[-empyre-] Perversities

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Tue Apr 7 03:58:29 EST 2009

The Abraham/Isaac story is interesting because if you were Abraham,
this would indeed be a perverse proposition:

God: "Go and kill your son."
Abe: "Gee, God, do I have to?"
God: "Of course.  Now get him, drag up the hill, and kill him.  It's a
Abe: "OK.  Isaac, get your pocket knife, we are going camping."
Isaac: "Aww, Pa.  You're the best!"
Later that day...
Abe: "Isaac, go lay on this rock and close your eyes.  Oh, give me
your pocket knife."
Isaac:  "OK, dad."
God: "Abraham, I was just checking to see if you'd do it.  Here's a
ram.  Kill that instead.  No hard feelings, I hope."

Incidentally, this kind of basic reading is really what a lot of folks
get hung up on, both Christian and non.  Fundamentalists will say the
message is this: "See, you just have to do whatever God says, even
kill your son.  Or God will kill you."  For Abraham, the story is a
cruel joke.  For everyone else, it is actually the opposite.  It says,
even if you think God is trying to tell you to kill your son, you
really don't have to.  You can just kill a ram, instead.  Of course,
it is all more figurative than that....  but that is the kind of
central message...  I suppose... of the whole redemption myth of

In a sense, there is something perverse about a number of the things
that we associate with "the good" (whether we think of it in Christian
terms or not).  Gift giving always has to happen as an "exceptional
instance" within  the dominant order of things (unless you give with
the expectation of compensation, in which case it is no longer a
gift).  Forgiveness, in order to be forgiveness, has to go beyond the
sort of rational tit-for-tat that we associate with things like
settlements, remediation, etc.  Charity has to be given freely and
without economic benefit to the giver--tax deductible "donations" to
lobbying groups dedicated to tax "reform" don't count.  In our case,
these acts of goodness are considered to be exceptional to the
workings of the market.  (Consider even the glib dismissals of
intellectuals on cable news and talk radio: "They are just writing
about this to sell books!  You are just trying to promote your career,
you academic elitist!"...  spoken by millionaire propagandists....  as
if it would be perverse for an intellectual to criticize anything for
altruistic reasons).

I think there is some fertile ground for poststructuralists scholars
here in the sense that we have a pretty well-developed, materialist,
but anti-essentialist norm for human behavior under technocapitalism,
especially in its late stage varieties.  We have very thoroughly
shaken, if not partially dismantled, any rational basis for
metaphysical claims.  With such a coherent norm in place--wealth is
the measure of all things, and that wealth itself is relative,
differential--you'd think it would be fairly easy to cling to this
norm and follow it happily.  Narratives historically have provided a
sense of coherence and purpose in life.  Yet people are absolutely
miserable with this norm.   All the "good" things that we can think of
tend to be exceptions to this norm, rather than exemplifications of
it.  Even the happy story of a person who got rich usually is an
account of an unlikely person (someone just like us) who made it.
Does this mean that we are so disillusioned that we lack even faith in
capitalism?  Or, does it mean that most people are perverts, that we
have always been perverts, and that whatever new good idea comes up,
we will always idealize its obverse?  Or does it mean that "goodness"
is something real, and that it is not embodied in a morally neutral
nexus like that of materialism?

To get back to a question that Nick raised...  the question of
nothingness at the heart of religion (and the Courbet painting on the
jacket of Zizek's book), I think you are right.  I think that religion
does look at the void and falls back into community.  I think the
central question of "faith" is always juxtaposed to this doubt.  If we
consider the poststructuralist turn as an empirical account of
"original sin," and then look at some of the more recent responses
coming from contemporary theory...  it has strong parallels with
religion.  You have this sense that human life is doomed to
uncertainty, indeterminacy, meaninglessness--that we have fallen.  But
then you have this desire to say, well, maybe if we pursue the meaning
of life from the rational perspective of the human individual, we come
up empty.  But, if we pursue the meaning of life from the rational
perspective of the community, perhaps it is possible to arrive at some
sense of certainty, determination, and meaning that is grounded in the
consensual understanding of the community (even if it is fleeting).
At once, we must "sacrifice" the will of the individual, but we are
"saved" from the void.  It requires a certain "faith," of course.  It
begets certain rituals.  And it creates an inerrant "word."

I think this question of making something out of nothing is something
inherently "good"--even if it can have a variety of bad aspects and
effects.  The underlying impulse to make something is utopian.  I
think that people are creative, in general, and consequently take
great pride in filling voids.  There is a tendency we have inherited
from Freud to see voids and the things that fill them in gendered
terms, and from there to extrapolate this into a variety of abstract
directions, many of which tend to be viewed through the lens of
psychopathology and patriarchy.  Hence, many like a philosophy that
stops at the void, but never tries to fill it at the risk of becoming
"phallogocentric"...  but in erecting an empty void as the object of
wonder and meaning...  We still are situating something there.  Trying
to put something in the ultimate nothing.  (Imagine the irony of being
the last philosopher to leave your mark on the void.)   But, honestly,
I think that all people, regardless of gender, want to make
things--make meaning, make art, make money, make love, make babies,
whatever--and I think they want to make things in excess of zero sum
game systems.  As a result, we can destroy the world through
overproduction and overconsumption.  We believe in a capitalism that
can grow forever.  We want to write and have fun and do all these
things.  We want to be famous.  Whatever.

