Archive for retroactivity


Posted in Actions with tags , , , , on 2013/07/12 by las Pétroleuses

One of the figures that recurs endlessly in Žižek’s work is the Rabinovitch joke; he uses it to present the way dialectical sublation or “negation of negation” operates as a recognition of success in (an initial) failure. Rabinovitch is a Jew looking to emigrate from the USSR. He informs the immigration official that the reason he wants to leave is his fear that, were the USSR to collapse, Jews would be blamed and rounded up. “But the USSR will never collapse, socialism is here to stay!” responds the official. Rabinovitch responds: “that is my second reason.”

An interesting example of how this process occurs in history is how “Big Bang” came to name the beginning of the universe (or at least, the popular story). Initially, the scientific community was split between the theory of the “primeval atom” and “steady state” theory (that the universe has always existed and will always exist). Fred Hoyle, a proponent of steady state, the story goes, proposed “Big Bang” as a pejorative name of the former theory–to which the scientific community responded as Rabinovitch, “yes, exactly!” (Another good example of this structure from the history of science is the famous thought experiment of Schrodinger’s Cat, which was intended as a reductio ad absurdum of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, and subsequently taken up as a perfect illustration of that interpretation.)