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[Aff] Letter of the Law

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i was wondering if we could start a discussion on the multiple ways that letter of hte law may be run next year.

 

any ideas?

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If this issue really is legal in nature, I would love to read about it. Could you be more specific as to the issues involved? Thanks.

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He is talking about Zizek's argument about how to use the letter of the law against itself to spur change. I think its the plague of fantasies 97. The most famous solvency card can be found in the free cards thread in the critique forum.

 

Jamie

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Although the Zizek argument is influenced by the purpose/letter of the law debates in legal scholarship, the level of analysis is far removed from O’Conner’s thought on purposivism(SP)

 

Jamie is correct that plague of fantasies is a good source, especially for a more in depth debate, but I think the best card is from contingency, hegemony, etc. (the book with butler and laclua)

 

I will try to explain the argument to the best of my abilities, while avoiding as much of the lacanian terminology and explicit psychoanalytic argument as possible (because it adds much unneeded complexity). I am sure that alex or someone could give a better explanation.

 

To understand Zizek’s arguments on resistance start with the question “what is power?” Most traditional views of power and how it operates assume that power operates in the mode of identification: Benedict Anderson’s analysis of nationalism is a good example—“imagined communities” including nations and states exercise power over people because those people identify with the nation or state. So the classical view would be that the reason that Bush has power over the state apparatus is that people identify as Americans and give allegiance unto the president who they identify as a Texan who looks like a monkey. Zizek would say this misses something fundamental about who power operates, that “at the very least, power operates in the mode of disidentification.” In this Zizek draws on Foucault’s analysis of delinquency. Foucault argues that a class of new professionals (psychiatrists, social workers) were able to gain power by declaring certain acts to be in opposition to its norms. By declaring certain act delinquent, they were able to exercise power out side of the scope of legal authority, replacing the traditional state based repressive apparatus with new systems of control. Foucault further argues (at least in zizek’s reading of him) that the new instructions set up to deal with delinquency actively encouraged the very delinquency they were supposed to control (by exposing minor troublemakers to the hardened criminals of the juvenile world, etc). Zizek believes that Foucault does not go far enough in examining the requirment of power for its own violation to exist. He argues that for every norm or system of domination (law), the specter of those who violate the law is what allows it to function. Zizek labels this “disidentification.” It is Zizek’s argument that the “law’s” prohibition on homosexuality requires the homosexual disidentification with the law in order to justify itself.

 

Many attempts at opposition to power involve refusing to obey the law, and thus disidentifying ones self from it, but Zizek argues this only increases the hold the law has on us. Zizek proposes a number of alternative modes of resistance; one of them is to “read the law against itself.” Zizek’s claim is that we can expose the law by holding it to its letter. An example of this mode of resistance would be to try (or at least to try to try) the leader of a liberal democracy (bush say) for war crimes, there by exposing the hypocrisy embedded in the assumptions that allow the law to function.

 

As a debate argument, reading the law against itself is kritikish (borderline performance). Normally an affirmative argues that their advocacy is an example of zizek’s “letter of the law” method of resistance, that by voting aff the judge endorses engaging in a fantasy in an attempt to defeat the law by identifying with it (over-identifying with it)

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correct me if I'm wrong but reading the letter of the law against itself isn't the same thing as over-identifying... I mean the former might evolve into the latter in a jamesonian utopian demand but I don't think Zizek intends reading the letter of the law to be usefull because it's over-identification.

 

Also, I think Zizek might just be wrong here. As, a lacanian, he is operating under this notion that "without the law, nothing is possible" that the law is positive (and thus disidentifying with it is playing into its hands) as opposed to negative and restrictive. I believe that this is incorrect. Repressive law is not the same as the norm that Foucault talk about and law is an inherently negative restrictive item. Thus disidentifying with it (like Dr. King's strategy, guerilla warfare, or spectral invisibility like in Nam or like going underground) has historically proven to be the only viable stratagy. It seems to me that disidentifying with the system is the only was to change the ideological co-ordinates of the system because law ultimately has the goal of making people subserve. If it were the opposite we would not have those laws. In this conception of law, identification with power seems to be the worst strategy.

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correct me if I'm wrong but reading the letter of the law against itself isn't the same thing as over-identifying... I mean the former might evolve into the latter in a jamesonian utopian demand but I don't think Zizek intends reading the letter of the law to be usefull because it's over-identification.