And in spite of what we want, we also know we are going to die.  The
ethical issue I suppose is how do we keep on enjoying this excessive
spirit...  how do we extend it to as many people as possible....  how
do we celebrate it?  How do we do it without killing ourselves and
everyone and everything else?


On Mon, Apr 6, 2009 at 3:54 AM, Michael Angelo Tata, PhD
<mtata at ipublishingllc.com> wrote:
> I think the point might be that Christianity can only be defended
> perversely.  Even if we stick with Kierkegaard's analysis of the
> Abraham/Isaac story, and with what Derrida does with it in his ethical
> investigation into the “economic” meaning of the gift, I can only fulfill my
> obligations as Christian by defying the ethical code to which I am
> beholden.  If I only follow the equivalent of Kant's categorical imperative,
> I fail in executing my duty, since my truest duty of all is to risk being
> ejected from a social and even religious order by giving in to the absolute
> responsibility I owe the Other.  I am irreplaceable, and my acts do not have
> to be replicable by all or any: my responsibility is not general or generic.
> Zizek's perversity is not necessarily Derrida's, or Kierkegaard's, as his
> involves my phantasmic relation to the Absolute, whose very fragility gives
> birth to its sublimity.  In essence the Absolute needs me, in my singularity
> and finitude, and hence displays a surprising fragility.  If anything, Zizek
> calls to the fore the profoundly Judeo-Christian character of psychoanalytic
> discourse in general, and I appreciate the risk he takes at formulating his
> own ethical position on the matter.  That Courbet’s L’origine du Monde has a
> central role in Zizek’s defense of the Christian legacy is as perverse as
> perversity can get.
> I am not sure how to bring these reflections back around to the Market, free
> trade, or the housing crisis, but I'm sure there's a way.  Any ideas?
> *******************************************
> Michael Angelo Tata, PhD  347.776.1931-USA
> http://www.MichaelAngeloTata.com/
>> Date: Sun, 5 Apr 2009 11:08:53 -0500
>> From: jtabbi at gmail.com
>> To: empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] entanglement
>> A belated word, regarding 'worth.'
>> As Jeff notes, it's a Holy Grail and likely to remain one because if
>> the 'real worth' of commodities were ever determined, that would be
>> the end of markets as we know them today.
>> Imagine that the dollar value of commodities could be known precisely,
>> and suppose this knowledge could be circulated immediately and
>> accurately, and suppose also that the kind of analytical instruments
>> used by disciplined traders were available to everyone. Further,
>> suppose that political conditions were stable, and not only stable but
>> more or less hands off so that trading could carry on relatively
>> freely, without protections or government interventions that skew the
>> market.
>> (Jeff you're right, I am fond of utopian scenarios: they're good for
>> thought-experiments.)
>> I imagine, fairly soon, the temptations to gamble would decrease, and
>> the field would be left to disciplined professionals free to
>> participate in a self-regulating market. Capital would flow toward
>> industries grounded in real productive capacity. Inequalities would be
>> greatly lessened but in this ideal case, wouldn't the low level of
>> profits make the capitalist game entirely uninteresting to producers
>> and traders?
>> Wouldn't a totally free and totally transparent market, and the
>> removal of barriers to trade, also remove the basic social
>> underpinnings of the market system?
>> Unlike that town in Germany (where the bank really was robbed after a
>> TV documentary), Global free trade is not just my own or the media's
>> utopian fiction. Globalization is a narrative that has gained
>> worldwide traction (in admittedly less than ideal circumstances but
>> when are economic conditions ever ideal?). One could mark the
>> beginning of the experiment with the inauguration of a global
>> neo-liberal turn during the time of Reagan, Thatcher, Pinochet, and
>> Deng (to name just the four world leaders pictured on the paperback
>> cover of Harvey's Brief History of Neo-liberalism). (Harvey's title,
>> by the way, always struck me as cutting two ways: the book, under 200
>> pages, is a 'brief history,' but Harvey's hope and expectation is that
>> the history of Neoliberalism itself will be relatively brief, in the
>> overall 500-year-plus duration of modern capitalism.)
>> Whether that history turns out to be an anomaly or the end or the
>> fulfilment of capital's Longue Duree, global neo-liberalism is
>> decidedly not a history of 'free trade.' “In principle,” Wallerstein
>> writes, “in a capitalist world-economy the virtual market exists in
>> the world as a whole. But ... there are often interferences with these
>> boundaries, creating narrower and more ‘protected’ markets.” Like all
>> perpetual-motion machines, the totally free market functions only “as
>> an ideology, a myth, a constraining influence, but never as a
>> day-to-day reality.” (World-Systems Analysis)
>> There will always be utopias and Holy Grails, and there will always be
>> governmental interferences (or, where governments are week, black
>> markets organized by other, more directly violent means). The
>> available options seem, to me, not to do without protections and
>> interventions, but to determine what KIND of interventions people can
>> live with. Of course, much depends on WHO is involved in these
>> decisions, whose interests are represented, which economists are
>> listened to, and which networks can be used to advance which agendas.
>> A pleasant Sunday morning to everyone - on this day away that remains
>> one of the legacies of an earlier, Christian era of captial's
>> development. (And Michael: part of me, maybe a seventh part, is
>> convinced by Zizek's "perverse" defense of Christianity.)
>> Joseph
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> ________________________________
> Rediscover Hotmail®: Now available on your iPhone or BlackBerry Check it
> out.
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

More information about the empyre mailing list