Zizek's first panic attack

In 1981, Zizek spent a year in Paris, where he met some of the thinkers whose work he had been so avidly consuming. He would return often. In 1982, however, Lacan died and his mantle passed to his son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller - a man who would play an important role in Zizek's career. A former student of Althusser's, Miller had impressed Lacan with the coherence he brought to the master's sprawling theoretical system. While many Lacanians accuse Miller of simplifying Lacan (perish the thought!), others believe that Lacan's posthumous reputation would not have grown without Miller's ordering influence. A shrewd political operator, Miller was eager to expand the Lacanian empire farther than its progenitor had ever imagined. Miller taught two classes in Paris: one that was open to anyone, and an exclusive, thirty-student seminar at the École de la Cause Freudienne in which he examined the works of Lacan page by page. After a brief interview, Zizek and Dolar were invited to attend this latter class. "Miller took enormous interest in us because we came from Yugoslavia," Dolar remembers. "We had been publishing Lacan in Problemi and Analecta for years, and he was grateful for that. He thinks very strategically and didn't have anyone else est ablished in Eastern Europe. To him, we were the last stronghold of Western culture on the eastern front."


Zizek's Paris years, although intellectually stimulating, were not very happy. Thanks to Miller, who got him a coveted teaching fellowship, he was able to stay in Paris and write a second dissertation, a Lacanian reading of Hegel, Marx, and Saul Kripke , portions of which would later become The Sublime Object of Ideology. But his first marriage, to a fellow Slovenian philosophy graduate student, had just ended, and there were times he felt he was on the brink of committing suicide. His meager sti pend barely kept him alive. He was a ripe if reluctant candidate for psychoanalysis, and there were many days, he says, when he skipped meals in order to pay for treatment.

In addition to being Zizek's teacher, adviser, and sponsor, Jacques-Alain Miller became his analyst as well. While familiarity between analyst and analysand is discouraged by Freudians, it was not unusual for Lacanians to socialize with their patients. Lacan's most controversial psychoanalytic innovation, however, was the variable, or "short," session through which he tried to combat a patient's resistance by introducing an element of discontinuity into the therapeutic process. In contrast to Freud's fifty-minute "hour," Lacan's sessions ended the moment he sensed the patient had uttered an important word or phrase - a break that might occur in fifteen minutes or less. Miller had fine-tuned the logic of therapy to the point that few sessions lasted more than ten minutes. "To be in analysis with Miller was to step into a divine, predestined universe," says Zizek. "He was a totally arbitrary despot. He would say, come back tomorrow at exactly 4:55, but this didn't mean anything! I would arrive at 4:55 and would find a dozen people waiting."

One goal of the variable session is to keep a patient from preparing material ahead of time. In this respect, Lacanian psychoanalysis met its match in Zizek. "It was my strict rule, my sole ethical principle, to lie consistently: to invent all symptoms , fabricate all dreams," he reports of his treatment. "It was obsessional neurosis in its absolute purest form. Because you never knew how long it would last, I was always prepared for at least two sessions. I have this incredible fear of what I might dis cover if I really went into analysis. What if I lost my frenetic theoretical desire? What if I turned into a common person?" Eventually, Zizek claims, he had Miller completely taken in by his charade: "Once I knew what aroused his interest, I invented eve n more complicated scenarios and dreams. One involved the Bette Davis movie All About Eve. Miller's daughter is named Eve, so I told him that I had dreamed about going to a movie with Bette Davis in it. I planned every detail so that when I finished he announced grandly, 'This was your revenge against me!'"

As the head of the main Lacanian publishing house, Miller was in a position to turn Zizek's doctoral dissertation into a book. So, when not presenting his fabricated dreams and fantasies, Zizek would transform his sessions into de facto academic seminars to impress Miller with his keen intellect. Although Zizek successfully defended his dissertation in front of Miller, he learned after the defense that Miller did not intend to publish his thesis in book form. The following night he had his first panic attack, which had all the symptoms of a heart attack. Eventually, he placed the manuscript with the publishing house of a rival Lacanian faction.

― Excerpted from: Enjoy Your Zizek: An excitable Slovenian philosopher examines the obscene practices of everyday life


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