While I can agree with Zizek that love is an encounter and that we rarely encounter the encounter in contemporary life, what I find in his proposition with Kafka, that love is an event, is shy of proposing that Latour is right, that we have never been modern, a familiar claim with which nonetheless I cannot entirely agree.
Zizek would give it the usual psychoanalytic twist: we have always been modern, we’re just not aware of it. We have always been in love, yet unaware of it most of the time. How unaware we all are of the encounter that is the event is written in the very heart of the urban world: bars, cafes, restaurants, chat rooms, busy streets, malls, motels, parks, even universities, and any place where architecture, including designs of mobile communication spaces, conspire to keep bodies at their unknowing conditions of metastability. All these at the same time that bodies are moved about, giving the illusion of free mobility, or dragged along pre-arranged spaces where even unanticipated encounters are already designed in advance. The rule is to provoke complexity in encounters, modeled on the dynamics of desire, where complexity drives innovation. No doubt, the rural is also increasingly invaded by the landscaping sensibility of modernity, on the assumption that its dullness and pastoral sickliness are indifferent to encounters—it lacks mobility and so, it would follow, blunts the excitation of desire.
One simply has to extract the event from the swirling vortices of these unwitting encounters by a process of critical retrospection, or rather, a retrieval of the encounter with the “oh my God” feeling of the event. One has to fall, as Zizek argues, to encounter the encounter, to fall in love, to fall in the encounter, to fall the fall. To fall is to arrest the movement already giving us the experience of vertigo yet not so much as to give us the proper dose to rebel against the city, against the modern urban spirit of architecture and spatial planning which runs deep into the subterranean logic of capital accumulation. And why would we rebel if the city affords us the chance of the encounter, the chance of love, of getting into the mix, of the experience of the “oh my God, I was waiting all my life for you.”
We may wonder here how much would be lost if we reduce the urban spirit to a minimum level of excitation, to tweak its noise, its turmoil and agitation to a level approaching the loveless condition of human existence, the not-granting of the encounter or simply the event. Zizek might have anticipated the question already when he argued that love has become rare these days—not any other day but these days—in the midst of the aggressive transformation of the urban world. And yet, it is not difficult to see where Zizek’s valorisation of encounters would lead against the background of lovelessness. The excitation of the urban world, notwithstanding, is a rich potential for the event where there is high probability that bodies fall into the happenstance of their lifetime. We need to sustain the urban world with as much encounters as we can fall into, with as much metastability as we can accomplish to accelerate the frequency of the event. Though he might not like the thought that he is an accelerationist of the encounter that we all need for enriching the human condition threatened by lovelessness, Zizek’s concept of love would lose its appeal if we won’t do our part, that is, to hasten the event, to accommodate further doses of complexity.
The key to unpack Zizek’s enigmatic proposition of the encounter is to see through his ongoing defense of the foremost ideal of modernity; in a nutshell, the ideal of falling in love. Let us not lose sight of the fact that this ideal is achievable in the urban world, at least, for him, the cosmopolitan that he is. And there is only one cosmopolis—the West.
And so Zizek would have us absorb the fact that encounters are pre-arranged in the pre-modern. I am not sure whether Zizek had an overdose of encounters that makes him careless, but he simply bungled historical details. I need not look far. Polygamy was a custom in pre-modern and -colonial times. Those East Dionysian communities so dear to Nietzsche were not strangers to love, which does not mean that they were better than the modern, until they were destroyed by European missionaries at the behest of the Atlantic war machine. I wonder whether Zizek would dismiss these by underscoring the undesirability of pre-arranged marriages of the pre-modern which no doubt there were, but the modern is certainly not the end of pre-arranged encounters. So the question would be, why assign the wider ramification of the unethicality of pre-arranged encounter, lovelessness, to the pre-modern?
As a Western ideologist that he is, Zizek is a total stranger to this history. As he argues so well on Kafka with regard to his influence as a writer—that the writer, invoking Borges this time, has to invent his past, and so the figures that influenced him—Zizek had to force into existence his ‘pre-modern’ condition of Western modernity. Apropos of those pre-arranged encounters that he picked up as an object of criticism—where else is the encounter not pre-arranged by urban spatial constellation? Zizek is idealizing the hyper-modernity of the West by insisting upon the possibility of a chance encounter which is love amidst the spinning landscape of the modern urban spatiality. It is only in hyper-modernity where Zizek’s concept of love can happen. And it is precisely when hyper-modernity is falling out of encounters, the near mass extinction of encounters, or rather, the extinction of desire, that the encounter must be teased out of its unconscious.
Perhaps, that will be Kafka’s last love, his last opportunity to fall the fall, his one true, albeit, brief encounter.
NB: For the video lecture of Zizek on Kafka see Nicholas of installingorder.org at http://installingorder.org/2014/12/12/slavoj-zizek-on-kafka-and-love/