ZIZEK, Slavoj

Organs Without Bodies

Date: Thursday 6 November 2003
Time: 00:00
Venue: Lecture Hall
Running time: 93 mins

Slavoj Zizek, academic rock star, wild man of theory, prolific author and essayist, philosopher, Lacanian psychoanalyst and Senior Researcher at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana, uses close readings of scenes from Hitchcocks Vertigo to explore concepts of the Gaze, Otherness, Culture, Identity, and what in naive terms we mean by Fantasy and Reality. Zizeks latest book is Organs Without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences. Turning the Deleuzian terminology around he analyzes these organs without bodies in the work of Hitchcock and in films such as Fight Club, identifying a Deleuze closer to the Oedipus he would disavow.

Lecture Transcription:

MARK COUSINS: I was thinking of how exactly I would welcome or describe Slavoj, and it really kind of seemed fairly pointless. I read through some of the stuff other people got of the internet. There were some particularly kind of mad bits: in the last 20 years participation at over 350 international, philosophical, psychoanalytical and cultural criticism symposia in the USA, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria, Australia, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, Israel, Romania, Hungary, and Japan. There really is no need here to do anything by way of introduction except to welcome Slavoj back, who was here about 8 years ago to speak in a small conference on the domestic, to which he gave a paper on Radical Evil. But that turned out quite… The only safe way to put it is simply to say that Slavoj ‘is’ and he will talk. Thank you.

SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: Thank you very much and especially Mark for this kind introduction, because I have specially fond memories of this place, for very specific reasons, I don’t know if you remember, but there was a journalist here, a lady 8 years ago, from some architectural journal, and then she wrote a report on the talk which caused me—but I loved it—an immense amount of trouble in my country, Slovenia. I was attacked as non patriotic and so on. You know why? I spoke as you said about uncanny home, about radical evil. This lady, and I loved it, because it was this typically correct sympathy with victims was revealed as patronizing racism. She wrote, and this was then reproduced on the main Slovenian newspaper on the front page—a small item, but on the front page—to cut a long story short: she confused the names of my hometown Ljubljana, and Lubyanka, you know, the KGB prison in Moscow. Now only for him home is radical evil, when he was living there in the torture house of the KGB, and so on. So, my first memory of this place, from which I’m grateful… The second memory—this will be a kind of an ongoing dialogue, or I would have put it in much more innocent terms, class struggle between me and Mark, because we are both Hitchcockians, we both think that one of the two Hitchcock’s masterpieces is the greatest movie of all times. There is only a small difference, but you know among Stalinists, the smaller the difference… he thinks it’s Vertigo, I think it’s Psycho. But today, to annoy him, because I know he published a wonderful essay on Vertigo, I will mostly speak about Vertigo, and not to be too boring, I hope that I can presuppose, presume that most of you have seen the movie.

So let me then begin, whenever I read about a Hitchcock film or see it, something always strikes me: one of the most instructive things to do about these two masterpieces—Vertigo and Psycho—to play the game of mental experiments: what if things were to take just a slightly different path, as they almost did? For example, in Psycho, what if—did you know that there was already a score written, a totally different score, by Bernard Herrmann more in his style as he did it later for Taxi Driver: it’s strange to imagine what kind of a movie this would be because now we identify so much Psycho with this strings only score. Or, what would have happened if in Vertigo instead of Kim Novak you would get Vera Miles, who, as maybe you know, she was supposed to get the role and she got pregnant. Kim Novak was the second choice. And even more, ultimate obscenity to insult you Mark—that will be for you—do you know that there already was written by this best seller couple Livingston Evans, a song Vertigo, which the studio wanted to impose on Hitchcock during the titles, with this kind of idiotic, words like “Oh, I will drown you in vertigo, my love” and so on, and so on. So let’s try to imagine what could have happened. A more crucial, serious question, in the original scenario on Vertigo, there is another half a minute scene at the end, which Hitchcock shot, but basically he was cheating: he shot it just to dupe the censorship and then he dropped it out. If you know Vertigo you probably know the

