The reference to 'Anagarika' was an innovation and in Pali it means 'homeless', the classic epithet for a Buddhist monk (Gombrich & Obeyesekere 1988: 205-6).

In Ben Anderson's account, nations 'are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined' (Anderson 1991: 6).

As an 'excess' which is always surplus to that which can be actually identified (Bhabha 1994:66-84), the Tamil other succeeds in breaching the boundary and distorting the outline of the Sinhalese Buddhist nation's claimed self-identity (Perrin 1996: 104). The boundary (ie. the external 'limit') of the nation's seIf-identity confronts its 'limit', what it can never fully be as it finds itself tethered to the 'excess' that is the other. This internal 'limit' prevents the Sinhalese nation from achieving a full identity with itself (Zizek 1991b: l02-12). Simultaneous to the failure of a full identity is the ultimate failure of exclusion. Its identity fails through the undecidable relation between the Sinhalese and Tamil other as the other insists upon being 'present'. It is this failure to either exclude or include the other which undermines the coherence of the 'Sinhala nation).

For a detailed analysis of the operation of the Donoughmore Constitution and its impact on Tamil politics and the gradual fragmentation of Sinhala-Tamil relations see Russell (1982).

In addition Russell notes that 'the struggle for leadership within the Sinhalese and Tamil communities themselves caused rifts which inhibited united communal political action.... The centripetal social forces within each community were not powerful enough to counteract the fissi-parative tendencies) (Russell 1982: 334).

As a consequence of the Citizenship Act, the electoral register had to be amended. The Ceylon (Parliamentary Elections) Amendment Act, 1949 had the effect of removing those Indian Tamil voters who had been disenfranchised of citizenship by the former Act from the electoral register. Not only did this remove a potential source of support for the Left from electoral politics, but in distorting the electoral balance it had the effect of making the 'Sinhalese rural voter the arbiter of the country's politics' (de Silva 1986: 155») as confirmed with the results of the 1956 general election when the forces of Sinhalese Buddhist, nationalism came to power.

Instead the provisions of the Act are outlined in liberal neutral terms.

I am grateful to Colin Perrin for this citation.

The current exchange rate is about 100 Rupees to 1 Pound sterling. It only takes a small leap of imagination to realise how out of reach 2000 Rupees would have been to a plantation labourer 50 years ago.

The Left, the Federal Party (which split from the Tamil Congress owing to the latter's support for the citizenship legislation) and the Ceylon Indian Congress opposed the legislation on the grounds that it was racist, its sole objective being to facilitate communal passions, and the Left added with good reason that it was overtly anti-working class, as a majority of the Indian Tamils had voted for the Left in the 1948 general election (Hansard House of Representatives (1948) Vol V: Col 457-58, 557-58, 578-80).

In fact under the Medical1.%nts Ordinance, Indian labourers were not entitled to free treatment in hospitals opened in the plantation areas and had to pay 30 cents (Hansard House of Representatives (1948) Vol V: Col 533).

This idyllic rural setting, often associated with the pre-colonial past, was organised around the central symbols of the Buddhist temple, the water-tank and the village (Tambiah 1992: 112).

This is not where the story of citizenship legislation in Sri Lanka ends, but my own analysis here is confined "to the 1948-49 period. In 1964 and 1974 agreements were negotiated between the Indian and Sri Lankan governments 'according to which the Sri Lankan government agreed to award citizenship to approximately 46.2 per cent of Indians (and their descendants) living in Sri Lanka in 1948' (de Silva in Goldman & Jeyaratnam Wilson (eds) 1984: 118). The Indian Government 'agreed to accept the others, and by 1980 there were approximately 400,000 Indian Tamils who had gained Sri Lankan citizenship' (de Silva in Goldman & Jeyaratnam Wilson (eds) 1984: 112). Finally in 1986 the Grant of Citizenship to Stateless Persons Act had the effect of granting citizenship by registration to the remaining 469,000 Indian Tamils.

This reference to the Thing is used in its Lacanian 'sense as a traumatic, real object fixing our desire' (Zizek 1991a: 162), the object filling out the place of 'the trauma as memory' (Forrester 1991: 76). Drawing upon an analogy with Freud, Lyotard observes that 'according to Freud we must dissociate secondary repression (which gives rise to the "formations" of the dream, the symptom ... (and] all the representations of the unconscious on the edges of the conscious scene) from what Lacan called the Thing, and Freud the unconscious affect, which never let themselves be presented' (Lyotard 1991: 33). So primary repression for Freud is analogous to the Lacanian Thing, that which remains inaccessible, but which yet must be filled out through fantasy.

This experience is analogous to that of castration, which for Freud is 'experienced as something that "really cannot happen", but whose prospect nevertheless horrifies us' (Zizek 1991a: 165).

'Enjoyment' (jouissance) 'is not to be equated with pleasure (Lust) ... [for] it designates the paradoxical satisfaction procured by a painful encounter with a Thing that perturbs the equilibrium of the "pleasure principle". In other words, enjoyment is located "beyond the pleasure principle'" (Zizek 1993: 280, n I, my interpolation).

In Lacanian terms the 'Real is a dimension which is always missing, but which at the same time always emerges; this elusive dimension, which society tries to incorporate in the symbolic order and thus neutraJise, always exceeds society's grasp' (Saled 1994: 15). Although the Symbolic order is oriented towards equilibrium 'it can never attain this state because of this alien, traumatic dimension at its core' {Saled 1994: IS}.

Zizek, in this respect, develop~ Jacques-Alain Miller's question '[w]hat is the cause of our hatred of him in his very being? It is hatred of the enjoyment in the Other. This would be the most general formula of the modern racism we are witnessing today: a hatred of the particular way the Other enjoys.... The question of tolerance or intolerance is ... located on the level of tolerance or intolerance toward the enjoyment of the Other, the Other as he who essentially steals my enjoyment ... The problem is apparently unsolvable as the Other is the Other in my interior. The root of racism is thus hatred of my-own enjoyment. There is no other enjoyment but my own. If the Other is in me, occupying the place of extimacy, then the hatred is also my own' (cited by Zizek 1993: 203). .

The 'theft of enjoyment' in this respect follows the logic of paranoia, which consists of the 'externalisation of the function of castration in a positive agency appearing as the "thief of enjoyment))) (Zizek 1993: 281, n 7). Elaborating upon Zizek's argument the paranoia of the 'Sinhala nation' may be said to result from the failure of the 'Sinhala nation' to establish itself as sufficiently Sinhalese Buddhist. This failure, predetermined by the very structure of the Symbolic order "'returns in the real)) in the shape of the Other, the "thief of enjoyment))) (Zizek 1993: 281, n 7).

Post inspired by the Zizek lecture below:

No comments: