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Short Circuits

Slavoj Zizek

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Incontinence of the Void

Economico-Philosophical Spandrels

Slavoj Žižek

If the most interesting theoretical interventions emerge today from the interspaces between fields, then the foremost interspaceman is Slavoj Žižek. In Incontinence of the Void (the title is inspired by a sentence in Samuel Beckett's late masterpiece Ill Seen Ill Said), Žižek explores the empty spaces between philosophy, psychoanalysis, and the critique of political economy. He proceeds from the universal dimension of philosophy to the particular dimension of sexuality to the singular dimension of the critique of political economy. The passage from one dimension to another is immanent: the ontological void is accessible only through the impasses of sexuation and the ongoing prospect of the abolition of sexuality, which is itself opened up by the technoscientific progress of global capitalism, in turn leading to the critique of political economy.

Responding to his colleague and fellow Short Circuits author Alenka Zupancic's What Is Sex?, Žižek examines the notion of an excessive element in ontology that gives body to radical negativity, which becomes the antagonism of sexual difference. From the economico-philosophical perspective, Žižek extrapolates from ontological excess to Marxian surplus value to Lacan's surplus enjoyment. In true Žižekian fashion, Incontinence of the Void focuses on eternal topics while detouring freely into contemporary issuesfrom the Internet of Things to Danish TV series.

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Liquidation World

On the Art of Living Absently

Alexi Kukuljevic

In Liquidation World, Alexi Kukuljevic examines a distinctive form of subjectivity animating the avant-garde: that of the darkly humorous and utterly disoriented subject of modernity, a dissolute figure that makes an art of its own vacancy, an object of its absence. Shorn of the truly rotten illusion that the world is a fulfilling and meaningful place, these subjects identify themselves by a paradoxical disidentification -- through the objects that take their places. They have mastered the art of living absently, of making something with nothing. Traversing their own morbid obsessions, they substitute the nonsensical for sense, the ridiculous for the meaningful.

Kukuljevic analyzes a series of artistic practices that illuminate this subjectivity, ranging from Marcel Duchamp's Three Standard Stoppages to Charles Baudelaire's melancholia. He considers the paradox of Duchamp's apparatus in the Stoppages and the strange comedy of Marcel Broodthaers's relation to the readymade; the comic subject in Jacques Vaché and the ridiculous subject in Alfred Jarry; the nihilist in Paul Valéry's Monsieur Teste; Oswald Wiener's interpretation of the dandy; and Charles Baudelaire as a happy melancholic. Along the way, he also touches on the work of Thomas Bernhard, Andy Kaufman, Buster Keaton, and others. Finally, he offers an extended analysis of Danny's escape from his demented father in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.

Each of these subjects is, in Freud's terms, sick -- sick in the specific sense that they assume the absence of meaning and the liquidation of value in the world. They concern themselves with art, without assuming its value or meaning. Utterly debased, fundamentally disoriented, they take the void as their medium.

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The Monstrosity of Christ

Paradox or Dialectic?

Slavoj Žižek and John Milbank, edited by Creston Davis

A militant Marxist atheist and a “Radical Orthodox” Christian theologian square off on everything from the meaning of theology and Christ to the war machine of corporate mafia.

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A Voice and Nothing More

Mladen Dolar

Plutarch tells the story of a man who plucked a nightingale and finding but little to eat exclaimed: "You are just a voice and nothing more." Plucking the feathers of meaning that cover the voice, dismantling the body from which the voice seems to emanate, resisting the Sirens' song of fascination with the voice, concentrating on "the voice and nothing more": this is the difficult task that philosopher Mladen Dolar relentlessly pursues in this seminal work.The voice did not figure as a major philosophical topic until the 1960s, when Derrida and Lacan separately proposed it as a central theoretical concern. In A Voice and Nothing More Dolar goes beyond Derrida's idea of "phonocentrism" and revives and develops Lacan's claim that the voice is one of the paramount embodiments of the psychoanalytic object (objet a). Dolar proposes that, apart from the two commonly understood uses of the voice as a vehicle of meaning and as a source of aesthetic admiration, there is a third level of understanding: the voice as an object that can be seen as the lever of thought. He investigates the object voice on a number of different levels--the linguistics of the voice, the metaphysics of the voice, the ethics of the voice (with the voice of conscience), the paradoxical relation between the voice and the body, the politics of the voice--and he scrutinizes the uses of the voice in Freud and Kafka. With this foundational work, Dolar gives us a philosophically grounded theory of the voice as a Lacanian object-cause.

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What IS Sex?

Alenka Zupancic

Consider sublimation -- conventionally understood as a substitute satisfaction for missing sexual satisfaction. But what if, as Lacan claims, we can get exactly the same satisfaction that we get from sex from talking (or writing, painting, praying, or other activities)? The point is not to explain the satisfaction from talking by pointing to its sexual origin, but that the satisfaction from talking is itself sexual. The satisfaction from talking contains a key to sexual satisfaction (and not the other way around) -- even a key to sexuality itself and its inherent contradictions. The Lacanian perspective would make the answer to the simple-seeming question, "What is sex?" rather more complex. In this volume in the Short Circuits series, Alenka Zupancic approaches the question from just this perspective, considering sexuality a properly philosophical problem for psychoanalysis; and by psychoanalysis, she means that of Freud and Lacan, not that of the kind of clinician practitioners called by Lacan "orthopedists of the unconscious."

Zupancic argues that sexuality is at the point of a "short circuit" between ontology and epistemology. Sexuality and knowledge are structured around a fundamental negativity, which unites them at the point of the unconscious. The unconscious (as linked to sexuality) is the concept of an inherent link between being and knowledge in their very negativity.

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