The Event by Slavoj Zizek
What happens when something unexpected from the realm of the “unknown unknowns” invades your life and your world?
The event takes on a lot of forms like a political catastrophe or maybe you fall in love and Zizek is trying to help us figure out what the event can mean to us today through Psychoanalysis and Hegel.
The Event re-frames the world
Ideology is in the realm of the “unknown-knowns” i.e, what we don’t know that we know. The event in the form of a catastrophe somehow causes us to act, reveal ourselves to ourselves and get into the core of reality itself. The event can be as traumatic as a father who discovers that he is romantically inclined to his son who is a transvestite after spending a few years in prison or someone trying to find out what Solaris wants from us. Events re-frame our world and try and open us up to a new inevitable context that we cannot help but be a part of.
When the Universal attempts to express itself in the particular, it turns out to stump Socrates who did not know how to answer Parmenides when he spoke about the pure forms of excremental substances. Universal orders somehow produce a triad in which the third term is often a “stand-in” for something messy that does not really fit the bill like Marx’s Asiatic mode of production or Kierkegaard’s chimney sweeper.
The Christian event of the incarnation somehow turns this structure on its head. While people expect some form of salvation, they get a God who fell into Human existence. Kierkegaard’s notion of repetition which looks forward to the future as something new and refreshing as opposed to the Socratic idea of recollection, Christianity is never a return to a “world before the fall” but turns the fall into something “blessed”. It assumes the fall and takes us on an adventure into an unknown future.
Eastern traditions like Buddhism assumes that existence itself is the problem and is suffering while other Eastern traditions teach that Enlightenment is somehow “throwing oneself” into a undifferentiated wholeness by losing personality but Christianity is the violent intrusion of love into the Universe and love as Chesterton understood “demands personality” and it violently divides the Universe.
What happens when through some neurological process, you happen to lose your free-will? What does the Buddhist notion of Nirvana have to do with late Capitalism?
Both the neuro-biological notion of non-self that can be manipulated by re-wiring the brain and Buddhism’s ideal deny the existence of a stable self. We are just a result of complex neural connections that can just as easily be undone.
Western Buddhism is gaining popularity because (only according to Zizek), it denies a self that assumes all the damage that capitalism brings including its ecological cost. Buddhism’s idea of enlightenment enables a shift in subjectivity that detaches an action from a stable-self and anything can be justified from this perspective.
DARPA’s discovery that somehow they can control thoughts by introducing microscopic devices that alter the neural connection in the brains of their enemies somehow reveals that our free-will is but an illusion.
Zizek does not agree that, given a threat to our subjectivity we are somehow conditioned by something in our environments, rather there is something irreducible about subjectivity which makes us radically responsible for our actions.
Three Events in Philosophy
Contemporary thought rejects three great Philosophers, Plato, Descartes and Hegel. Maybe their work contains some traumatic truth that modern society does not want to accept and this is why Zizek tries to re-visit their thought. Plato is often rejected for being a totalitarian, everyone from existentialists, feminists to Heideggarians have a real issue with Descartes and Hegel too has a bad rap with Marxists, existentialists and pretty much everybody today.
Zizek discovers that in Plato’s work, truth somehow grips the heart of his protagonist Socrates who cannot help but speak on its behalf. Badiou notes that modern thought somehow rejects the traumatic event of “falling in love” and replaces it with safe “arraigned” marriages through dating sites. Descartes’s cogito is not an easy self-reflection but something that emerges when everything in the world is suspended, in short, the Cogito is not a substance but a process that cuts across sexuality. This makes it the real site of modern feminism. Hegel’s notion that a wound cannot be healed but must be assumed in History and worked with does not really vibe well with eco-critics and Indian Post-Colonialists or critics of absolute knowing. Hegel’s dialectical process though, assumes negativity and states that subjectivity only emerges through a traumatic journey through madness.
Three Events in Psychoanalysis
- Confronting the real
The real is the “thing itself” without being mediated by fantasy. This direct traumatic “encounter with God” results in only death. The real must always be kept a bay by something like the Torah (in the case of Judaism) or escaping to an orgy of meaningless sexual encounters to escape the traumatic reality of love.
2. The Symbolic: The New Harmony
A new master signifier emerges when there is a symbolic events that restructures the symbolic order. This new order retroactively understands itself not as a random event but as a necessary culmination of history.
3. The Imaginary: Three Splashes
Something abstract that dwells in the thin spaces between existence and non-existence that can be embodied in concrete individuals is the imaginary. Zizek employs the Japanese Haiku and renders it to its most disgusting element to reveal that total detachment can also result in seeing “pure events in terrifying circumstances”. Pure events are sometimes vulgar…
The Undoing of an Event
- The re-emergence of right-wing fundamentalism
- The ideology behind the depiction of torture in “Zero Dark Thirty”
- A new society that emerges after a genocide by Anwar Congo, applauds him openly and does not accept it as a dirty secret.
- The regression into animality by being allowing the private space to invade the public space.
The danger is that an event can be undone when we regress into a safe form of consciousness which we do not want to challenge or simply just accept what Hegel calls “natural consciousness”. This way the radical potential of modernity is subverted by a decadent indulgence.
Final Destination- “Nota Bene”
In an emancipatory event, facts don’t change but how we measure them do. Today’s context is rife with real potential for change but we cannot really imagine a new world because Capitalism has pervaded our consciousness at the deepest possible level that it invades even our most intimate moments. Can we really bring about a transformation?
What I think about this book
I really do think that a real event is overcoming a pattern inherent to the Human race. War for instance is a part of our imagination and it grounds all our fantasy. We can imagine the end of the world but not the end of violence. There was a time when Capitalism did not exist but there never was a time when war did not exist in our History. I don’t really think Zizek takes this issue very seriously.
I also think that, changing a structure has to be complimented by a transformation in the hearts of human beings. This transformation cannot be institutionalized but is a matter of “transformation” of the heart. The Marxist-Psychoanalytical tradition cannot really address this real lacuna in the Human race after modernity.
In short, I think this is a good book and as someone whose worked on Zizek systematically before, I could really get through the book real quick.