profanation

Agamben formulates the problem in terms of profanation: the notion of *dispositif* has its origin in theology, linked the Greek *oikonomia*, which, in early Christianity, related not to God in himself, but to God’s relation to the world (of humans), to how God administers his kingdom. (In radical Hegelian theology, this distinction vanishes: God *is nothing* but the “economy” of his relating to the world.) A *dispositif* is thus always minimally sacred: when a living being is caught in a *dispositif*, it is by definition dis-appropriated. The practices by means of which it participates in and is regulated by a *dispositif* are separated from their “common use” by living beings: being caught in a *dispositif*, a living being serves the sacred big Other. This is where profanation comes in as a counter-strategy: “The problem of profanation of *dispositifs* (that is to say, of the restitution to the common use of what was caught in *dispositifs* and separated [from living beings] in them) is of the utmost urgency.”*

But what if there is no such “common use” prior to *dispositifs*? What if the primordial function of *dispositifs* is precisely to organize and administer the “common use”? In this case, profanation is not the restitution of a common use, but, on the contrary, its *destitution*—in profanation, an ideological practice is de-contextualized, de-functionalized, made to run on empty. To put it yet another way, if the founding move that establishes a symbolic universe is the empty gesture, how is a gesture emptied? How is its content neutralized? Through repetition, which forms the very core of what Agamben calls profanation: in the opposition between the sacred and the secular, the profanation of the secular does not equal secularization; profanation puts the sacred text or practice into a different context, it subtracts it from its proper context and functioning. As such, profanation remains in the domain of non-utility, merely enacting a “perverted” non-utility. To profane a mass is to perform a black mass, not to study the mass as an object of the psychology of religion. In Kafka’s *The Trial*, the weird extended debate between Joseph K. and the Priest about the Law is deeply profane—it is the Priest who, in his reading of the parable “Before the Law,” is the true agent of profanation. One can even say that Kafka is the greatest profaner of the Jewish Law. Or, apropos the topic of Heidegger and sexuality: secularization would be to interpret Heidegger’s style of writing as an alienated fetishization of language, profanation would be to render in this style phenomena like sexual practices that Heidegger would never have addressed. As such, profanation—not secularization—is the true materialist undermining of the Sacred: secularization always relies on its disavowed sacred foundation, which survives either as an exception or as a formal structure. Protestantism realizes this split between the Sacred and the secular at its most radical: it secularizes the material world, but keeps religion apart, and it introduces the formal religious principle into the capitalist economy itself.**

* Agamben, Qu’est-ce qu’un dispositif?, p. 50.
** *Mutatis mutandis*, the same goes for Stalinist communism—it is secularized, not profaned religion.

Slavoj Zizek 2012 Less Than Nothing, page 986

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