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Re: Zizek's Inimitable Take on Mauvaise Foi

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  • Mary
    Jim, Here is the quote from Less Than Nothing which I mistakenly omitted believing it to be from Sartre s B&N. Zizek s words are bracketed. ~[what Sartre
    Message 1 of 9 , Aug 15, 2013
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      Jim,

      Here is the quote from "Less Than Nothing" which I mistakenly omitted believing it to be from Sartre's B&N. Zizek's words are bracketed.

      ~[what Sartre does is show how, through the very exaggeration of his gestures, through his very over-identification with the role, the waiter in question signals his distance from it and thus asserts his subjectivity. True, this French waiter] plays at being a waiter by acting like an automaton, just as the role of a waiter in the United States, by a strange inversion, is to play at acting like one's friend. However, Sartre's point is that, whatever game the waiter is called upon to play, the ultimate rule that the waiter follows is that he must break the rules, and to do so by following them in an exaggerated manner. That is to say, the waiter does not simply follow the unwritten rules, which would be obedience to a certain kind of tyranny, but, instead, goes overboard in following those rules. The waiter succeeds in rejecting the attempt to reduce him to nothing more than being a waiter, not by refusing the role, but by highlighting the fact that he is playing it to the point that he escapes it. The waiter does this by overdoing things, by doing too much. The French waiter, instead of disappearing into the role, exaggerates the movements that make him something of an automaton in a way that draws attention to him, just as, we can add, the quintessential North American waiter is not so much friendly as overfriendly. Sartre uses the same word, trop, that we saw him using in Nausea to express this human superfluity....[True mauvaise foi consists precisely in embellishing my playing a role with idiosyncratic details—it is this "personal touch" which provides the space for false freedom, allowing me to accommodate myself to my self-objectivization in the role I am playing. (So what about those rare and weird moments in an American cafeteria when we suddenly suspect that the waiter's friendliness is genuine?)] ~Robert Bernasconi, How to Read Sartre, London: Granta 2006, p.38.

      --- In existlist@yahoogroups.com, "Mary" <josephson45r@...> wrote:
      >
      > Jim,
      >
      > I'm beginning to appreciate the complexity of Sartre's mauvaise foi, and to take its meaning as a sick belief about ourselves, one which most of us experience as cognitive dissonance. Sick as in not whole or even perhaps related to madness as Zizek does in the section from which the excerpt was derived. Dissonace about our being (and nothingness) is on the whole what Sartre's existential psychoanalysis addresses.
      >
      > You also have to remember that Zizek is by training and vocation Hegelian (as well as Lacanian) and treats oppositions as a unity. What I've absorbed, rightly or not, from this section in Less Than Nothing is that it is through what we commonly call madness that reason appears. We understand reason through the madness which coincides with it. It is through the play of oppositions that reality manifests. Notice what he says about the beggar and the king. Who has the possibility of freedom and wholeness? The waiter who thinks he's more than a waiter or the waiter who thinks he's a waiter? And remember, freedom of choice involves the gaze of others, not only what happens in our mind.
      >
      > So when Zizek concludes the French waiter is not an example of bad faith—as opposed to a particular kind of American waiter who adds their own personal embellishment in order to better serve—it is that American waiter who closes off the abyss of his freedom and the French waiter who opens the possibility of freedom. Through over acting and distancing himself from the role of waiter, the Frenchman does not objectify himself regardless of whether he's seen only as a waiter by others. The American example is someone who wants to be regarded as a genuine servant and fools himself through his personal flourish. He is a waiter; the French waiter is merely playing at it.
      >
      > I left out the Bernasconi quote and Zizek's comment about the American waiter, so I apologize for that. Sartre might have agreed with their interpretations depending on whether he believed mauvaise foi was a general condition of misunderstanding or whether this or that particular example of it is aberrant. I think it's the former and agree with Zizek that reason is about actualizing possibilities.
      >
      > I think our various expressions of incredulity towards mauvaise foi are because Sartre's examples are not as straightforward as we want them to be. Perhaps our misunderstanding of the concept is due in part to our own misunderstanding about ourselves. In other words, it's a difficult concept to comprehend because our own mauvaise foi prevents us from grasping it. To know that something so grand as freedom of choice even in mundane or necessary activities eludes our grasp means we haven't fully faced its terror—or that we have and stepped back.
      >
      > Mary
      >
      > --- In existlist@yahoogroups.com, "Jim" <jjimstuart1@> wrote:
      > >
      > > Mary,
      > >
      > > Thank you for your recent posts which have given me plenty to think about.
      > >
      > > The quotation from "Being and Nothingness; Being and Doing: Freedom; II. Freedom and Facticity: The Situation" is helpful in alerting us to the fact that there are many different conceptions of freedom, something which Sartre is well aware of. He emphasizes that the conception he is talking about, which he calls the `technical and philosophical concept of freedom', is concerned with `the autonomy of choice' which is different from the dream and the wish, and which is only possible if one engages with a resisting world.
      > >
      > > Sartre's conception of freedom as outlined here is a personal freedom, available to all, the slave as well as the free man. In this sense it is very different from political freedom which the slave certainly lacks.
      > >
      > > In your most recent post you quote from Zizek's book "Less than Nothing". Here Zizek follows Robert Bernasconi in arguing that the example of the waiter who over-elaborates the typical waiter gestures is not an example of bad faith. Rather the waiter "is playing, is amusing himself" and through his over-acting he is distancing himself from his role, and is precisely not identifying his essence with his role.
      > >
      > > Now, as I understand it, this is not the traditional interpretation of the passage about the waiter, where the traditional interpretation is that the waiter is an example of bad faith just because he does identify his essence with the role.
      > >
      > > Which interpretation is correct? What point was Sartre trying to make with the waiter example?
      > >
      > > I have gone back to the section from B&N and it is not clear to me what point Sartre was trying to make with this example. In favour of the bad-faith interpretation, is that at the start of the chapter Sartre says he is going to give some examples of bad faith. So it would be odd if in the middle of examples of bad faith he suddenly gives an example that isn't of bad faith.
      > >
      > > Further he makes the point that the cafe customers expect the waiter to identify with his waiter-role. He makes this point with reference to being a grocer: "A grocer who dreams is offensive to the buyer, because such a grocer is not wholly a grocer. Society demands that he limit himself to his function as a grocer ..." So this passage again supports the interpretation that the waiter is in bad faith, partly due to the pressure of society.
      > >
      > > Finally in favour of the bad-faith interpretation of the waiter example is the last sentence of the paragraph where the waiter is described. It runs: "There are indeed many precautions to imprison a man in what he is, as if he lived in perpetual fear that he might escape from it, that he might break away and suddenly elude his condition."
      > >
      > > However Sartre does write of the waiter "He is playing, he is amusing himself". This sentence supports the Bernasconi-Zizek interpretation that by deliberately playing the role of the waiter he is distinguishing himself from the role and is thus not in bad faith.
      > >
      > > So it is not clear to me whether Sartre meant his waiter to be an example of bad faith or, alternatively, an example of someone who had not succumbed to bad faith.
      > >
      > > Jim
      > >
      >
    • Jim
      Mary, The contrast between the French waiter and the American waiter is very helpful û thanks for that. You argue eloquently and powerfully in support of
      Message 2 of 9 , Aug 18, 2013
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        Mary,

        The contrast between the French waiter and the American waiter is very helpful – thanks for that.

        You argue eloquently and powerfully in support of Sartre's account of freedom, and how, according to Sartre, we struggle to face up to the enormity and absolute nature of our freedom. We often adopt coping strategies which at best are forms of harmless delusion but at worst impoverish our lives and those of our loved ones.

        With regard to what you write about an internal connection (as opposites) between reason and madness, I am not sure what to say. In another forum I have been accused of putting too much emphasis on reason and rationality. Is it better to be rational than to be irrational, or are they just different ways of being? If rationality is a virtue, I think it is one of the lesser virtues. It does not compare with such virtues as love, courage, honesty or justice.