Wrong. Overidentification means fulling submitting oneself to the demand made by the superego that is ultimately obscene in nature (it knows we can't actually do it, it laughs at our failure and takes joy in our anxiety). In legal terms the letter of the law IS the superego demand not to be actually met. Fully submitting, not just our enemies but our allies and ourselves to the letter of international law, for example, could have tremendous affects. Contrary to many people's perceptions the Lacanian alternative is always an overidentification of some sort either be it with the superego demand or with the autonomous partial object.

Also, I think Zizek might just be wrong here. As, a lacanian, he is operating under this notion that "without the law, nothing is possible" that the law is positive (and thus disidentifying with it is playing into its hands) as opposed to negative and restrictive. I believe that this is incorrect. Repressive law is not the same as the norm that Foucault talk about and law is an inherently negative restrictive item. Thus disidentifying with it (like Dr. King's strategy, guerilla warfare, or spectral invisibility like in Nam or like going underground) has historically proven to be the only viable stratagy. It seems to me that disidentifying with the system is the only was to change the ideological co-ordinates of the system because law ultimately has the goal of making people subserve. If it were the opposite we would not have those laws. In this conception of law, identification with power seems to be the worst strategy.

Also incorrect, Dr. King, guerilla rebels, etc all used some form of superegoic law to carry out their action either that or they failed. As in the case of Dr. King his movement is ultimately a failure however its minor success was purely because he overidentified with the establishing command of the United States and with the commands made by God (ie "love thy neighbour" or "all men are created equal"). Guerilla warfare however and there various revolutions as a result of all be despicable failures.

As for Foucault's analysis, as Zizek points out in The Ticklish Subject, Foucault's analysis ends up locking itself into a zero position where there is no way out of the constrictions of power ("every political practice proves to be already ensnared in the biopolitical trap") but instead of accepting this radical lack of solution, lack of escape, Foucault goes farther and farther back in genealogical analysis and replicates the 3rd and 5th veils of fantasy articulated by Zizek at the beginning of The Plague of Fantasies, culminating in a mythical narrative before "the fall" (ie Foucault's arguments about care for the self and his steadfast devotion to principles of resistance as being something that can ultimately change).

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Also, I think Zizek might just be wrong here. As, a lacanian, he is operating under this notion that "without the law, nothing is possible" that the law is positive (and thus disidentifying with it is playing into its hands) as opposed to negative and restrictive. I believe that this is incorrect. Repressive law is not the same as the norm that Foucault talk about and law is an inherently negative restrictive item. Thus disidentifying with it (like Dr. King's strategy, guerilla warfare, or spectral invisibility like in Nam or like going underground) has historically proven to be the only viable stratagy. It seems to me that disidentifying with the system is the only was to change the ideological co-ordinates of the system because law ultimately has the goal of making people subserve. If it were the opposite we would not have those laws. In this conception of law, identification with power seems to be the worst strategy.

I think that the “law” for zizek is much closer to “power” in the foucualtian vocabulary then it is to the narrow definition of law (codified rules of the state) used in foucualt. That although the “letter of the law” might be inherently negative, it relies on an unofficial productive force to maintain itself.

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@PhilIanDumer?

 

I think it is necessary to draw a distinction between Law and power. For Zizek law is very fantasmic at its core, and as you touched on the fantasy is sustained by its own obscene transgression. For foucault power is this very discursive and fluid substance that establishes systems of normalization, regulates the social Whole, etc. Zizek takes a slightly more bold stance. He reduces law completely to a very fantasmic transgession of the very norms it is implimented to uphold. For zizek this is the most perverse and dangerouse form of law, as he feels it assumes the role of the Freudian "superego"

 

So law is not so much sustained by its external transgression, but by its own transgression. When people steal they are charged a fine. Are these acts not essentially the same? This is what defines law for Zizek, the superegotistical authority to transgress the norms you are implimented to sustain.

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Zizek's Letter-of-the-law stuff is essentially a way to escape the superegotistical nature of Law. It's like when someone interprets everything you say extremely literally in such a manor that the obscene underside of what you are saying(Zizek calls them the "unspoken rules") are broken.

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so, essentially, something where we impose our own law on an african nation, and then they after adapting our law, they repremand us for some sort of way that we violate it?

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so, essentially, something where we impose our own law on an african nation, and then they after adapting our law, they repremand us for some sort of way that we violate it?

What?

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i'm trying to figure out how to form an aff based on the letter of the law theory.

 

and whoever gave me neg rep for that...wtf? you dont give someone neg rep because theyre wrong... i know that its probably not right, i'm just trying to understand the theory.

