Organs Without Bodies: On Zizek and Vitalism

One of my favourite passages from Lacan is the myth of the lamella that is often quoted by Zizek:

“Whenever the membranes of the egg in which the foetus emerges on its way to becoming a new-born are broken, imagine for a moment that something flies off, and that one can do it with an egg as easily as with a man, namely the hommelette, or the lamella.

The lamella is something extra-flat, which moves like the amoeba. It is just a little more complicated. But it goes everywhere. And as it is something – I will tell you shortly why – that is related to what the sexed being loses in sexuality, it is, like the amoeba in relation to sexed beings, immortal – because it survives any division, and scissiparous intervention. And it can run around.

Well! This is not very reassuring. But suppose it comes and envelopes your face while you are quietly asleep…

I can’t see how we would not join battle with a being capable of these properties. But it would not be a very convenient battle. This lamella, this organ, whose characteristic is not to exist, but which is nevertheless an organ – I can give you more details as to its zoological place – is the libido.

It is the libido, qua pure life instinct, that is to say, immortal life, irrepressible life, life that has need of no organ, simplified, indestructible life. It is precisely what is subtracted from the living being by virtue of the fact that it is subject to the cycle of sexed reproduction. And it is of this that all the forms of the objet a that can be enumerated are the representatives, the equivalents. The objet a are merely its representatives, its figures. The breast – as equivocal, as an element charicteristic of the mammiferous organization, the placenta for example – certainly represents that part of himself that the individual loses at birth, and which may serve to to symbolize the most profound lost object” (Seminar XI, 197-198, quoted in Zizek, Interrogating the Real, 160-161).

The horrifying image of this “organ without body” is somehow greatly satisfying. I was talking with my advisor yesterday and we were continuing a discussion we’ve been having all year, whose general theme is either “Where does Zizek fit?” or perhaps more accurately, “What the hell is Zizek doing?”

My own reading of Zizek leads me to believe that he is some sort of foundationalist in the same vein as Descartes (I’ll write an entry on Zizek’s reading of the cogito at some point, more on that later). Sean (my advisor) was intrigued by such an idea when I brought it up the other day. Back to the point though: what the hell is Zizek doing here? Why does he so often emphasize this biological side of the Real, the idea that the body or the organ is disgusting and ugly, and is actually horrifying (it is that from which we recoil)?

I can’t remember where (I want to say The Parallax View) but Zizek talks about this in the context not of drives but of the disgusting reality of what’s happening under my skin. Is this a conscious move he’s making from “biological drive as symbol for excess” (or perhaps more accurately, life as the excess that cannot be symbolized) as in the lamella to a more overt biologism in the style of Bergson or Deleuze?

My own thoughts bring me close to this vitalist thought (one of my long-term goals is to bridge the gap between Schelling qua Naturphilosophie and Vitalism-proper) so I have something of a vested interest in Zizek and Vitalism since he is one of the proponents of some form of Schellingianism. Is the lamella a clue towards Zizek’s dark vitalism?

I have yet to read Zizek’s book on Deleuze (I had heard bad things about it years ago and so out it off, and now that I want to read it I’m not sure if I have the time. . .), but does he clarify this? What is the relation between Zizek and vitalism?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Organs Without Bodies: On Zizek and Vitalism

  1. Josh

    Have you read the Production of Space by Henri Lefebvre?

  2. Oneirmos

    I read Zizek’s book for Deleuze, and i think he is right insisting on the relationship between deleuze’s ”dualities” (like virtual-actual) with Hegel’s (like ground-conditions). I believe in a modern hegelian-deleuzian vitalism reinforced by the ”general systems theory”.

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