Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 15 - the X issue
Log 15 - the X issue
Big Job
May-Ling Sie

In his collection of essays The Ticklish Subject: the Absent Centre of Political Ontology[1] (2000) Slavoj Zizek examines the strategies employed by Western theorists to exorcise what Zizek describes as " . . . the specter of the Cartesian subject" (Zizek p.1) In the first essay in this collection The Deadlock of Transcendental Imagination, or, Martin Heidegger as a Reader of Kant, Zizek asks why Heidegger presented Being and Time as an unfinished manuscript when the unpublished texts suggest that he had indeed finished the work. Zizek speculates that Heidegger did this to avoid coming to terms with what Heidegger had "actually encountered in his pursuit of Being and Time. . . the abyss of radical subjectivity announced in Kantian transcendental imagination" (p.23) Heidegger could see it all ending badly; so he left the end out.

I was reminded of Zizek's treatment of Heidegger when I gate-crashed a seminar that Zizek gave at the University of Auckland in August 2001 to raise the specters of subjectivity that haunt his own Invented Nations project during the course of which he discussed a story described as "a profoundly blasphemous story about the Lord God" (Miles p.307)[2], The Book of Job.

The story of Job starts with a conversation between God and Satan in which Satan encourages God to talk about Himself and His Power. God holds up Job to Satan as an example of His Power to command the faith of his subjects. Satan tempts the Lord to gamble on Job's faith by testing him, arguing that it's easy to love God when God denies you nothing and the going is easy.

God rises to the bait and visits a series of catastrophes upon Job. Job's sons, daughters and servants are slaughtered. He loses his home, his fortune, and his health. He ends up on an ash heap scraping at his sores with a potshard. Here Job is visited by his friends, Zophar, Bildad and Eliphaz known in the Bible as the "comforters" and by Zizek as the three goons. Zophar, Bildad and Eliphaz want to know what Job has done to offend God, and when Job insists that he has done nothing, they offer theories of their own to explain Job's terrible misfortune. These theories mainly revolve around what Job has done to offend God.

To Zizek, the real point of the story lies not in Job's patience, but in Job's insistence that his suffering has nothing to do with God, and Zizek's version of the story of Job ends here. To Zizek its meaning is to be read in Job's assertion that his suffering was meaningless and completely unrelated to God and His divine purpose; in Job's insistence that his suffering must not be woven into a narrative. There is no "because" or "and thus" to Job's suffering. Zizek offers Job's denial that his suffering had divine significance to support his view that suffering serves no Divine Purpose. Suffering is personal, a consequence of events and processes that are discontinuous with God and which have nothing to do with destiny, especially national destiny. I agree with Zizec on this, but this conclusion bothered me because as he said this, Zizek was truncating the story of Job at a crucial juncture.

To be sure, Job rejects that he is being punished because he has offended God, but the way that he does so is of crucial relevance to the story. Job does not let God off the hook. Job can justifiably insist that he is blameless. He refuses to concede that he has done anything to offend God; and therefore his suffering can have nothing to do with God.

This raises an interesting challenge to the credulity of the reader who has been let in from the start. We know why Job is suffering. Job is suffering because God is playing games of chance with Satan. Job's suffering has everything to do with God, and Job sheets this home over and over again by declaring that he has not offended God, that "He may well slay me, I may have no hope; Yet I will argue my case before Him" (Job 13:15). Job insists that God is a god of justice, self evidently it would appear, because Job has been made by God as a creature demanding justice.

When Job puts it to God that Job's behaviour, and his expectations of God are consistent with the way that Job has been created, Job has effectively offered God a logical choice which determines His identity. God is asked to go back on His own actions and accept that there is a continuous thread between Job's expectation of divine justice and his disavowal of God's hand in his suffering. To not do so would be to confirm that He is a god of everything except for the bits that don't join up, add up or can't be fitted in; a god of fudging over the holes and discontinuities in the story that he tells. This choice is self defeating. God, a monotheistic deity, must be God Almighty, ever present, all powerful, Alpha and Omega.

God doesn't take this challenge lying down. He responds with the hysterical Voice from the Whirlwind, a beautiful, desperate, outburst about power, His Divine Power. The speech from the whirlwind merits a Lacanian investigation in its own right. Job listens politely to it all, but doesn't budge; and by refusing to blame himself, Job holds God accountable. Job uses his suffering to ideologize God. The positivism of Job's demand for justice enables Job, the subject, to force a decision from God, the universal, which has a profound political consequence.

And in the end, God concedes to this principle of universal continuity. This is a turning point for God. Uncertainty is what you get when you gamble with Satan. God is forced by Job to give up uncertainty for quantifiable risk. From now on we will know Him and His works every time we lay another bet against the House.
The speech from the whirlwind is the last time that God is directly quoted in the Bible. After this He is silent; others speak for Him. His actions are now necessarily constrained by His new identity. From now on, the miracle in theology must have the same theological significance as the exception in jurisprudence. There is no longer room for these within the conceptual framework.

As I left the seminar I wondered whether Zizek, like Heidegger, had flinched from an unpalatable conclusion of radical subjectivism, and taking a leaf from Heidegger's book had decided that was better to leave well enough alone with the comforting, if unfinished tale of Job, the heroic stoic than to see it all end badly with the passive-aggressive Job, a radical and radicalising subject, triumphing in the war of Hegelian identity with God to emerge as the granddaddy of the Enlightenment.


[1] Slavoj Zizek, The Ticklish Subject: the absent centre of political ontology Verso 2000

[2] " The subversive originality of the book of Job is to be found in that blasphemy no less than in the anguished eloquence of the title character's speeches." Jack Miles, God: a biography Simon & Schuster 1996 p307

"I’ve just submitted a thesis for a masters in art & design at Auckland University of Technology. The thesis work is www.hellbank.com , a website that allows the visitor to transfer money to the Afterlife. The exegesis (abstract below) investigates the implications of information technology’s historical background of radical subjectivist economic theory."

(Directly after the events of 9/11, Zizek wrote an essay and emailed it around. If you would like to read "Welcome to the desert of the real", please visit the Log website on http://www.physicsroom.org.nz and do so.)



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room