        Jim
      • Mary
        Jim, I think of reason as more than the virtue of rationality . What I ve learned about reason from Hegel and Sartre is that it s the dialectical movement of
        Message 3 of 9 , Aug 20, 2013
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          Jim,

          I think of reason as more than the virtue of rationality . What I've learned about reason from Hegel and Sartre is that it's the dialectical movement of thought as speculative. Reason exceeds or goes beyond what is known while retaining what it knows. Reason is not only the content of thought; reason is its own movement. Reason is a negative activity which determines what is, in terms of what isn't. Furthermore, Sartre and some who followed reasoned in term of excess and lack.

          Love, courage, honesty, and justice for me are the faces of reason. Those who eschew intellectual activity as inferior to experience, in my opinion, denigrate reason because they don't understand it's multifarious movement. We might say that reason has its being through these very virtues. Reason isn't rational vs. irrational; it's the movement of thought and emotion across and between excess and lack of itself. Reason is divided but whole and defies certainty as much as it depends upon it. Reason tries to exclude madness because madness is there as well as reason.

          Mary

          --- In existlist@yahoogroups.com, "Jim" <jjimstuart1@...> wrote:
          >
          > Mary,
          >
          > The contrast between the French waiter and the American waiter is very helpful – thanks for that.
          >
          > You argue eloquently and powerfully in support of Sartre's account of freedom, and how, according to Sartre, we struggle to face up to the enormity and absolute nature of our freedom. We often adopt coping strategies which at best are forms of harmless delusion but at worst impoverish our lives and those of our loved ones.
          >
          > With regard to what you write about an internal connection (as opposites) between reason and madness, I am not sure what to say. In another forum I have been accused of putting too much emphasis on reason and rationality. Is it better to be rational than to be irrational, or are they just different ways of being? If rationality is a virtue, I think it is one of the lesser virtues. It does not compare with such virtues as love, courage, honesty or justice.
          >
          > Jim
          >
        • Mary
          ... Jim, With this excerpt from Zizek (Less Than Nothing) we can see how his notions of madness relate to our discussion of Sartre s Being and Nothingness as
          Message 4 of 9 , Aug 22, 2013
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            --- In existlist@yahoogroups.com, "Jim" <jjimstuart1@...> wrote:
            >
            > With regard to what you write about an internal connection (as opposites) between reason and madness, I am not sure what to say.

            Jim,

            With this excerpt from Zizek (Less Than Nothing) we can see how his notions of madness relate to our discussion of Sartre's Being and Nothingness as psychoanalytical existentialism.

            ~This, then, is the status of the Self: its self-awareness is, as it were, the actuality of its own possibility. Consequently, what "haunts" the subject is his inaccessible noumenal Self, the "Thing that thinks," an object in which the subject would fully "encounter himself."[47] Of course, for Kant, the same goes for every object of my experience which is always phenomenal, that is inaccessible in its noumenal dimension; however, with the Self, the impasse is accentuated: all other objects of experience are given to me phenomenally, but, in the case of the subject, I cannot even get a phenomenal experience of me—since I am dealing with "myself," in this unique case, phenomenal self-experience would equal noumenal access; that is, if I were to be able to experience "myself" as a phenomenal object, I would thereby eo ipso experience myself in my noumenal identity, as a Thing.

            The underlying problem here is the impossibility of the subject's objectivizing himself: the subject is singular *and* the universal frame of "his world," for every content he perceives is "his own"; so how can the subject include himself (count himself) in the series of his objects? The subject observes reality from an external position and is simultaneously part of this reality, without ever being able to attain an "objective" view of reality with himself included [in] it. The Thing that haunts the subject is *himself* in his objectal counterpoint, qua object. Hegel writes: "The subject finds itself in contradiction between the totality systematized in its consciousness, and the particular determination which, in itself, is not fluid and is not reduced to its proper place and rank. This is mental derangement [Verrücktheit]. [48] This has to be read in a very precise way. Hegel's point is not simply that madness signals a short-circuit between totality and one of its particular moments, a "fixation" of totality in this moment on account of the totality is deprived of its dialectical fluidity—although some of his formulations may appear to point in this direction.[49] The "particular determination which, in itself, is not fluid" and resists being "reduced to its proper place and rank" is *the subject himself*, or more precisely, the feature (signifier) that re-presents him (holds his place) within the structured ("systematized") totality; and since the subject cannot ever objectivize himself, the "contradiction" here is absolute.[50] With this gap, the possibility of madness emerges—and , as Hegel puts it in proto-Foucaldian terms, madness is not an accidental lapse, a distortion, or an "illness" of human spirit, but is inscribed into an individuals spirit's basic ontological constitution, for to be human means to be potentially mad...~Less Than Nothing, p. 348-9

