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For decades, a classic joke has been circulating among Lacanians to exemplify the key role of the Other’s knowledge: a man who believes himself to be a kernel of grain is taken to a

mental institution where the doctors do their best to convince him that he is not a kernel of grain but a man;

however, when he is cured (convinced that he is not a kernel of grain but a man) and allowed to leave the hospital, he immediately comes back,

trembling and very scared—there is a chicken outside the door, and he is afraid it will eat him. “My dear fellow,” says his doctor, “you know very well that you are not a kernel of grain but a man.”

“Of course I know,” replies the patient, “but does the chicken?”


Therein resides the true stake of psychoanalytic treatment: it is not enough to convince the patient about the unconscious truth of his symptoms; the unconscious itself must be brought to assume

this truth. The same holds true for the Marxian theory of commodity fetishism: we can imagine a bourgeois subject attending a Marxism course where he is taught about commodity fetishism.

After the course, he comes back to his teacher, complaining that he is still the victim of commodity fetishism. The teacher tells him “But you know now how things stand, that commodities are

only expressions of social relations, that there is nothing magic about them!” to which the pupil replies: “Of course I know all that, but the commodities I am dealing with seem not to know it!”

This is what Lacan aimed at in his claim that the true formula of materialism is not “God doesn’t exist,” but “God is unconscious.”


“[T]he true task is not to convince the subject, but the chicken-commodities: not to change the way we speak about commodities, but to change the way commodities speak among themselves.”


— Žižek, S., 2014. Žižek’s Jokes: (Did you hear the one about Hegel and negation?), A. Mortensen (ed.). Cambridge: MIT Press. pp.67-68

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"Experience is not what happens to you; it's what you do with what happens to you." Aldous Huxley  

…Because in your mind, you’re mad. But in conversation you have the chance of not being. Your mind by itself is full of unmediated anxieties and conflicts. In conversation things can be metabolized and digested through somebody else — I say something to you and you can give it back to me in different forms — whereas you’ll notice that your own mind is very often extremely repetitive.


It is very difficult to surprise oneself in one’s own mind. The vocabulary of one’s self-criticism is so impoverished and clichéd. We are at our most stupid in our self-hatred.


-Adam Phillips, interviewed by Paul Holdengräber

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In the collection of the Galleria nazionale di arte antica in Rome, there is a painting by Giovanni Serodine that represents the meeting of the apostles Peter and Paul on the road to their martyrdom. The two saints, immobile, occupy the center of the canvas, surrounded by the wild gesticulations of the soldiers and executioners who are leading them t0 their torment. Critics have often remarked on the contrast between the heroic fortitude of the two apostles and the tumult of the crowd , highlighted here and there by drops of light splashed almost at random on arms, faces, and trumpets. As far as I am concerned, I maintain that what renders this painting genuinely incomparable is that Serodine has depicted the two apostles so close to each other (their foreheads are almost stuck together) that there is no way that they can see one another. On the road to martyrdom, they look at each other without recognizing one another. This impression of a nearness that is, so to speak, excessive is enhanced by the silent gesture of the barely visible, shaking hands at the bottom of the painting. This painting has always seemed t0 me to be a perfect allegory of friendship. Indeed, what is friendship other than a proximity that resists both representation and conceptualization? To recognize someone as a friend means not being able to recognize him as a “something.” Calling someone “ friend” is not the same as calling him “white,” “Italian,” or “ hot,” since friendship is neither a property nor a quality of a subject.


Giorgio Agamben, The Friend

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I thought you were an anchor in the drift of the world;

but no: there isn’t an anchor anywhere.

There isn’t an anchor in the drift of the world. Oh no.

I thought you were. Oh no. The drift of the world.


— William Bronk, “The World”



From the fear of losing our anchorage in the big Other, we should pass to the terror of there being no big Other. The old formula “there is nothing to fear but fear itself” acquires thus a new and unexpected meaning- the fact that there is nothing to fear is the most terrifying fact imaginable. ..what we are afraid to lose, what is threatened by what we are afraid of (nature, the life-world, the symbolic substance of our community…) has always-already been lost.


- Slavoj Zizek

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"In recent years it has become popular for some retailers to begin their Black Friday sales on Thursday night. Do not support this inane trend. If you feel like you want to replicate the experience, blindfold yourself, tape $150 to your forehead and roll yourself down a hill in a shopping cart."


Little victories: Perfect Rules for Leading an Imperfect Life (Jason Gay: 2015)

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It is a kind of love, is it not?

How the cup holds the tea,

How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,

How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes

Or toes. How soles of feet know

Where they're supposed to be.

I've been thinking about the patience

Of ordinary things, how clothes

Wait respectfully in closets

And soap dries quietly in the dish,

And towels drink the wet

From the skin of the back.

