That's right – 'On the Road' with Slovenian philosopher, medicine cultural critic, online and all-out political maniac, Slavoj Zizek – and it's the only way to travel, and the only point of departure that might get you to where you want to go… Now before I proceed any further, just a word to those familiar with Zizek who might be expecting some sort of cinematic review incorporating astute psychoanalytic and Marxist insights on Jack Kerouac's best-known novel, On The Road; I will be attempting no such endeavour. What I want to do here firstly is to capture the spirit of Kerouac's undertaking – if you haven't read the book I suggest that you do, for it cannot be summed up as 'the story of two soulful maniacs, Dean and Sal, hell-bent on finding, creating and digging IT! – the elusive but life-affirming moments that make it all worthwhile – in late 1940's America pushing the limits of the American Dream, claiming it for themselves, etc., etc.' Furthermore, and more importantly, I want to direct that spirit elsewhere – and that's where mad old Zizek will come in – bursting with excitement and ticks – on a high of his own.
For Sal and Dean the point of destination mattered little – it served mainly as a point of reference for their real purpose which was always the trip itself. Their back and forths across the country were a means to an end – for they already had their answer in their question, 'dig it?' The 'it' here, in psychoanalytical terms, refers to the Lacanian ‘Real’ – an ineffable, magical substance that gives meaning to our lives – and to dig it is to be fluid, open, and attentive to this living substance-less 'substance', to appreciate its dynamism, to recognize the contradictions and paradoxes inherent to reality itself, and to feel the life-stories of others. It refers to the driving force behind the wheel, which keeps the whole thing in motion… dreams, fantasies, goofing-off and getting serious – takes and angles and curiosities where the secrets of the universe are kept, wrapped in a big book that begs to be read and that never ends till you realize that you have been writing it all along – and even then it somehow continues… Beat jazz joints, dharma bums, angelic women and salsa, adventure, freedom and more. These were the great highs and lows of that time, and indeed of all times, but I can't help but notice and draw attention to the curious fact that Sal and Dean both tended to arrive at their explicitly noted point of destination; ‘Mexico’, ‘Chicago’, ‘Denver’, ‘New York’, and so on (with the exception of Italy).
But this begs for further inquiry – it seems to me that we readers shower attention on only one of two strands from which these crazy cats swung – what we are inclined to overlook is the space of 'destination' itself. Both admirers and critics alike tend to view the wild, exuberant feats of Sal and Dean in a one-dimensional manner and, consequently, both miss out on its true significance. To appreciate this, we must reintroduce a deeper sense of madness into their already mad world – something that was lost along the way. When kids gone haywire scream across the Mexican border trying to emulate their heroes, something tells me they miss the point entirely and fail miserably in their endeavours… Likewise, those who criticize Dean and Sal for 'not taking things seriously enough', for 'not realizing the impact of their own actions', etc., also miss the point – they see only two white bums, plagued by their own middle-class heritage, and consolidated only by way of acquiescing with the madness of the world around them and becoming mad themselves – they look at the boys and shake their heads in forlorn dismay. But it's not that Dean and Sal didn't give ‘it’ the full weight and significance that was theirs to take; it's that they actually took it! What they provided was an answer; an answer to their own lonely times – if we are to authentically 'repeat their gesture', then we must provide our own answers to our own lonely times. So we must consider their actions not only in light of ‘what actually happened’, but also in light of the context from which they emerged as answers – forces that crystallized from an infinite stream of possibility.