the criminal, Gavin Elster, the husband of Madeleine, he isn’t got, he just disappears, so in the original version, for the studio, bosses, there is a final 30-second scene where you see Scottie back at home with Midge and, you know this magic moments in cinema, whenever you open a radio it’s just the news that concerns you, and then the voice says: “the criminal Gavin Elster was caught in Switzerland or somewhere else” and then they look at each other and bla bla. How many are these possibilities? These mental experiments or alternate stories are often realized in what is one of the most revealing, although apparently trivial aspects of Hitchcock studies: the extraordinary amount of simple, factual mistakes. It’s already well known that in cinema studies there is an extraordinary amount of factual mistakes. Even there is a famous saying by (Stanley Cole/Cohen), who proudly says “no, I stand by all my mistakes” his meant that a propos the melodramas of the unknown woman, but specially with Hitchcock, this rich dimensions of madness sometimes. Like, recently he died, unfortunately, Raymond Durgnat, the British guy who just before his death, his last book was something like a really close look at Psycho. A wonderful, literally, shot by shot study of Psycho. In his standards, Hitchcock book, the strange case of Alfred Hitchcock, there is a 40 page detailed analysis of Vertigo. But the premise of it is: if all the time describes it as if the movie takes place in Los Angeles. If there ever was a movie identified with a place is of course Vertigo and San Francisco. So, what I’m trying to say is that there are so many of this mistakes that I’m tempted to see something redemptive in them. The first surprise is the nature of this mistakes - the case of Durgnat and Vertigo is not typical - typically they’re detailed mistakes, and also crucial for the line of argumentation. It’s usually when you are in for a mistake, you should always be careful when you read an analysis of Hitchcock, and it says “but here you should pay very careful attention to the exchange of point of view, a particular cut” and so on. Then, surprise, you buy a video or a DVD and check it up: it simply isn’t there. Precisely it’s not the indifferent interpreters who commit this kind of mistakes and misreadings, they are precisely the most engaged readers. And often these mistakes are in a way productive.

I would like to start by one of this mistakes, pointed out by a guy who was previously unknown to me: Joe Eskenazi, of Hungarian origins, who works in France, nothing to do with my private gang of theorists, psychoanalysis, but he wrote a wonderful detailed study of Vertigo, very recently. And you might have thought, everything that was [possible to write about Vertigo was already written: no, it wasn’t. His starting point is a wonderfully simple observation about two of such systematic mistakes, which occur one minute after the other, and practically everybody, he gives the list, names: Laura Mulvey, Robin Wood, even Truffaut, everybody committed a mistake here. The scene in Ernie’s restaurant where Scottie sees Madeleine for the first time.

[Shows the scene]

Practically everybody describes these two shots, especially the second one with the profile of Madeleine as Scottie’s, James Stewart’s point of view. But if you look at it closely, it’s not: he is precisely too afraid to confront it, he is just afraid. So, what we have here is a shot of Madeleine which is not Scottie’s point of view: the shot of her profile is totally subjectivized, it does depict in a way not what Scottie effectively sees, but what he imagines, his hallucinatory inner vision. Hitchcock played with this: how the red background on the wall even gets yellow, like burning fire. This profile, which almost threatens to explode, as if Scottie’s passion is directly inscribed into the background. As if Scottie is libidinally captivated by it, it is a phenomenon which is subjective, but too intense to be directly assumed by gaze. What then happens is that only when Madeleine moves back towards the door, only when the object of desire is not too close to burn you, only then he can afford to look at her.

So those previous shots are subjectivized without being attributed to a subject, it’s a kind of pure pre subjective phenomenon. (...). It is in order to erase the intensity of this subjectless subjective shot that the large majority of film critics strangely insist in their detailed description of this scene that the shot is Scottie’s point of view. I find a nice irony here, how the very theorist who decry - 20 years ago it was still fashionable to refer to (shooting) as the basic ideological matrix procedure of cinema, they kind of retranslate the excess back into the logic of (shooting). The gaze as object, freed from the strings that attach it to a particular subject.

No wonder why, so called ‘Kino-Glaz’ of Dziga Vertov, a Soviet classic from 1924, takes as its emblem precisely the eye of the camera as an autonomous organ which wanders around on the early 1920s.

In English I think you can say “to cast an eye over something” but in France you can say “jeter l'oeil” which means literally “to throw an eye”. There is a wonderful French fairy tale about Martin, the legendary idiot, who being an ugly boy cannot find a girlfriend, so his mother tells him “why don’t you go to a church on Saturday and ‘jeter l’oeil’ throw an eye around. So he goes first to a butcher, buys some pig eyes and throws them around and comes back and tells: ‘look, mother, it didn’t work, no girl loved me for doing that’. But that’s what we should do, I claim. A quote from Vertov:

“The film camera drags the eyes of the audience from the hands to the feet, from the feet to the eyes and so on in the most profitable order, and it organises the details into a regular montage exercise.”

