The Undead Interaction of Life and Death in Postmodern Alienation Model — Işık Barış Fidaner

Žižek makes a nice fourfold distinction based on life and death in The Plague of Fantasies, in the last part of the following quotation:

This paradox of moving statues, of dead objects coming alive and/or of petrified living objects, is possible only within the space of the death drive which, according to Lacan, is the space between the two deaths, symbolic and real. For a human being to be ‘dead while alive’ is to be colonized by the ‘dead’ symbolic order; to be ‘alive while dead’ is to give body to the remainder of Life-Substance which has escaped the symbolic colonization (‘lamella’). What we are dealing with here is thus the split between A and J, between the ‘dead’ symbolic order which mortifies the body and the non-symbolic Life-Substance of jouissance.

These two notions in Freud and Lacan are not what they are in our everyday or standard scientific discourse: in psychoanalysis, they both designate a properly monstrous dimension. Life is the horrible palpitation of the ‘lamella’, of the non-subjective (‘acephalous’) ‘undead’ drive which persists beyond ordinary death; death is the symbolic order itself, the structure which, as a parasite, colonizes the living entity. What defines the death drive in Lacan is this double gap: not the simple opposition between life and death, but the split of life itself into ‘normal’ life and horrifying ‘undead’ life, and the split of the dead into ‘ordinary’ dead and the ‘undead’ machine.

Now let us translate Žižek’s terms into the terms of the Postmodern Alienation Model (PAM) [1].

1) What are A (dead symbolic order) and J (Life-Substance of jouissance)? In PAM, they are Exigency and Enjoyment, respectively. The Exigency of the symbolic order is about determining usefulness (which drives Authorization), whereas the Enjoyment of Life-Substance is about determining existence (which drives Embodiment) [2].

2) What is the split of life into “normal life” and “undead life”? In PAM, this is the split of Enjoyment into Body and Will, respectively. Body is the immediate being of a particular enjoyment of life (normal life), whereas Will is an enjoyment mediated by the exigency of the symbolic order (undead life). Body and Will correspond to a and $ in Lacan’s mathemes [3].

3) What is the split of death into “ordinary dead” and the “undead machine”? In PAM, this is the split of Exigency into Authority and System, respectively. Authority is the immediate being of a particular exigency of the symbolic order (ordinary dead), whereas System is an exigency mediated by the enjoyment of life (undead machine). Authority and System correspond to S1 and S2 in Lacan’s mathemes.

Let us now translate the two main propositions of PAM. According to both propositions “the mediated grounds the immediate” and also “the extraordinary grounds the ordinary”:

1) “System grounds embodiment” translates to “undead machine grounds normal life”. This is the left hand side of the Analyst’s discourse: a/S2. The normal life, i.e. the embodiment of transference is grounded by the supposed knowledge, i.e. the undead machine of the chain of signifiers.

2) “Will grounds authorization” translates to “undead life grounds ordinary dead”. This is the left hand side of the Master’s discourse: S1/$. The ordinary dead, i.e. the Master-Signifier without a signified is grounded by the subject that it represents, i.e. the undead life.

The correspondence between the three models (Žižek’s fourfold, PAM, Lacan’s mathemes) indicate a structural homology. It’s a decipherment [4] in the sense of a structural translation based on structural similarity: The role of X in structure A is homologous to the role of Y in structure B. So these three models are certainly not the same! PAM provides a much more intuitive toolbox of signifiers. So if you use the PAM terms, it becomes less confusing and you have the ability to speak about a much greater set of everyday phenomena with ease. Of course it’s always about the undead interaction between life and death, but we don’t need to use the words “life”, “death”, “undead” all the time.

Işık Barış Fidaner is a computer scientist with a PhD. Admin of Yersiz Şeyler (Placeless Things) blog, Admin/Editor/Curator of Žižekian Analysis, and one of the admins of “Žižek and the Slovenian School” group on Facebook. Twitter: @BarisFidaner


[1] See “Postmodern Alienation Model Rediscovers & Deciphers Lacan’s Capitalist Discourse” and “Postmodern Alienation Model”

[2] About Authorization and Embodiment, see “Separation of Authorization from Embodiment”

[3] About the correspondence of Lacan’s mathemes to PAM terms, see “What Makes a Symbolic Order?” and “Mirror Stage and Social Media: Authorization and Embodiment”

[4] See “Decryption and Decipherment”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s