Saturday, March 28, 2015

Zizek's Ghosts

From Ghoulies and Ghosties,
and long-legged beasties,
and things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us!

Enter Banquo's Ghost.

Why do you dress me in borrow'd robes?

Had Derrida, Caputo and Keller never written a haunting, spooking word, Zizek would still spook us, haunt us, and go bump in the dark. Lately I've been quoting Macbeth wondering about his clothes. I'm spooked, as was Cawdor. While he never visits Shakespeare's play, Zizek does play on Macbeth's stage when he asks, che vuoi? Once poor Macbeth asks his famous question to the disbelief of his friend Banquo, he spends the rest of his life addressing his world from those robes he freely seeks and dons. It is irrelevant to Macbeth that he never wears those borrow'd robes legitimately. He becomes (or more accurately, tranforms or rewrites himself into), as Zizek might say, the very object of the desire of the other. All the rest spooks the castle.

Zizek uses several characters to illustrate the che vuoi. He especially likes the fantastically unlucky Roger Thornhill, who responds to the assertion that he is the spy George Kaplan, by becoming (some version of) George Kaplan (The Sublime Object of Ideology, 2nd ed., Verso:London, 2008, 125. All subsequent (page numbers) refer to this edition). Though he never makes the conscious connection between che vuoi? and 'borrow'd robes,' the terms function the same way. Zizek's question, "why am I what you are saying that I am?" (126) is equivalent to Macbeth's question. Sometimes the result is comic, as in Hitchcock's North By Northwest, or Woody Allen's Play it Again Sam; but sometimes the result is tragic, as in Zizek's reading of the Antigone or his reading of the Annunciation through Rosetti's Ecce Ancilla Domini (126f).

Bearing in mind Zizek's commentary on film, pictorial art and fiction, I would like to briefly examine the Lucan Annunciation, and John's and Mark's Passion narratives to discover the event seeking release in the robing and disrobing that takes place there.

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. [Luke 1:34;36, NIV]

Interpreted through the lens of Rosetti's painting, Zizek focuses on the implicit sexuality of Mary, but Luke's portrait is simpler: a Mary reluctant to be dressed in borrow'd robes. Regardless, the Lucan Mary takes on the mantle of the mother of 'the Son of the Most High' (1:32), as she moves from ecce to fiat. Mary becomes the object of desire of the Other; she dons the robes, and having asked 'why am I...', becomes she whom 'all generations' will call blessed (1:46-56). The price of blessedness is steep, though as her heart will be pierced by the cross.

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” [Luke 2:34-35]

Simeon's 'sword' is double-edged. 
In the Passion narratives, Jesus resists donning borrow'd robes, yet others, ghostly and haunting, disrobe in attempts to displace the object of their desire in their role as the Other. Caiaphas can't seem to disrobe fast enough, and tears his clothes off (Mark 14:63). The foregone conclusion takes on the shape of blasphemy against the established order, but the keriah betokens the loss about to occur. The loss is the loss of everything known about God, and the profoundest grief is laid bare before the assembly as if the rending of the cloth had rent Caiaphas's own heart asunder. Simeon's 'sign' of infamy has revealed the heart of the Sanhedrin.

The Roman prefect Pilate also wears his heart on his sleeve. He asks if Jesus is a king, that is, if Pilate's fealty should be paid to Jesus instead of Caesar; but Jesus rebukes him, refusing those robes, which must be transformed into the very mockery of royalty before Jesus finally dons them by force of royalty (John 18:33-38; 19:4-6). And yet, the rebuke sets Pilate's mind to free Jesus, and only failing that, can he settle on free himself of Jesus. At the Crucifixion, the crowds insist that Jesus don the robes of the God they create, but that God never appears, demonstrating that the emperor/false God has no clothes. The mysterious garments on Golgotha are gambled away into the Tradition.

In an interesting twist of time and place, the scantily clad young man who loses his garment in Gethsemane, runs off naked at the betrayal of Jesus, perhaps the last one to flee from the scene (Mark 14:51). The linens are displaced; they hearken to another scene, one not pregnant with disaster. They are properly placed as figura of the death linens (Mark 15:46). Robert Barron has suggested that the garment was baptismal garb, the sindon (σινδόνα ), which constitutes a double anachronism. The fleeing young man clearly has no clothes, so ill-fitting they apparently were.

Zizek's ghosts are not unlike Ibsen's; they are creatures of habit, predictable and haunting. Captain Alving demands to know why the living are George Kaplans, while the living remain complicit in the incest that is the syphilitic desire of the Other. Caiaphas, Pilate, the crowds make similar demands of Jesus, who finally demonstrates for them that there is, after all, no Big Other. Instead, the impossible excess insists itself into existence of saturated phenomena of the event that reveals the sublime (Zizek, 226ff). The very ambivalence and ambiguity of the un-named, un-interpellated, impossible: "[t]he Sublime is therefore the paradox of an object which, in the very field of representation, provides a view, in a negative way, of the dimension of that which is unrepresentable" (230). Here is Zizek at his most apophatic, making room for the un-nominated excess that lives between Vorstellung and Darstellung.

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