Zizek's a consumer, too.

Zizek seems to be arguing that were we, the everyman, to fully comprehend the 'reality' of the exchange farce, "the effective act of exchange would no longer be possible" (p 20). That we cannot grasp its scope and depth is essential to its veil, he claims – certainly echoing the likes of Jameson and Baudrilliard on the tactics of postmodern forces in ensuring our complacency. I have a few issues to take up with the politics of this claim.

I find at times Zizek falls into the same 'foolish masses, myself exempt' trap of which Adorno and Horkheimer are guilty in their culture industry critique. Pages 20 and 21 hold some key instances of this, for example: Zizek implicitly posits both himself and his intellectual crush Sohn-Rethel, outside of the experience of both seeing through the smoke screen of the exchange 'simulation' and engaging on a day-to-day level with money. What then, does it mean, for people such as Zizek, Sohn-Rethel, and sure, we'll include ourselves in this 'enlightened' company – what does it mean for those of us who can manage to see through the 'strategies of the real' of the monetary exchange system? "If we come to 'know too much', to pierce the true functioning of social reality," argues Zizek, "the reality would dissolve itself" (p 21). But clearly Zizek get's the whole exchange-ain't-what-it-seems deal…yet he also made some cash off of writing this book. So despite having a pretty solid understanding the abstraction of value from hard money, Zizek's enlightened engagement with exchange-value hasn't managed to destroy the system, as he seems to have predicted for other money-users.

Here I would argue it is not so much that we may are not allowed to comprehend the tactics of the exchange-value system, but instead are not allowed to imagine resistance. It is much easier to live and work with the knowledge of 'the system' but to formulate your own subversive disruption, to function smoothly and capably as a postmodern subject that is the true tactical strongarm that we come against.

I think Zizek's gloss on 'cynicism' is instructive on this point: if cynicism is an acknowledged distance between the ideological 'story' and the social reality (e.g. the cynic who says 'enjoy your piece of paper - NATCH!' after every transaction), then why doesn't postmodernity - a state in which a lot of subjects are cynical subjects - qualify also as post-ideological? Zizek's answer is that the illusion of ideology never occurred at the level of knowledge, was never a matter of curtaining off that gap between story and reality so that people would remain ignorant of the fact that value didn't just inhere in currency, but at the level of action - not 'They know not what they do' but 'They know what they do, and they do it anyway.' It's not sufficiently anti-ideological to reveal the disparity between narrative and fact, to throw back the curtain and reveal to people, once and for all, that value does not inhere in currency, since people by and large will still behave cynically (in the Zizek-Sloterdijk sense of the term). Critical projects that locate ideology's Achilles heel at the level of knowledge-illusion (e.g. Adorno's) might judge cynical cultures to be post-ideological ones, but they do so precisely to the degree that they misunderstand the social-fantastic elements of cynicism.

If cynical 'social fantasy' is just subscription to a story, then what are some of the fringe benefits of such a subscription? Why would anyone engage in social fantasy? For one thing, engaging in 'social fantasy,' on Zizek's view, spackles over a lot of anxious, awful irruptions of the Real. Anxious, awful irruptions of the Real might include the fact that the Law is a brute and arbitrary force commanding obeisance (Why was I born in //this// socioeconomic interrelational network, on this continent, in this decade? Why do people expect me to manipulate green slips of paper currency in exchange for goods and services? Why wasn't I born in another epoch, in a barter system, on a self-sufficient farm?) or even the fact that since 'value' itself is an empty position, embedded in a symbolic order, entailing structural consequences, //any// Law mobilized around it would be brute and arbitrary and anxious (Why was I born on a self-sufficient farm in the bartering economic epoch of this society? Why wasn't I born centuries later, on a continent that allowed me to manipulate green slips of paper currency?) - it is the traumatic irresolution of these questions that social fantasy is designed to keep at bay. This is why the chapter detours into the Pascalian wager, since at some level the only way to engage in cynical social fantasy is going to be to initiate a 'belief before belief,' a decision to go through all the ideological-ritual motions of exchange, social relation, religion, or whatever else in the faith either (a) that an occurrent-emergent belief will rise off the motions or (b) that cynical 'going through the motions,' behaving-as-if belief is itself sufficient, as social fantasy, to spackle over paralyzing irruptions of the Lacanian Real.

Hence, more or less, the meaning of the question I posed in your other post: could the subversion of the artist's counterfeiture consist precisely in the fact that it is an irruption of the 'Real,' i.e. that it draws attention to the empty position that value, currency, social fantasy, etc. are all plastered over to conceal?

--Guattari Hero

I think Zizek agrees with you when he goes on to locate ideology on the side of practice rather than knowledge (33). If ideology were merely an illusion masking reality, than when we penetrate its veil it would dissolve itself. However, as you, and Zizek, point out, this is not the case: we can maintain a sort of cynical distance and yet continue to operate within the ideological structure.
(I posted this and discovered that GH had just said the same in greater detail)

While I understand your comparison of Zizek to Adorno and Horkheimer, I did not find Zizek to be nearly as patronizing. The tone of Zizek's cynicism seemed to offer a ring of humor. Also, I read Zizek as almost sympathetic. When describing Pascal's theory, Zizek writes that "the bourgeois intellectual has his hands tied and his lips sealed. Apparently he is free, bound only to the argument of his reason, but in reality he is permeated by bourgeois prejudices (39)" In response to what this person who seems to be able to look past the veil can do, Pascal advices that he must accept his "impotence." Learn how to pretend you believe and those beliefs will become inherent. The person who do this can lead a life without cynicism. Like so many other authors, Zizek does not promote this and yet he does not provide other options. He pulls the veil for us and then leaves us somewhat stranded.

I was intrigued by Zizek's remarks on religion and law. When one is born into a religion, he can convince himself he consciously arrived at his beliefs. But similar to Althusser's impression of ideology, it is all a fantasy. A fantasy that humans need to structure their lives around. "They know what they do and they do it anway." We know that law is not inherently good but we obey it because it is in our nature to be obedient. We need to apply meaning to things and events. We need to find the truth. And "the best way to lead them astray is to wear the mask of truth itself" (42). But again this raises the question of whether there is truth or meaning to anything. How are we to know what this mask of truth is?

The example of the counterfiture seems subversive to me, e.g. seems likely to provoke a real reaction from power systems that be, in ways that it wouldn't if it simply functioned on the knowledge level. The piece not only moves beyond an 'outside' of some art-space and back into the realm of more everyday and clear economic transactions, but makes explicit the transparency between the two. In doing so, it not only forces the viewer to consider the highly constructed and non-physical nature of money (the Lacanian unreality of currency), but it also involves itself with the action of exchange as well, forcing its way past the cynical re-inscription of the knowledge of the 'reality' of the situation of money to "what they do". By asking to exchange the bill for goods/services, Boggs seems to force his way past the viewer's (one of them at least) cynical evasion of addressing the question at hand: "the value of currency is not 'real', and it is we who create it as such through our actions; this we all know. so will you make the exchange or not?". I guess you could still call this an irruption of the real, but what seems to make it really subversive and interesting is the way that it closes the cynical distance of the jaded consumer from the 'unreality' of currency and value. A possible objection might be that the fake bills themselves, as works of art, are more valuable than the real bills they symbolize, and thus people can accept them purely out of a profit motive, much like the founding vs. robbing a bank example. Still, even though the case is not as strong, I would argue that the participant who accepts the money nevertheless is made to address the issues the piece calls into question in ways that close the cynical distance that would otherwise nullify the subversive potential of the piece.