So what would be this gaze which is stolen from us, turned into an organ without a body? We all know the uncanny moments in our everyday lives when we catch sight of our own image and this image is not looking back at us. I remember once trying to inspect a strange growth on the side of my head using a double mirror, when, all of a sudden, I caught a glimpse of my face from the profile. The image replicated all my gestures, but in a weird uncoordinated way. In such a situation, my specular image was stole from me, my look is no longer looking back at me." It is in such weird experiences that you catch what Lacan called gaze as objet petit a, the part of our image which eludes the mirror-like symmetrical relationship. When we see ourselves "from outside," from this impossible point, the traumatic feature is not that I am objectivized, reduced to an external object for the gaze, but, rather, that it is my gaze itself which is objectivized, which observes me from the outside. Someone close to me had an operation, which must had been a traumatic thing, the operation required local anesthesia, and I don’t know if this was specified or if it was an specific doctor’s sadism: while under local anesthesia, the eye is taken out, and the person told me it was nightmarish - not pain, there was no pain, but because the eye was taken out and turned around a little bit, so it was possible, you know, it was like a divine position: you can look at yourself objectively. This is the horror.

Let’s go on, what is the status of this gaze, where do we find it? There is another wonderful detail in Vertigo which often passes unnoticed, a detail which tells us a lot about how censorship works, and to whom is targeted. There is a scene in Vertigo, after Scottie saves Madeleine from the bay, he brings her to his apartment and then puts her into bed - ok, the underlying idea is of course that he undresses her, because you see the movement of the camera across his apartment and then above the sink you see her underwear. But, do you really see that? Everybody thinks that you see that. This was the biggest fight of Hitchcock with censorship. Censorship insisted that it should not be real underwear, because then people might think that he saw her naked. So, everybody immediately assumes that it is underwear: you will see that it is not, but you see the irrationality of it.

I pose this to ask a simple question: about whom was the censorship worried? Because it wasn’t to protect us viewers, we all automatically assume that we saw underwear. It is a very weird operation of censorship: it’s not that they wanted to protect us, but they wanted to protect, what Lacan called the big other, they wanted to protect some all-knowing view. The history of censorship in Hitchcock is very instructive. In Psycho, you know what was the problem with censorship in Psycho? Not all the killings, not the shower murder, but towards the end, when boyfriend and sister, layla and Sam, when they in the cabin occupied previously by Marion, you remember when they look into the closet for a brief split of a second? That was the big fight. If you look at the shot you will see it because censorship insisted that it should be absolutely clean, no traces of shit or whatever. Again, Lacan’s big other is not some fantasy. What this shows, the logic of belief. The point is not, in the case of Vertigo, that we should belief, that he didn’t see her naked, but the innocence, the belief to be protected is the belief of the big other. So, again, my old thesis, when lacan speaks about the big other, it’s not this Hegelian substance which pulls all the strings secretly, is rather the opposite: it’s the power of pure appearance. The big other means appearance has to be maintained. This maybe touches the topic of the book on account of which I’m here, my last book: ‘The Puppet and the Dwarf’ where I precisely develop these paradoxes of belief, belief as attributed to another. I rely here on the work of my good friend, the young Austrian philosopher, Robert Pfaller, who developed, relying on people like Paul (Vein), but at the same time with a critical distance, how today’s notion of belief, this ‘first person belief‘, it’s something Modern, which emerged with early Modernity. For example when old Greeks spoke about Zeus, and about gods living on the top of the Olympus, the point was not that if you climb the mountain you will see their gods. But, nonetheless in a way they did believe. Robert Pfaller introduces the notion of beliefs which are beliefs of no-one, that god is just somebody, a non-existing somebody. The idea is that this is how our beliefs function. Primitive societies, when people say that we believe that our origin is that stupid totem, is not that they believe in it, it’s the big other which believes. Again Pfaller claims that - if anything - today we believe more than ever, because what we are not able of doing today is precisely to sustain this belief through a distance: it must be personal today. He uses as the ultimate proof of a totally believing attitude the so-called Derridean deconstructionism. Some wonderful examples: one of the things that strikes the eye when you read, you see the fear to state to think directly, for example a true deconstructionist: like, my good enemy-friend Judith Butler. She would never say this is a can of coke, she would say: if we accept the phallogocentric referential functioning of language, if we strategically adopt this attitude, maybe, not perhaps, there is the hypothesis that this can be designated strategically as a can of coke. You see what is wrong here, this fear to say directly “this is a can of coke”. I claim: what deconstructionists don’t see is, if I say it directly “this is a can of coke”, I mean exactly the same. Because this is precisely what premodern people meant, it was all included. And it’s the same with love. Umberto Eco, this good journalistic commentator, who unfortunately engaged in novels which are much worse, and even more unfortunately engaged in theoretical writings which are even worse, made somewhere a wonderful ironic comment, wrote an essay on love today, and claimed how today we find it too obscene to say I love you: we say “as a poet would have put it: I love you” or “maybe we could call this love” or whatever. Again, the point is that this distance that you have to mark today, was simply included before. I think that perhaps this strange attitude towards beliefs is why today the term culture emerges as the central liberal category. Practically everything we deal with is an object of cultural studies: science is a cultural phenomenon, art and philosophy as well, production, critic of political economy, capitalism is another cultural signifying phenomenon. I see here a strange thesis: why everything is culture? what does it ultimately mean ‘culture’? Actually, what is the really existing culture? It’s a set of beliefs, practices which we assume through this distance of disbelief, I claim. If you really believe, it’s religion. It’s culture the moment you say, for example many of my Jewish friends, but not only them: “you know, I do respect Koscher, I don’t eat meat, bla bla, but you know, it’s just culture, I don’t really believe in it.” Culture is something that as we put it, you don’t take seriously, but you respect it.