And the lovely repetition of stairs.

And what is more generous than a window?


- The Patience of Ordinary Things, Pat Schneider

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In Sitka, because they are fond of them,

People have named the seals. Every seal

is named Earl because they are killed one

after another by the orca, the killer

whale; seal bodies tossed left and right

into the air. "At least he didn't get

Earl," someone says. And sure enough,

after a time, that same friendly,

bewhiskered face bobs to the surface.

It's Earl again. Well, how else are you

to live except by denial, by some

palatable fiction, some little song to

sing while the inevitable, the black and

white blindsiding fact, comes hurtling

toward you out of the deep?


- Earl, by Louis Jenkins

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“He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew in that it was everything that was not death, that it was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in movement, flying exultantly under the stars.”

-Jack London


The defeat of despair is not mainly an intellectual problem for an active organism, but a problem of self stimulation via movement. Beyond a given point man is not helped by more ‘knowing’ but only by living and doing in a partly self-forgetful way.

-Ernest Becker, Chapter Nine,The Present Outcome Of Psychoanalysis, Health As An Ideal


Enjoyment—an ultimate relation with the substantial plenitude of being, with its materiality—embraces all relations with things.[…]The enjoyment of a thing, be it a tool, does not consist simply in bringing this thing to the usage for which it is fabricated—the pen to the writing, the hammer to the nail to be driven in—but also in suffering or rejoicing over this operation.[…]To enjoy without utility, in pure loss, gratuitously, without referring to anything else, in pure expenditure—this is the human.

-Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity

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“I'm living at a peak of clarity and beauty I never knew existed. Every part of me is attuned to the work. I soak it up into my pores during the day, and at night—in the moments before I pass off into sleep—ideas explode into my head like fireworks. There is no greater joy than the burst of solution to a problem. Incredible that anything could happen to take away this bubbling energy, the zest that fills everything I do. It's as if all the knowledge I've soaked in during the past months has coalesced and lifted me to a peak of light and understanding. This is beauty, love, and truth all rolled into one. This is joy.”

― Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon

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Children, at least before they meet the ready-made fantasies of TV, don’t want to be omnipotent. They just want not to be impotent. They want to be able to do what the bigger people around them do—read, write, go places, use tools and machines. Above all, they want, like the big people, to control their immediate physical lives, to stand, sit, walk, eat, and sleep where and when they want… They [don’t] run around pretending to be Superman. Such fantasies have to be learned from the adults who invent and sell them.

— John Holt, How Children Learn

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I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better , if less “showily.” Let him come and go freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself… Teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.

— Anne Sullivan

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Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking

through bare rooms over my head,

opening and closing doors.

What could he be looking for in an empty house?

What could he possibly need there in heaven?

Does he remember his earth, his birthplace set to torches?

His love for me feels like spilled water

running back to its vessel.


At this hour, what is dead is restless

and what is living is burning.


Someone tell him he should sleep now.


My father keeps a light on by our bed

and readies for our journey.

He mends ten holes in the knees

of five pairs of boy’s pants.

His love for me is like his sewing:

various colors and too much thread,

the stitching uneven. But the needle pierces

clean through with each stroke of his hand.


At this hour, what is dead is worried

and what is living is fugitive.


Someone tell him he should sleep now.


God, that old furnace, keeps talking

with his mouth of teeth,

a beard stained at feasts, and his breath

of gasoline, airplane, human ash.

His love for me feels like fire,

feels like doves, feels like river-water.


At this hour, what is dead is helpless, kind

and helpless. While the Lord lives.


Someone tell the Lord to leave me alone.

I’ve had enough of his love

that feels like burning and flight and running away.


- This Hour and What Is Dead, Li-Young Lee

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We can’t stand sitting still.

We try, no holds barred, to be liked

by ourselves, friends, the opposition, and the authorities

(I no longer even speak about women).


Then we want to be liked by the country,

then the earth’s globe and the epoch,

then by our descendants, and, as a result

our own wives don’t like us.


-“We can’t stand…”, Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Translated by Albert C. Todd

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That scraping of iron on iron when the wind

rises, what is it? Something the wind won’t

quit with, but drags back and forth.

Sometimes faint, far, then suddenly, close, just

beyond the screened door, as if someone there

squats in the dark honing his wares against

my threshold. Half steel wire, half metal wing,

nothing and anything might make this noise

of saws and rasps, a creaking and groaning

of bone-growth, or body-death, marriages of rust,

or ore abraded. Tonight, something bows

that should not bend. Something stiffens that should

slide. Something, loose and not right,

rakes or forges itself all night.


- Nocturne; Li-Young Lee

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