February 23, 2005

'If there's a cure for this...

... I don't want it.... If there's a remedy, I'll run from it.....'

Supremes publicity_200x250.jpgkant face.gif

I was reminded of this moment of Diana Ross sublimity - later covered, with all the preposterous hysterical excess we both expected and demanded, by The Associates - whilst reading Alenka Zupancic's delightfully lucid Ethics of the Real.

'Love Hangover' captures that moment in the cycle of being-in-love in which you confront the pathology of the amorous impulse as such; that moment in which you can no longer pretend that you will gain satisfaction from the object.

That is why the title 'Love hangover' is profoundly misleading. A hangover after being drunk is precisely the time when the penitent drinker is likely to groan never again.... But this is exactly the opposite of the feelings the song describes. Ross's cold turkey lover cries da capo, repeat, more of this stuff which has brought me only unhappiness. No, I know I'll never have him, but, yes, I want the misery, the tears, the yearning...


'The subject,' Zupancic diagnoses, 'is "attached" and "subjected" to her pathology in a way that is not without ambiguity, for what the subject fears most of all is not the loss of this or that particular pleasure, but the loss of the very frame within which pleasure (or pain) can be experienced as such at all. The subject fears losing her pathology, the pathos which constitutes the kernel of her being and current existence, however miserable it might be. She fears finding herself in an entirely new landscape, a featureless territory in which her existence will no longer be confirmed by how she feels.' (9)

Zupancic approaches this pathology - which as she rightly identifies is not the pathology of the abnormal, but very much the pathology of everyday life - via Proust and, inevitably, Kant. At a crucial point in Swann's Love, the hero realises that he does not want to cease suffering for the sake of his thwarted love for Odette, because 'in the very depths of his morbid condition, he feared death itself no more than such a recovery, which would in fact amount to the death of all he now was.'

The inherent conservatism of this desire to 'persist in life' should now be obvious. And don't we see it everywhere, across all layers of culture, from the desires sustaining the persistence of indie ('OK, it's not very novel or interesting, but some people enjoy it...') at one extreme to those supporting the existing order itself ('well, it might be flawed, but it's the least bad, and look at the alternatives').

But as Zupancic points out, via Kant, this desire to 'persist in this life' is straightforwardly irrational: 'Kant's point is that this fear is groundless, since it belongs to the very subject who will no longer be around - should the transition to the ethical take place - to experience this "loss" as a loss.'

Thus the radical Kant beloved of Zupancic and Zizek - the Kant who calls for a new subject position, not a subject that is in any sense restored. The ethical subject is so radical in fact that it cannot even be called revolutionary (even though Kant describes it in such a way): it is not something that turns or returns, but a precisely an empty space, a featureless landscape.

It will be the death of 'you'.

Posted by mark at February 23, 2005 09:22 AM | TrackBack