Now comes the ultimate paradox: so how do we call those poor guys who really believe is their culture? we call them barbaric fundamentalists. This is the definition of them. When they were bombing, two years ago, those Buddha statues, why were we - I think it was absolutely hypocritical, our Western reaction - why were we so outraged? The superficial reason was, “my god, it’s part of the cultural treasures of humanity”, no! I think this is not what bothered us. What bothered us is that they took religion so seriously. We found it incredible, unbearable that they really believed that those stupid stone statues, that they really saw some thread in them. So, I cannot refrain from drawing the obvious pessimistic conclusion which is that maybe we, with this cultural studies attitude, we undermine religion much more effectively than all the taliban guys. This is for example the lesson today my friends told me (maybe they told me only one side of the story) in Tibet: it’s now when Tibetans are losing, when the Chinese Communism finally got it: forget about all the repression of the monks, no! you even give millions of dollars to renovate the old Tibetan monasteries, but you just change the context: you have now Tibetan karaoke bars there, Lama experiences and so on, and so on. And it’s much more efficient.

At this point, your probable reaction would be: of course, this opposition, the one between the big other and the ordinary gaze, is simply the Platonic one, that between the limited view of us, mortals, and the view of the big other, who sees everything. Already in the 1950s, immediately after Vertigo’s release, Éric Rohmer noted that the film is deeply Platonic. However, I think the link is a negative one: Vertigo is the ultimate anti-Platonic film, a kind of systematic undermining of the Platonic project. In what sense? Let’s be very precise. The fury that seizes Scottie when he finally discovers that Judy, whom he tried to make into Madeleine, is precisely Madeleine, that is precisely the fury of a deceived Platonism, who perceives that the original he wants to imitate it’s already in itself a copy. The shock is not that the original turns out to be a mere copy, this is standard deception, but Plato all the time warns us against it: don’t mistake a copy for the original. The shock is that what we took to be the copy turns out to be the original. Perhaps one should read here Vertigo together with General della Rovere, the wonderful Roberto Rossellini masterpiece from the same time, late 50s. The story of a small thief, superbly played by Vittorio de Sica, who is arrested by the Germans in Genoa in the winter of 44-45. The Germans proposed a deal to him: in prison he will pass for the general della Rovere, the resistant hero, so that other political prisoners will tell him their secrets, specially the true identity of other resistance leaders. However, the small thief, de Sica, gets so intensively involved, that at the end he assumes the identity of General della Rovere, and he prefers to be shot as General della Rovere. He simply takes the game too seriously. The Platocin reversal to be accomplished here is the same as in Vertigo: what if the true della Rovere is already a fake? I think this would be a more intelligent twist; what if at the end the true Rovere would emerge and people discovered that De Sica, the copy, the fake, is more true than, as it were the original itself.

