Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The New Normal and Zizek's Event

Slavoj Zizek's recent work, Event (Melville House: Brooklyn NY, 2014), captures something essential in what the media would have us describe as 'the new normal.' The emergence of a new 'frame' which announces the arrival of something new (political, esthetic, religious, etc.) marks what Zizek calls the event, a concept greatly indebted to Badiou's notion. The book is also an extended love letter to Jela Kricec, journalist, intellectual, and Zizek's bride of 2 years (Event is dedicated to her, his 'event'). "There is, by definition, something 'miraculous' in an event (4)," and something even apparently theological, as the book opens and closes on the Trinity. 

But it is the eventive miracle of love that makes Event one of Zizek's most personal, perhaps confessional, statements. One frame through which a reader can peer into the book's most important theme is indeed the 'miracle' of love: "when you fall in love, you don't just know what you need/want and look for the one who has it---the 'miracle' of love is that you learn what you need only when you find it" (118). And that is another essential theme of Event: one plays in the discourse within which one is shaped and shapes.

In typical fashion, Zizek utilizes an odd film, Strella, to illustrate the reframing of the family, as an event. The plot is dense (I have not seen the film nor could I access a trustworthy review, so I rely on Zizek's reputation as a consummate film critic), and involves a father (Yiorgios) who is imprisoned for murdering his own brother for sexually abusing Yiorgios' son. After a long prison term, he is finally released and seeks his long lost son, Leonidas. He spends his first night of freedom with Strella, a prostitute, but also a transsexual. Yiorgios is at first unaware of Strella's transsexuality, but upon learning of it,  falls in love with her and continues the relationship, until the trauma of learning that Strella is in fact Leonidas, who was aware all along that Yiorgios was his father. The relationship is shattered, but the film closes with Leonidas/Strella taking care of a dead friend's son, and Yiorgios coming back into his son's and 'grandson's' life, establishing a "completely normal" family (168).

Interestingly, Zizek proposes Strella as a test of Christian family values and offers the obvious ultimatum: "embrace this authentic family of Yiorgios, Strella and the adopted child, or shut up about Christianity."

Really, Zizek lobbing one in for Christianity? Of course, Zizek strongly advises that we bracket the father-son incest, allowing Yiorgios' "disgust" to empower the sublation. But even if we give Yiorgios a pass, how do you solve a problem like a Strella? Do we "resist the temptation to mobilize the psychoanalytic apparatus" (168) here too? Anyone, Christian or not, must want to understand something about Leonidas' deception and deliberate incest. Yet, Zizek is in love, and we must look at Strella through his gaze. Amor vincit omnia meets amor fati.

So does Christianity shut up here in Zizek's world and release the event or does it participate in 'the undoing of an event' (143 ff.)? The bishops have their work cut out for them next year as the Synod on the Family continues. Does Christianity know of the new normal, the new frame that constitutes the event of the family? Love in Zizek's world turns its gaze on the image of the heart of a family. In mythic terms, Strella rewrites the the final book of the Odyssey in modern Greek terms. Laertes, Odysseus and Telemachus standing battle-ready announces the political event of primogeniture; like them, Yiorgios, Leonidas/Strella, and the anonymous child stand upon the horizon of something new, buttressed on love, the miracle of love---if love in 'this' family is not a miracle, then there are no miracles. True, Leonidas seeks the father, Yiorgios seeks home, and they find what they need when they find each other in Zizek's event. Is love the only psychoanalysis, interpretation, Leonidas needs? Is love what will conquer the trauma in this family?

Zizek always disturbs us, haunts us. Having just completed a once-through of Absolute Recoil, which plays Deuteronomy to Event's Exodus, I would wager that Event is Zizek's book of love, and Recoil is his book of desire. I would say that his challenge to Christian family values is indeed a lob all to easy to hit out of the park.

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