From what base did these guys construct their answer? What, asides from the Benzedrine, of course, fuelled their fires? What were their guiding principles? And can we take their spirit further; a spark to light the heavens? That’s where Zizek seems to have something to say. What Zizek can bring to Sal and Dean is a greater ‘destination’ to strive towards, and what they can bring to him is an emphasis on soul and an understanding of ‘time’; they can breathe life into the journey, for the means which invariably becomes the end. Our boys 'understood time' – they understood that eternity resonates in the moment – and though they may never have known what to do, they certainly knew how to do it. We can criticize where they ended up without undermining the importance of their endeavour. It seems to me that in all their appreciation and soulfulness, you see, there remained an unmistakable sense of the spectacle and the spectacular. At times, it were as though the lives of the people they met along the way were to them but more books on shelves; pages and words and dashes that would shine for all time – but still, nothing more. Weird and wonderful mysteries of the many manifestations of god. Now before I continue, I should focus a thoughtful and constructive light on the aforementioned 'space of destination', which these guys lived and grew in. So, let’s ride with Zizek for a time to see what he has to say – and he always has a lot to say! It's easy to get bogged down in his tremendous overture in fact, but let's try to keep the BS to a minimum – and even cut out the 'background issues’ – we are, after all, on the road, and as professional hitchhikers we must be prepared to jump on and off with just about
anyone – even with Zizek and his 'transcendental materialist theory of subjectivity'! So, bear with me, if you will, and hop on board the Zizek-express; here's the basic theoretical 'building blocks' which I think are important for us now…
OK – I don’t mean to get sidetracked and go off the road entirely during this brief detour, so we’ll be moving fast – first off, there is something rather than nothing ('duh!'), but this something is basically an incomplete, incongruent and intangible 'mess', shot through with internal antagonisms, cracks and fissures – it is something far removed from the standard 'cosmological' conception of, say, the universe conceived as a homogenous whole entity. 'Before' time began, this primordial, eternal substance gave rise to a conscious form which proceeded to fall through the stuff of the world (phenomena, or raw sense data), never able to hold onto anything; try to imagine a being trapped on a roller-coaster ride with flashing lights, travelling at all speeds simultaneously, something forever lost to itself. This being only ever possessed immediate knowledge, the truth of which cannot reach beyond the mere insight that 'it is'. Finally, self-consciousness emerged from this raw, unintelligible and pulsating chaos the moment the aforementioned consciousness – what Kant termed the 'pure I of apperception' – first posited its own presuppositions, thus 'giving birth' to its fully fleshed-out 'self' (we are dealing with an important distinction which Kant introduced to Descartes' famous cogito formula between the 'I that thinks' and the 'I that is', which Descartes had equated). To posit one’s own presuppositions is to go above and beyond immediate sense certainty; for example, or to distinguish between subject and object. It is a purely formal gesture, such as the act of naming something, which ties a bunch of qualities together and confers order and direction upon them. Alternatively, the pure 'I think' of apperception emerges retroactively after failing to identify with its symbolic mandate – the object first emerges only after it is already lost.
So, Dean’s stolen red-and-white sedan screeches to a halt before the babbling, bearded Slavoj. The Slovenian barbarian hauls his rhythmically convulsing body into the backseat of the car, but before long he has assumed driver-position up front, with the boys squeezed in beside him, in a self-proclaimed ‘True Stalinist fashion’. ‘Now what’s important to bear in mind during all of this,’ Zizek begins, ‘is Lacan’s contribution to metaphysics, which could be called a “critique of pure desire”, desire of the real, that which cannot be ignored…’ ‘Yes! Slavoj, I hear you,’ Dean characteristically interjects, ‘desire sets the whole thing in motion! Take this car for instance, which is an expression of desire in the first place, and like my friend Sal here says, we are its cold heart and we fill this thing with soul to make it drive, man – for nothing lives on bread or oil alone. And on the way we lose ourselves, and that – as you know – is precisely and positively the only way to make something of yourself. Otherwise you might as well lie down, shrivel up, and die! We’ll keep on moving.’ ‘Yes, yes, yes, but what do you want,’ asks Zizek, ‘from all of this? Because it seems to me that, behind the great flurry of activity, you suffer from the same paralysis that holds your parents up by the throat and now threatens to suffocate you. You suffer from a lack of political imagination. Doctor’s prescription? A heavy dose of theory.’
After some consideration, Sal says, by way of explanation, ‘Basically, we’re the richest, most powerful nation in the world. We’re swimming in affluence beyond measure or reason. Opportunity. Unsustainable fortune. We hold the world in the palm of our hands. What I want to find out is simple; is it – life, that is, human existence – worthwhile? Can I live for something more than hope, more than a promise? Simple. And out here I think I’m poised to find an answer to my question.’ ‘Interesting!’ jumps Zizek, ‘Because when you say “out here” you’re talking about a preconceived notion of something specific – America, for instance, the land of freedom and opportunity – and you’re really committing a subversive act when you take the message at face value and actually seek and expect freedom and opportunity to abound here! And what can anyone say? You seem to be taking them seriously, after all, espousing the official line – let them swallow their own medicine. But what if, nonetheless, you limit yourself along the way by uncritically accepting platforms of action and routes provided for you to use as the means to realize your goals – essentially travelling on roads that are already built – and limiting yourself in this manner that it becomes virtually impossible to get to where you really want to go?! You have to direct your attention to what Marx called the “base of freedom” and put totally new options on the table of choices available to you, even if you’re not sure where they’ll lead. This is true freedom. And you are right to demand it. Maybe then you’ll find a positive answer to your question…’ ‘Sal,’ says Dean, ‘you must always be suspicious of the ones trying to save you – even if what he says is true – no good can come from these enlightened scumbags who can’t even save themselves. They’re feeding on you. Remember that. Nevertheless, we’ll stick together, and I think you will find your positive answer after all,’ he smiles, ‘just look at that bedazzling Señorita swaying our way! And check her out too! Beautiful, beautiful…’ ‘Indeed.’ Another conversation ensues, as the three musketeers pass through the town and disappear into the night, leaving only their fading cries to disturb the still air of the lonely country roads… ‘Yes, yes, yes!', *sniffle* '…I claim.'
By Orno Delawalk