Back to Vertigo, crucial for the film’s anti-Platonic aspects are the seemingly dead, because are often perceived by idiots that don’t know how to read a movie as kind of a dead ten minutes, after Scottie meets Judy, let’s say the poor girl who turns to be Madeleine, and before he fully engages in her violent transformation into Madeleine. What happens is that there are three key scenes here. First, the scene of their initial evening date at Ernie’s again, with the couple seated at a table, opposite each other, obviously failing to engage in a minimum conversation. All of a sudden, Scottie’s gaze gets fixed at some point behind Judy, the vulgar common girl sitting opposite him, and we see that it is a woman vaguely similar to Madeleine. When she notices what attracted Scottie’s gaze, she is of course deeply hurt. The crucial moment is when we see, from Scottie’s point of view, the two of them in the same shot. Judy on the right side, close to him and the grey woman back in the background. Thi sis the pure Platonic split, of course, she notices what happened. What is crucial here is that you see that brief moment of illusion, when Scottie thinks “my god, what if that woman there is Madeleine”. This is what Lacan repeated against Plato, that what Plato didn’t see is that the suprasensible idea is appearance as appearance. The Platonic split: the real woman who is vulgar copy, and the brief, illusory appearance of an absolute ideal. Then he takes her home and this is ultimately the feminist anti-Platonic scene, you will literally see the negative of the profile that we saw in the first shot. That’s why he uses her, as a dark screen to project. This is the moment of subjectivization.

Here you see that Hitchcock was a genius, how precisely it works. Something else happens then, when there is a scene when the two of them go dancing and you can see, in an almost tragic way for her, when they dance how she would want to be closer to him physically, but he is really disgusted at her. he doesn't want her physically, he wants her just as that dark stuff, (the silhouette) to put together his fantasy. You will say, but at the end we do have coitus, but only when he, Scottie, fills in that black half with the fantasy of Madeleine. When he remakes her as Madeleine, then they make love, implicitly. But that love is again, definitely masturbatory, in its structure, it is like that quote of Karl Kraus from Freud: “coitus is only an insufficient substitute for masturbation.” I would like to emphasize that his phallic dimension, masturbatory dimension of male enjoyment, enables to define in a precise way sexual possession. The ultimate formula of sexual possession is not the exploitation of the partner as a sexual object, but the renunciation of such use, the attitude of “I do not want anything from you, no sexual favours, on conditions that you do not have sex with others.” This is the true possession, opposed to use. This is my solution to the standard Kantian problem “don’t you, when you make love, don’t you use the other as an object for your pleasure? That is the risk that you have to take, the attitude of possession is precisely to reject this and maintain the other as an object of possession. We have this tension embodied in the two sides of a woman, Judy-Madeleine. Half of the woman is subjectivity, feminine subjectivity, the other half, the screen for projecting fantasies. This is not also the overall structure for Vertigo? That is to say, it’s a theory according to which Vertigo as a film plays upon two registers. On the one hand it can be read as a simply realistic narrative: a story taking place in the real world, and to take everything that happens in the film as simply taking place in reality. But you know all this mental experiments, justified in this case, that you can alternate another reading which is - remember the first scene with Scottie running from one place to the other, and then we see him hanging down, and it’s never explained how he got down. So the reading is that the entire film which follows is just his fantasy, what happens before he falls down.

If we read the movie in this way, the structure is the one of Ambrose Bierce’s short story ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’, in which everything that follows the hanging of a man at the story’s outset is at the end revealed as the fantasy of the dying man. There are also other films which play with this ambiguity, like ‘Point Blank’, John Bormans, with Lee Marvin. At the beginning he is shot in Alcatraz and at the end you return to Alcatraz. It’s just a kind of fantasy. This idea of two levels, let’s call it very naively fantasy-reality, is operative. This is the way to account for those mysterious moments where things happen just at the right moment. If we only perceive the movie as taking place in reality, there are slightly ridiculous coincidences, but nonetheless we take it seriously because this is the point where fantasy directly intervenes in reality. There are two scenes, one is the very last scene - do you remember when they practically already reconciled with each other at the tower, Scottie and Judy embrace and at that very point, mother superior appears from below - but you know the problem is here the perfect timing, if mother superior was appears two minutes earlier, nothing would have happened. If she was to appear 20 seconds earlier, nothing would have happened. In a way, as I put in one of my books, I forgot which one, this is a serious

