Slavoj Zizek: Description without Place

In her memoirs, Anna Akhmatova describes what happened to her when, at the height of the Stalinist purges, she was waiting in the long queue in front of the Leningrad prison to learn about her arrested son Lev:

One day somebody in the crowd identified me. Standing behind me was a young woman, with lips blue from the cold, who had of course never heard me called by name before. Now she started out of the torpor common to us all and asked me in a whisper (everyone whispered there), “Can you describe this?” And I said, “I can.” Then something like a smile passed fleetingly over what had once been her face.

The key question, of course, is what kind of description is intended here? Surely it is not a realistic description of the situation, but what Wallace Stevens called “description without place,” which is what is proper to art. This is not a description which locates its content in a historical space and time, but a description which creates, as the background of the phenomena it describes, an inexistent (virtual) space of its own, so that what appears in it is not an appearance sustained by the depth of reality behind it, but a decontextualised appearance, an appearance which fully coincides with real being. To quote Stevens again: “What it seems it is and in such seeming all things are.” Such an artistic description “is not a sign for something that lies outside its form.”  Rather, it extracts from the confused reality its own inner form in the same way that Schoenberg “extracted” the inner form of totalitarian terror. He evoked the way this terror affects subjectivity.

– Slavoj Zkizek, Violence

4 thoughts on “Slavoj Zizek: Description without Place

    • Yea, after a little under 300 or so trips from 1967 – 1974 I wander back into that time and think how did any of us survive… yet, if it hadn’t been for the strange awakening of that hyperdelic world I’d have probably still been a zombie living down south going about my warped life believing that what we call our normal, common sense view of reality as the only one there is… after such knowledge what forgiveness?

      Somewhere along the way I slipped out of the cage and never looked back…. at 61 I’m as young in mind as ever, and see in youth our salvation… all of you who are young and battling with thought are our future. Keep up the good fight…. us old birds just scatter the loam of the earth, bring a few sparks to the plate, drop hints along the way…. Zizek is one of those old spirits who know, with humor and a deep wisdom he peers into the madness and brings back a few golden nuggets for the young to awaken them from their ideological sleep. What’s good about Zizek as compared to Badiou, he isn’t building adamantine palaces of the Idea, he’s just telling stories and jokes, shifting the view, moving between parallax worlds hoping someone will spend a little time in the gap with him…


      • I was born in 67 and have taken a few journeys down the rabbit-hole but mostly left with an intense visceral understanding of how 1st person consciousness and chemistry are looped, I’m a fan of Zizek (tho not so much his movie reviews, or the whole Lacan bit) as our time needs a sad clown or two and as for the youth I hope they are starting to wake up but not a betting man. Glad you enjoyed this bit of psychogeography a largely lost art I’m afraid even in my generation X.


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