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@PhilIanDumer?

 

I think it is necessary to draw a distinction between Law and power. For Zizek law is very fantasmic at its core, and as you touched on the fantasy is sustained by its own obscene transgression. For foucault power is this very discursive and fluid substance that establishes systems of normalization, regulates the social Whole, etc. Zizek takes a slightly more bold stance. He reduces law completely to a very fantasmic transgession of the very norms it is implimented to uphold. For zizek this is the most perverse and dangerouse form of law, as he feels it assumes the role of the Freudian "superego"

 

So law is not so much sustained by its external transgression, but by its own transgression. When people steal they are charged a fine. Are these acts not essentially the same? This is what defines law for Zizek, the superegotistical authority to transgress the norms you are implimented to sustain.

 

As to the inherent transgression being internal or external with regards to the law…I will respond in a latter post…its been a while since I read the first section of plague of fantasies.

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But if the law's whose letter with which we are identifying are inherently oppressive, then how does over-identifying change those laws/that fantasmatic power exercise. And isn't it true that some laws are just laws? Not necessarily all of them. When I shoplift I am breaking the law. They do not have laws against shoplifting so that I will steal their shit. How does identifying with the "letter of the anti-shoplifting laws" change the fact that they still imprison kids for stealing PS2s from Wallmart?

 

Sorry... I know this must sound ignorant. I've only read Lacan and the Political and I only know how to repeat Lenin... not this fancy over-identification stuff.

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i don't think foucault or zizek think stealing is okay?

more, neither of them are anarchists, nor are they trying to save you from being oppressed.

last, foucault helped make law! it is not entirely repressive (and, for zizek, so what if it is?)!

 

in the most layman terms i can produce:

the argument zizek is making would look something like "full healthcare for everyone" or "economic equality for everyone" in practice (though probably something much more fantastic). the argument is that we push this law through knowing full well that it will not result in great healthcare for everyone regardless of anything or genuine economic equality for everyone regardless of anything. people will watch their politicians talk about how they're going to get great healthcare and that there'll be no more economic disparity and your woes will be solved, but they will not see the results (or they will, in which case hurray). not seeing the results will expose various faults and piss people off allowing for more room to breath and clarify what we might call the weak points in law. holding the law against itself is not really meant to create good law, but more to expose the faults (underlying fantasies) within law.

 

edit: of course, finding solvency for either of these kinds of affirmatives would be a bitch. for a working debate example see phil's post about trying bush for war crimes or search for "bush 'war crimes' zizek" on this site. the difference is that when trying bush for war crimes the trial would actually (well, assuming ideal, "fair" trial...) expose bush for having committed war crimes.

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edit: of course, finding solvency for either of these kinds of affirmatives would be a bitch. for a working debate example see phil's post about trying bush for war crimes or search for "bush 'war crimes' zizek" on this site. the difference is that when trying bush for war crimes the trial would actually (well, assuming ideal, "fair" trial...) expose bush for having committed war crimes.

 

this is waht i was making a sorry attempt at getting at, lol

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And isn't it true that some laws are just laws? Not necessarily all of them. When I shoplift I am breaking the law. They do not have laws against shoplifting so that I will steal their shit.

 

Zizek's point is not that laws aren't just. He is just explaining the nauture of Law, and how it sustains itself. Here's an example: The death penalty. I am not allowed to kill, but the law will kill me as punishment. What is the distinction between me and the Law? The Law has the authority to transgress itself, and this is what constitutes it as such.

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Zizek's point is not that laws aren't just. He is just explaining the nauture of Law, and how it sustains itself. Here's an example: The death penalty. I am not allowed to kill, but the law will kill me as punishment. What is the distinction between me and the Law? The Law has the authority to transgress itself, and this is what constitutes it as such.

 

Yes... I'm not saying that Zizek says that all laws are unjust. Lets take your example. How does me over identifying with the law overturn the death penalty law if I thought that was an unjust law? My point is simply that I don't think that over-identifying is generally a good strategy to fight laws that we find unjust. It's the same thing with capitalism (which Zizek is undoubtedly against)... How again does identifying with the capitalist law structure do anything positive? If anything, the only positive real life example of reading the letter of the law so far have been over identifying with a law in opposition to the current power structure. (trying bush, providing economic equality, etc.)

 

Also, how does Zizek justify repeating Lenin or the act by over identifying?

