On bureaucracy

18 11 2010

The trap to be avoided here is the opposition of the “external” social law (legal regulations, “mere legality”) and the higher “internal” moral law, where the external social law may strike us as contingent and irrational, while the internal law is fully assumed as “our own”: we should radically abandon the notion that external social institutions betray the authentic inner experience of the true Transcendence of Otherness (in the guise, for example, of the opposition between the authentic “inner” experience of the divine and its “external” reification into a religious institution in which the religious experience proper degenerates into an ideology legitimizing power relations). If there is a lesson to be learned from Kafka, it is that, in the opposition between internal and external, the divine dimension is on the side of the external. What can be more “divine” than the traumatic encounter with the bureaucracy at its craziest – when, say, a bureaucrat tells us that, legally, we don’t exist? It is in such encounters that we catch a glimpse of another order beyond mere earthy everyday reality. There is no experience of the divine without such a suspension of the Ethical. And far from being simply external, this very externality (to sense, to symbolic integration) holds us from within. Kafka’s topic is precisely the obscene jouissance through which bureaucracy addresses the subject on the level of the disavowed innermost (“ex-timate,” as Lacan would have put it) real kernel of his being.

-Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity

Perhaps this is tied into the idea that perhaps we are not as alienated from the divine as we think. We are far more credulous when it comes to our own institutions, far more given to give them the benefit of the doubt than other societies.

I think even the most fervent person believes more in bureacracy than his own particular creed. At least that is his real modus operandi as he goes through life.