With this in mind let us now return to the point from which we began — the contemporary sacrificial economies of deferred jouissance — and engage the cultural politics of these two positions. The profound difference between the Christian economy I have been outlining (and constructing) and postmodern accounts of the negation of negation lies in the perennial suffering and sacrifices of love as not-having (in the contemporary accounts) and the eternal suffering intrinsic to the plenitude of love itself (the Christian account). The agonistic pleasure of enduring the undecideable (Derrida)40 is akin to being suspended on the brink of orgasm without being allowed the final release of coming. This is the quintessential sado-masochistic ecstasy which, in truth, announces a certain stasis, even paralysis. In contrast, the closing lines of the New Testament resound with the call for Messianic arrival: 'The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let him who hears say, "Come." ... He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus' (Rev. 22.17, 20). The Christian always seeks that coming, not to prolong its arrival, but in the belief that proclaiming that coming is itself ushering in its fulfilment.
Zizek, in a remarkable analysis of the Christian economy of charity (which he compares with Lacan's later shift 'from the "masculine" logic of the Law and its constitutive exception towards the "feminine" logic in which there is no exception'),41 writes about its 'subversive core'.42 In a reading of
40 The Politics of Friendship, p. 123.
41 The Fragile Absolute, p. 116.
Paul's two letters to the Church at Corinth, he articulates how Christian love 'unplugs itself' from its cultural context, its organic community, and so disturbs the balance of the All, the integration into the One. 'Christianity is the miraculous Event that disturbs the balance of the One—All; it is the violent intrusion of Difference that precisely throws the balanced circuit of the universe off the rails!43 Closely reading the famous hymn to agape in I Corinthians, chapter 13, Zizek writes:
the point of the claim that even if I were to possess all knowledge, without love I would be nothing, is not simply that with love I am 'something' — in love, I am also nothing but, as it were, a Nothing humbly aware of itself, a Nothing paradoxically made rich through the very awareness of its lack. Only a lacking, vulnerable being is capable of love: the ultimate mystery of love is therefore that incompleteness is in a way higher than completion. On the one hand, only an imperfect, lacking being loves: we love because we do not know all. On the other hand, even if we were to know everything, love would inexplicably still be higher than completed knowledge.44
I remain troubled by the language of nothingness and lack, and I am convinced this is a move by Zizek beyond Lacan, but two main points about the Christian economy of desire are sharpened here. First, this passage captures much of what I have been arguing for in terms of the agony of difference constituted by love itself. As such, the Person of the Spirit holds open to creation the love between the Father and the Son, which challenges our understandings of what is intended by words like 'imperfection' and 'incompletion'. Creation too groans in its distinction and its love. As we noted in chapter five, 'Divinity and Sexual Difference', only in the constitution of difference itself can there be enjoyment of the other as other — where enjoyment implies active interest, participation without sublation. This is an altogether different account from the sado-masochistic suffering of love as not-having, of enjoying one's own traumatic symptoms. To delight in the suffering of ambivalence that dares not hope for resolution, is to remain within what Zizek calls 'the balanced circuit of the universe'. For this delight has no future; deferral does not open a future, it only prolongs the present in despair because hope becomes impossible. And what desire desires, in these contemporary accounts of sacrifice and pleasure, is deferral. The logic of sacrifice to appease the terrible ire of whimsical gods is internalised, and appeasement becomes appraisal of endless situational ambivalence and
insecurity.45 Sacrifice no longer wards off the arbitrary violences of a sadistic deity, but rather finds sado-masochistic pleasure in always only being compromised and ruptured.46
Secondly, the Christian account of suffering is not one installed by the suspension of the semantic by the semiotic. Zizek seems to suggest this himself in his analysis of love and knowledge. Not-knowing is not enduring the undecideable. The knowing-in-part reaches beyond itself, so that time, spirit and materiality are all distended. There is a surpassing of what is understood in the understanding that is granted.47 There is here an overcoming of the instrumentality of reason, whereas it is the sheer inability of the reason to be as instrumental as it might wish which creates the lag and deferral that announces differance. It is the very construal of reasoning as instrumental that invokes the aporetic, the undecideable.
