Authority, Knowledge, and Authorship

In 3.2 of Enjoy your Symptom, Zizek makes a very important connection between authority, knowledge, and authorship, which hinges on the intersectionality of identity. As such, “identity” is not only contingent on issues of authority, but especially crucial to the parameters of epistemology and the boundaries of authorship. In each case, “identity”–to be clear, the “I,” the Cartesian-like subject, or “selfhood”–must make meaning in itself in reference to something outside of itself. In other words, identity is not truly “identity” until it can objectify something in the Other. What this means, then, is that “identity” can be “subjectivized” (or “subjectified”) in three existential manners, with respect to the ethical necessities of the “othering” process: authority, knowledge, and authorship.

Before discussing “authorship,” I want to discuss what I mean by “authority” and “knowledge,” since the latter two build a foundation upon what I mean–and Zizek means–by “authorship.”

Both “authority” and “knowledge” are Others, which means that they represent–and not just in the sense of Lacan’s Imaginary, the Symbolic, or the Real, but in all three–something that is outside of “identity.” The relationship that “identity” has with “authority” and “knowledge” is, in fact, dialectical, even if it is, unfortunately, a mutual dialectic. What this relationship best represents is a true Hegelian dialectic, particularly of the Lordship-Bondsman variety–identity is in the role of the Bondsman, while authority and knowledge, respectively, are in the Lordship roles. This may be quite evident with respect to the “Identity-Authority dialectic”–authority becomes a meaning-maker that greatly influences how identity defines itself. For example, two identities that respectively come in contact with authoritarian and democratic forms of authority not only will view what “authority” is quite differently in relation to Power , but will view their own notion of “identity” differently in relation to how much Power is wielded by “authority” and to what extent does that Power bestows power for “identity.” Obviously, an identity that comes in contact with an authoritarian form of authority will discover a more tangible sense of powerlessness than the identity that comes in contact with a democratic form of authority. That said, “identity,” as such, must formulate an ethics with respect to what “authority” is, which then, in turn, presents an ethics towards “knowledge.”

The “Identity-Knowledge dialectic”–particularly as Zizek points out with the Socrates’ midwife example–requires identity to be  oriented towards what is “Right,” and the extent to which that “Right-ness” unconceals (as Heidegger calls it) something that is already as it is. This is especially important when considering Plato’s dialogue Theaetetus, where the point of inquiry is “what is knowledge.” Though Socrates discovers–by using Theaetetus as a foil–that there is no way to satisfactorily answer that question (at least not in a sufficient enough manner), Socrates simply tells Theaetetus that he (Socrates) is simply acting in the role of the midwife and it is his (Socrates’) duty to help Theaetetus give birth to the answer, because that answer is already inside him (Theaetetus)–this is an ethical imperative that Socrates cannot “answer.”

What becomes evident about the ethics that “identity” must hold in relation to authority and knowledge is that both come to bear on issues of identity and authorship. Zizek points this out with the Kierkegaard example, though I wish Zizek could have elaborated on what makes that example meaningful. The Kierkegaard example is especially important because Kierkegaard ignores the ethics of the “Identity-Authorship” dialectic by decidedly using pseudonyms on more of his work and having those pseudonyms converse with one another as if they were different identities–when they were, in fact, all Kierkegaard. So what does this mean then? What is Zizek’s point here with the dialectical problem presented by the Kierkegaard example? Perhaps, like Socrates, Zizek wants to be the midwife.

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