Zizek on “Culture of Complaint”

“The Big Other doesn’t exist”

Slavoj Zizek


These vicissitudes signal that, today, “the big Other doesn’t exist” is more radical than the usual one, synonymous with symbolic order: this symbolic trust, which persists against all sceptical data, is more and more undermined. The first paradox of this retreat of the big Other is discernible in the so-called “culture of complaint” with its underlying logic of ressentiment: far from cheerfully assuming the inexistence of the big Other, the subject blames the Other for its failure and/or impotence, as if the Other is guilty for the fact that it doesn’t exist, i.e. as if impotence is no excuse. The more the subject’s structure is “narcissistic,” the more he blames the big Other, and thus asserts his dependence on it. The “culture of complaint” thus calls on the big Other to intervene, and to set things straight (to recompense the damaged sexual or ethnic minority, etc., although how exactly this is to be done is a matter of different ethico-legal “committees”). The specific feature of the “culture of complaint” lies in its legalistic twist, in the endeavor to translate the complaint into the legal obligation of the Other (usually the State) to indemnify one for what? For the very unfathomable surplus-enjoyment of which I am deprived, whose lack makes me feel deprivileged. Thus, is not the “culture of complaint” today’s version of the hysterical impossible demand, addressed to the Other, which effectively wants to be rejected, since the subject grounds its existence in its complaint:”I am insofar as I make the Other responsible and/or guilty for my misery”? The gap here is insurmountable between this logic of complaint and the true “radical” (“revolutionary”) act which, instead of complaining to the Other and expecting it to act (i.e. displacing the need to act onto it), suspends the existing legal frame and itself accomplishes the act. What is wrong with the complaint of the truly deprivileged is that, instead of undermining the position of the Other, they still address It: they, translating their demand into legalistic complaint, confirm the Other in its position by their very attack.

Furthermore, a wide scope of phenomena the resurgent ethico/religious “fundamentalisms” which advocate a return to the Christian or Islamic patriarchal division of sexual roles; the New Age massive re-sexualization of the universe, i.e., the return to pre-modern, pagan, sexualized cosmo-ontology; the growth of “conspiracy theories” as a form of popular “cognitive mapping” seem to counter the retreat of the big Other. These phenomena cannot be simply dismissed as “regressive,” as new modes of “escape from freedom,” as unfortunate “remainders of the past” which will disappear if only we continue more resolutely on the deconstructionist path of historicisation of every fixed identity, of unmasking the contingency of every naturalized self-image. Rather, these disturbing phenomena compel us to elaborate the contours of the big Other’s retreat: The paradoxical result of this mutation in the “inexistence of the Other” (of the growing collapse of the symbolic efficiency) is precisely the re-emergence of the different facets of a big Other which exists effectively, in the Real, and not merely as symbolic fiction.


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