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Zizek's point is not that laws aren't just. He is just explaining the nauture of Law, and how it sustains itself. Here's an example: The death penalty. I am not allowed to kill, but the law will kill me as punishment. What is the distinction between me and the Law? The Law has the authority to transgress itself, and this is what constitutes it as such.

you just blew my mind, man.

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well heres how it goes in my eyes...

their are two useable letter of the law cards by zizek...

one the short only ok one

and the RLY LONG one that is AMAZING

the short one give the analogy of zizek and his best friend both trying 2 get a promotion and because of the competition for this job its tearing their friendship appart so zizek does

"I win the proper thing to do is offer to withdraw, so he will get the promotion, and the proper thing for him to[/color] do is reject my offer--this way, perhaps, our relationship can be saved."

he later on goes to say what would happen if his friend says sure...than he would get stuck giving away his promotion despite the fact that he won, and his friend can do this because he is not tied down by the letter of the law

"The lesson of this is that – sometimes at least – the truly subversive thing is not to disregard the explicit letter of Law on behalf of underlying fantasies, but to stick to this letter against the fantasy which sustains it. In other words, the act of taking the empty gesture (the offer to be rejected) literally – to treat forced choice as a true choice – is, perhaps, one of the ways to put into practice what Lacan calls ‘traversing the fantasy’: in accomplishing this act, the subject suspends the phantasmic frame of unwritten rules which tell him how to choose freely – no wonder the consequences of this act are so catastrophic."

 

now the less read LONG ZIZEK letter of the law card some people use this as an A2: cooption he starts out by saying how because people are so scared of being coopted they become even more radical so we have to accept this fear and not run from it (now here is where it gets good) we can do this because the letter of the law can stop the system from being coopted. he later goes on to saying that to many people have become reliant upon the unwritten rules and that this is becoming a bad thing because these are the real reasons why the system can be coopted in the first place...people refer to radical action (like the kritik) instead of putting it down into words.

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Yes... I'm not saying that Zizek says that all laws are unjust. Lets take your example. How does me over identifying with the law overturn the death penalty law if I thought that was an unjust law? My point is simply that I don't think that over-identifying is generally a good strategy to fight laws that we find unjust. It's the same thing with capitalism (which Zizek is undoubtedly against)... How again does identifying with the capitalist law structure do anything positive? If anything, the only positive real life example of reading the letter of the law so far have been over identifying with a law in opposition to the current power structure. (trying bush, providing economic equality, etc.)

 

Also, how does Zizek justify repeating Lenin or the act by over identifying?

you're making things more complex than they need to be. the argument is to take the law literally, to hold it to it's letter. that is that democracy makes all of these promises about liberty and justice and freedom and we should demand that it upholds those promises.

things like economic equality and accessible healthcare are things every senator and president promises us - we should demand that they fulfill these promises. it's not about being against the current power structure because, as far as words go, those structures are good, the problem is that the fantasies those structures promise (liberty and justice for all; fantasies because subjects are deluded into thinking it's reality when it isn't) aren't fulfilled. it's not about fighting law, it's about making positive law.

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you're making things more complex than they need to be. the argument is to take the law literally, to hold it to it's letter. that is that democracy makes all of these promises about liberty and justice and freedom and we should demand that it upholds those promises.

things like economic equality and accessible healthcare are things every senator and president promises us - we should demand that they fulfill these promises. it's not about being against the current power structure because, as far as words go, those structures are good, the problem is that the fantasies those structures promise (liberty and justice for all; fantasies because subjects are deluded into thinking it's reality when it isn't) aren't fulfilled. it's not about fighting law, it's about making positive law.

 

But I was told that holding the law to its letter is about over-identification... I don't see how what you described to me is over-identification. Are you saying that Alex is wrong?

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i don't know if i agree with him but i wouldn't say he's wrong

holding the law to it's promises/letter = superego demand = overidentification (more or less)

 

also, regarding the death penalty, the end result of holding the law to it's letter would be trying the state for killing people (or as alex mentions for waging unjust wars violating human rights et cetera)

the same goes for stealing but that is pretty retarded

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i don't know if i agree with him but i wouldn't say he's wrong

holding the law to it's promises/letter = superego demand = overidentification (more or less)

 

also, regarding the death penalty, the end result of holding the law to it's letter would be trying the state for killing people (or as alex mentions for waging unjust wars violating human rights et cetera)

the same goes for stealing but that is pretty retarded

 

oh okay... thank you. That clears this up a lot for me. I'm not sure why it clicked just then but it did. Thanks for putting up with me untill I got it ;)

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