Of course, with some irony, Foucault laid the blame for sado-masochism (in which he also delighted and deemed creative) at the feet of Christian pastoral practices, technologies of subjectivity honed and devised from Christianity's inception.48 He was developing here Freud's concept of moral masochism as an unexpungeable and unconscious sense of guilt. But 'genealogy' is a tool of polemic and resistance, not always alert to the subtleties of historical specificity. The Christian economy of suffering and incarnation sketched here is not sado-masochistic for two reasons: First, it does not view difference as rupture and therefore it does not install a (non)foundational violence (the tout autre) as the principle for its momentum; a violence which is either projected (sadism) or introjected (masochism). Secondly, the economy of its desire is not locked into love as not-having. Rather, love is continually extended beyond itself and, in and through that extension,
45 Culturally this prepares the ground very well for the politics of fear and terror which are being instituted (and institutionalised) in the West (including Russia too) today. One can take note of the endless suspicion engendered by the Patriot Act in the United States.
46 Freud recognised the strong association between sadism and masochism. It was the same instinct, the death instinct, operating by either projecting or introjecting violence. Furthermore, in his 1924 essay 'The Economic Problem of Masochism', having distinguished erotogenic, feminine and moral forms of masochism, he pointed to the relationships between masochism and impotence, the masturbatory act of finding sexual satisfaction in oneself and infantile life. The Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. XIX, tr. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1961), pp. 159—70.
47 That the surpassing of the understanding takes places in what is understood if only partially is fundamental. It is too easy, and my own work has not always avoided this ease, to counter postmodern economies of lack with theological economies of excess. The surpassing of the understanding is not an entry into the mystical sublime, white ecstasy. The surpassing of the understanding is where what is understood by mind and eye intimates a divine depth intuited by what Gregory of Nyssa would call 'the spiritual senses'. See here essay three, 'The Body of the Church and its Erotic Politics'.
48 The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, tr. Robert Hurley (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1981).
receives itself back from the other as a non-identical repetition. Love construed as having or not-having is a commodified product. It is something one possesses or does not possess. It is part of an exchange between object and subject positions. But love in the Christian economy is an action, an economy of response to Christ, not an object. It cannot be lost or found, absent or present. It constitutes the very space within which all operations in heaven and upon earth take place. The positions of persons are both constituted and dissolved. The linearity and syntax of Indo-European languages barely allow access to the mystery of Trinitarian persons and processions: where one ends and another begins. As such, suffering and sacrifice are not distinct moments, kenoo is also and simultaneously plero. The wounds of love are the openings of grace.
Again, I repeat, this a theological account of suffering and incarnation. There are myriad historical accounts of suffering and numerous philosophical, psychological and sociological analyses. The burden of my argument is that the incarnational view of creation profoundly relates the theological and the historical — bearing both forward (in a hope that, in being ineradicable, is all the more painful to endure) towards an eschatological discernment. But the method of my argument is confrontational, not simply analytical. And the Christian theological nature of that confrontation is important, for, as Zizek himself observes, Christianity has a 'subversive core', a radicality inseparable from its orthodoxy. What the confrontation suggests is that the sado-masochistic economies of desire profoundly at work in contemporary culture are pathological. They are destructive of what is most necessary for our well-being and cosmic flourishing. Surely the economy of incarnate love offers greater resources for social transformation, amelioration. Surely to persist in enjoying the symptoms of a cultural neurosis (which is trans-cultural insofar as it constitutes the economy of desire operating in global capitalism) is a decadence few can afford at the peril of us all. We need to practise an art of living in the name of a transcendental hope that breaks free of the vicious circularities of the same; to learn about good formations of the soul which produce those places operating a logic that counters the sado-masochistic economy. We need to defend the legacies of those theological traditions that teach us the proper labour of our loving.
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