I remember when I was young, 13-14, I saw for the first time Vertigo in my country, in Yugoslavia, it was in Cinematheque, a bad old copy, so bad that the last half minute was missing. And for 10 years I thought that Vertigo is a movie with a happy ending, that they embrace and so on. The shock is that it worked quite well, so there is a serious question as why does the mother superior have to appear. It’s clear why: because it’s Scottie’s super ego, Scottie wants her dead, it’s almost the version of Orpheus. We all know what really happens, Orpheus is terrified with the idea, this woman with me up there, where is my nobel point, it’s clear that he turns back so that she goes back to hell and he can write poetry and so on. Another example of this magic coincidence in what is, I think - and I wonder, Mark, if you were to agree - one scene from Vertigo which is the top: if you ask me is that scene after he saves her, just after that display of underwear that is not underwear, when they have that gentle soft conversation when she joins him from the bedroom and they have that short conversation, their first one, this is a supreme scene. Again, you have this magic moment of intervention at precisely the right point. You know what is the magic, and then, at precisely the moment when there is erotic tension contact, the ring comes to interrupt, and who is it? her husband, of course. Again, the only way to account for it is to read it as a fantasy. We have this tension between fantasy/reality, of course, reality sustained by fantasy. But I would like to make a step further here, what characterizes so called modern cinema, in contrast to Hitchcock is precisely the step into the disintegration of fantasy. I don’t mean disintegration of fantasy in the simple sense of: fantasy falls apart and finally we are welcome into the desert of the real, no, is that we are in the space where by losing fantasy, by being deprived of fantasy, we lose also reality. And we have some kind of pre-fantasmatic imaginary, objects floating around, not yet a consistent fantasy. This is how I read, and the reason why I relatively like, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Basically, the movie, this is the problem with David Lynch, I claim quite the opposite of what it is usually said: it’s too simple a movie, it’s clearly, the first two thirds is clearly a fantasy universe and then return back to reality. But the structure is Lacanian, more complex, it’s not direct fall from fantasy, what the girl is dreaming about, played Naomi Watts, to reality. Is that fantasy, when it gets too intense, precisely after her - wonderfully shot, I claim - lesbian lovemaking encounter, gets too intense and starts to fall apart. At this point she escapes into reality. This falling apart of fantasy takes place in a wonderfully precise way in two steps. First, is that test shooting scene, where you can understand why Lacan repeats after Freud: the real appears as dream within a dream. We are in a movie, but we get a dimension of her real character precisely when she makes the test, when she acts within acting movie. Remember how up to that point she is perceived as rather restrained and so on, and all of a sudden there is this explosion of almost obscene erotic energy. Then, but this is still within narrative reality, it explodes in the famous wonderful scene in the nightclub Silencio, you remember where the two girls, Betty, the heroine, and her lesbian mistress, Rita, go after successfully making (…). There is a singer singing in Spanish, then the singer collapses, but the voice remains, the song goes on. This is again the autonomized spectral object, and this moment is crucial, where fantasy collapses not into reality, but explodes, gets autonomized, a pure spectral apparition of a bodiless voice. There are two other examples, which point in the same direction. One must see the long version, 4 hours, in the short version it’s cut short. At the very beginning of Sergio Leone’s ‘Once Upon a Time in America’, remember the phone ringing, ringing and then its picked up, and the ringing goes on. What’s crucial here is the same as in that scene in a restaurant when Scottie sees the lady in grey. It is explained in the terms of simple reality. The ringing we were hearing was not that phone ringing, but another one. What interests me are those magic 5-10 seconds when we think: oh my god! … something appears, something traumatic. It happened to a good friend of mine, I can even tell you who, she would love it, my Stalinist, Lacanian colleague, Alenka Zupančič, the magic experience like that. She was with her boyfriend in a car, then he was talking to her and then, all of a sudden, her mobile phone started ringing, and then she saw her boyfriend was calling her. And she had this momentary loss of… how can he be calling her when he is there?! Ok, after thinking about it, it was explained, it was simply that she had her mobile phone in such a position [SZ points his pocket] and his number was number one, the first, so she, without knowing it, pressed the buttons and started calling him. It was possible to explain, but nonetheless, for 5-10 seconds it was this uncanny anxiety: what is going on? the absolute appears. It’s the same with Sergio Leone, of course, it’s immediately explained then, but nonetheless, those