            [47] Hume drew a lot of mileage—too much—out of this observation regarding how, upon introspection, all I perceive in myself are my particular ideas, sensations, emotion, never my "Self" itself.
            [48] As quoted in Malabou, The Future of Hegel, p. 35; translation modified from Hegel, Philosophy of Mind, §408.
            [49] Is not paranoid fixation such a short-circuit, in which the totality of my experience becomes non-dialectically "fixated" on a particular moment, the idea of my persecutor?
            [50] Upon a closer look, it becomes clear that the Hegelian notion of madness oscillates between the two extremes which one is tempted to call, with reference to Benjamin's notion of violence, constitutive and constituted madness. First, there is constitutive madness: the radical "contradiction" of the human condition itself, between the subject as "nothing," as the evanescent punctuality, and the subject as "all," as the horizon if its world. Then, there is "constituted" madness: the direct fixation upon, identification with, a particular feature as an attempt to resolve (or, rather, cut short) the contradiction. In a way homologous with the ambiguity of the Lacanian notion of the objet petit a, madness names at the same time the contradiction or void and the attempt to resolve it.

            Mary
          • Jim
            Mary, Thank you for your last two posts which, as usual, give me plenty to think about. I now realize that your use of the word `reason follows Hegel fairly
            Message 5 of 9 , Aug 23, 2013
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              Mary,

              Thank you for your last two posts which, as usual, give me plenty to think about.

              I now realize that your use of the word `reason' follows Hegel fairly closely: It is much more that the virtue of rationality; it is the forward movement of thought (particularly speculative thought) as it accommodates what has gone before and expands it into something new.

              Zizek on Sartre is an intoxicating mix. In some ways I think Zizek distorts Sartre, as Sartre was against the psychoanalytic approach (consider what he wrote in the `bad faith' section you gave the link to), whilst Zizek very much endorses the psychoanalytic approach of Lacan.

              Perhaps Sartre's idea of the fear of freedom was partly the idea of the fear that each of us is potentially a mad person, and the dividing line between being in control and being out of control is paper thin.

              Arguably we have moved on from Kant and his distinction between the empirical self and the noumenal self. I certainly have a more naturalistic account of the self than Kant. I think I am the human animal Jim Stuart who is both an object in the physical world and a subject of experience of that physical world.

              I agree I cannot take a fully objective view of reality. I cannot fully take up the "view from nowhere" as there is always a part of me, a blind spot, behind the lens. Thomas Nagel in his book "The View form Nowhere" offers a good account of the two poles of human experience – the objective point of view and the subjective point of view.

              Perhaps Sartre would say that by taking up a more naturalistic view of myself, I am just attempting to escape my radical freedom, and to think of myself as a human animal is to descend into a type of bad faith.

              However I hold on to Sartre's idea that I am radically free to choose my path through life and to choose the sort of person I become.

              Jim
            • Mary
              ... distorts Sartre, as Sartre was against the psychoanalytic approach (consider what he wrote in the `bad faith section you gave the link to), whilst Zizek
              Message 6 of 9 , Aug 26, 2013
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                --- In existlist@yahoogroups.com, "Jim" <jjimstuart1@...> wrote:

                > Zizek on Sartre is an intoxicating mix. In some ways I think Zizek
                distorts Sartre, as Sartre was against the psychoanalytic approach
                (consider what he wrote in the `bad faith' section you gave the link
                to), whilst Zizek very much endorses the psychoanalytic approach of
                Lacan.

                Hello Jim,

                Zizek does seem to distort a particular philosopher's oeuvre but often offers a different perspective on some of that philosopher's specific ideas. He also interprets one philosopher through another thinker. For example he reads Hegel through Lacan. I wouldn't say Sartre is opposed to the psychoanalytic approach since in several places he describes B&N as a existential psychoanalysis. I see him more specifically opposed to Freudian structures of consciousness but not to a psychoanalytical approach in general.

                Mary
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