minutes when the phone goes on ringing, when we have precisely what, here I combine Lacan and Deleuze, it’s like the Chesire cat in Alice, big reference of Deleuze, and the logic of sense, you know when the cat disappears, the smile remains: organ without a body. Here we have the voice, which exists, maybe it’s even more horrible what George Balanchine did with a piece by Webern. He stages a ballet based in the music of (Anton) Webern, if you know anything about Anton Weber, you know that his complete works are less than three CDs, that is to say, if his pieces are very long, they are no more than 5 mins. So, what Balanchine did was genius: dancers dance, the music stops, and the dance goes on, and the effect is absolutely horrific. All of a sudden, it becomes some kind of a dance… as if the dancers were deprived of their life substance. What interests me is this moment of autonomization, this notion of a partial object which starts to talk is also the site of forceful ideological investments. Specially with regard to the way the male gaze endeavours to counter the fundamental (hystericity) of the feminine speech. For example, in his extraordinary philosophical novel, ‘Les Bijoux Indiscrets’, ‘The Indiscreet Jewels’, from 1748, Denis Diderot renders the ultimate phantasmatic answer: his idea here is that a woman speaks with two voices: the first one, that of her soul, is constitutively lying, deceiving, covering up her promiscuity. It is only the second voice, that of her bijou, the pear, which of course is, he makes it clear, the vagina, which by definition almost speaks the truth: a boring, repetitive, automatic, mechanical truth, the truth of her unconstrained voluptuousness. This notion of the talking vagina—that’s the madness of it, it’s interesting to read the sexual fantasies of so called French mechanical materialists—he does not mean it as a metaphor, but quite literally. Diderot provides the anatomic description of vagina as “instrument au corde et au vent”, “wind instrument and string instrument. Able to sing and so on. Again it’s counteracting what Lacan calls “woman doesn't exist” is that there you have there you have the guarantee, when vagina talks: woman does exist, positively, not just the elusively hysterical subject. This means that the talking vagina is the ultimate male chauvinist, sexual, ideological fantasy. I think that there is more in it, I think that we should be here very precise. What we have here is not the same as what you have in the big theatrical hit: Eve Ensler's, ‘The Vagina Monologues’. Now the difference is very refined: there, the vagina is simply subjectivized, you have a witty cervical voice commenting on and so on, but what Diderot is trying to grasp is something much more uncanny and mysterious, is a kind of a headless voice, is not the subject who speaks, is the object itself which starts to talk in a way. It’s an uncanny move: the becoming subject directly of the object itself. Along the same lines we should also read films like David Fincher’s ‘Fight Club’ or the one that I like less, but it has a nice detail, the one with Jim Carrey, ‘Me, Myself & Irene’. In both of them there is a double, but the double is basically an autonomized object. You remember this crucial, depressing, traumatic, but very effective scene in ‘Fight Club’, when the hero, Ed Norton, confronts his boss, he starts to beat himself, but how. His fist starts to behave precisely like an autonomous organ without a body. There is something comical about it, because is one of the standard numbers of the circus clowns: you behave as if you cannot control your limbs. We can go on here, up to the Deleuzian idea, which I find porno, but you have a group orgy where basically instead of bodies you basically just have an assemblage, composition, bricolage of partial objects. When you have a good orgy scene—there are difficult to find—it’s no longer persons, it’s just an opening here, an organ here, vagina and a mouth there, pennis and another hole there and so on… the unity is lost. This would be something very Deleuzian. What is so good, so progressive about this self-beating in ‘Fight Club’? Nietzsche was right when in one of his fragments he wrote—this is for me the best comment on ‘Fight Club’: “first one has the difficulty of emancipating oneself from one’s chains and ultimately one has to emancipate oneself from this emancipation too. Each of us has to suffer, though in greatly different ways, from the same sickness, even after he has broken the chains.” So, in order words, liberation is first to beat yourself, to get rid of that—as Lacan would have put it the circle enjoyment in which your master pays you, that’s the difficult part of liberating yourself. And my final point here would have been—the political one—is that against all this old rhetoric, that in some sense is fashionable again, of asserting the wholeness of a person, realizing yourself, and so on, the best metaphor for resisting, to use the old-fashioned term: revolutionary subjects is precisely a subject whose objective correlative, who, as object is not the whole body, the whole person, but just an organ. Let me now finish, I will read you a fairytale, the shortest one of Grimm brothers, called ‘The Willful Child’, or ‘The Obstinate Child’, ‘Das eigensinnige Kind’ is the German title:

“Once upon a time there was a child who was willful and did not do what his mother wanted. For this reason God was displeased with him and caused him to become ill, and no doctor could help him, and in a short time he lay on his deathbed. He was lowered into a grave and covered with earth, but his little arm suddenly came forth and reached up, and it didn't help when they put it back in and put fresh earth over it, for the little arm always came out again. So the mother herself had to go to the grave and beat the little arm with a switch, and as soon as she had done that, it withdrew, and the child finally came to rest beneath the earth.”

I think this is a very sad story, because this is the best metaphor of resistance, like you all know all the cinematic connotations of it from the bad, ironic one, Stanley Kubrick's ‘Strangelove’ you remember, the guy with a slightly different raising of the hand, repeated. Then, Carrie, the first big hit of Stephen King’s cinema version, the very last scene, which is already the dream of the other girl, her friend, out of the grave the hand comes up. The proper moment of subjectivization, not only in this pathetic sense revolutionary, but subversive, is precisely when the object, what we perceive as something non-subjectivable, becomes a strange non-subjectivized subject. My point would have been that whenever we have the reference to the whole body, a person—this would be the Lacanian point—the objective correlate of a person is the whole body: persons have bodies, corporate bodies; subjects have organs. That is to say, how do you become a subject? when precisely, as in the ‘Fight Club’, some part of your body, starts to act like an organ without a body. Far from criticising this as alienation, we should precisely endorse this opposition. As you may know better than me, the fundamental reference of conservative politics is always the corporate one: society is a harmonious body, then, that things happen when an organ of the body no longer functions in a proper way, doing what it should with regard to its function. As they put it: the head should be a hed, the king should be a wise king, the hand be a hand, the worker should work not complain and so on. But the metaphor of emancipation is simply this horror when an object starts to act of its own, and this is the subject in the modern sense, this object out of joint, as it were, displaced object is the correlate of Cartesian subjectivity. You don’t believe me. Just to finish, recently I was reading Descartes ‘Discourse on Method’, and more than ever, I confirmed the fact that multiculturalism is strictly a Cartesian affaire. My god! You know how it begins… really, he says he was travelling around European countries and he says he was first shocked by the difference of customs, opinions, and so on. And then in the second book he says that he all of a sudden perceived that they—customs of other people—may appear strange to us, but if you look through their eyes to us, we are no better. This fundamental insight into how our own background is ultimately contingent, stupid and so on. The same surprise with which you look at other’s customs, how is it that they eat like that… you should be able to, in a kind of parallel view, adopt the same attitude back towards yourself. I think this is the original site of Cartesian subjectivity, all that comes afterwards, all the self-identical, rational subject, that comes afterwards: the original insight is this radical out of place: I am nowhere, I have no place, which means precisely, I have no body, just an organ. I’m sorry if I was too long, but that’s life, that’s why my friends call me Fidel. Thank you very much.

[Questions follow].

Transcription by María José Orihuela, Architect, MA HCT at the Architectural Association.

All lectures are open to members of the public, staff and students unless otherwise stated.

December 2019
Su M Tu W Th F Sa


AA Photo Library has DVD copies of Public Programme lectures dating back to 1974


Online Lectures
Lecture Archive



For any issues with video playback please contact
AA Digital Platforms

The Architectural Association, Inc. is incorporated as a company limited by guarantee (No.171402) and registered as a charity (No. 311083). Registered office: 36 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3ES, 020 7887 4000

Click here to read the AA’s latest review report.

Click here to read the AA’s latest action plan.



The Architectural Association receives Taught Degree Awarding Powers by the Lords of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council.

The Architectural Association (AA), the oldest independent school of architecture in the United Kingdom, is pleased to announce that it has been granted the power to award its own degrees. As of 1 October 2019, the AA has the right to establish new academic programmes and degree awards and is working to create some of the world’s most pioneering courses in architecture to shape and build the future.

Taught Degree Awarding Powers (TDAP) give UK higher education institutions the right to award bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Prospective students worldwide can apply to the AA Foundation Course (Foundation Certificate), Experimental Programme BA(Hons), Diploma Programme (MArch), and nine taught postgraduate programmes encompassing History and Critical Thinking in Architecture (MA), Projective Cities (Taught MPhil) and Sustainable Environmental Design (MSc/MArch), amongst others.

AA Director, Eva Franch said, ‘since our founding in 1847 we have never ceased to create new horizons, institutionally and academically. This is a significant milestone for the AA and demonstrates how we have grown and progressed as an institution that has always valued independence. Receiving TDAP marks a new era for our institution; these are exciting times for the AA. The process has required considerable work from all members of staff and students. I would like to take this opportunity to credit them for this major achievement’.

President of the AA Council, Victoria Thornton added, ‘the TDAP process has recognised our strong governance, academic standards, scholarship and teaching as well as the environment supporting the delivery of taught higher education programmes’.

The School’s application for Taught Degree Awarding Powers was supported by the Architects Registration Board, the Royal Institute of British Architects and The Open University.