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'Coke as objet petit a' by Slavoj Žižek


What is crucial here from the psychoanalytic perspective is the link between the capitalist dynamics of surplus-value and the libidinal dynamics of surplus-enjoyment. Let us elaborate this point apropos of Coca-Cola as the ultimate capitalist merchandise and, as such, as surplus-enjoyment personified. It is no surprise that Coke was first introduced as a medicine – its strage taste does not seem to provide any particular satisfaction; it is not directly pleasing and endearing; however, it is precisely as such, as transcending any immediate use-value (unlike water, beer or wine, which definitely do quench our thirst or produce the desired effect of satisfied calm), that Coke functions as the direct embodiment of it: of the pure surplus of enjoyment over standard satisfactions, of the mysterious and elusive X we are all after in our compulsive consumption of mercandise.

The unexpected result of this feature is not that, since Coke does not satisfy any concrete need, we drink it only as a supplement, after some other drink has satisfied our substantial need – rather, it is this very superfluous character that makes our thirst for Coke all the more insatiable: as Jacques-Alain Miller put it so succintly, Coke has the paradoxical property that the more you drink the thirstier you get, the greater your need to drink more – with that strange, bittersweet taste, our thirst is never effectively quenched.[1] So, when, some years ago, the advertising slogan for Coke was 'Coke is it!', we should note its thorough ambiguity: 'that's it' precisely in so far as that's never actually it, precisely in so far as every satisfaction opens up a gap of 'I want more!' The paradox, therefore, is that Coke is not an ordinary commodity whereby its use-value is transubstantiated into an expression of (or supplement with) the auratic dimension of pure (exchange) Value, but a commodity whose very peculiar use-value is itself already a direct embodiment of the supra-sensible aura of the ineffable spiritual surplus, a commodity whose very material properties are already those of a commodity. This process is brought to its conclusion in the case of caffeine-free diet Coke – why? We drink Coke – or any drink – for two reasons: for its thirst-quenching or nutritional value, and for its taste. In the case of caffeine-free diet Coke, nutritional value is suspended ant the caffeine, as the key ingredient of its taste, is also taken away – all that remains is a pure semblance, an artificial promise of a substance which never materialized. Is it not true that in this sense, in the case of caffeine-free diet Coke, we almost literally 'drink nothing in the guise of something'?

What we are implicitly referring to here is, of course, Nietzsche's classic opposition between 'wanting nothing' (in the sense of 'I don't want anything') and the nihilistic stance of actively wanting Nothingness itself; following Nietzsche's path, Lacan emphasized how in anorexia, the subject does not simply 'eat nothing' – rather, she or he actively wants to eat the Nothingness (the Void) that is itself the ultimate object-cause of desire. (The same goes for Ernst Kris's famous patient who felt guilty of theft, although he did not actually steal anything: what he did steal, again, was Nothingness itself.) So – along the same lines, in the case of caffeine-free diet Coke, we drink the Nothingness itself, the pure semblance of a property that is in effect merely an envelope of a void.

This example brings home the inherent link between three notions: that of Marxist surplus-value, that of the Lacanian objet petit a as surplus-enjoyment (the concept that Lacan elaborated with direct reference to Marxian surplus-value), and the paradox of the superego, perceived long ago by Freud: the more Coke you drink, the thirstier you are; the more profit you make, the more you want; the more you obey the superego command, the guiltier you are – in all three cases, the logic of balanced exchange is disturbed in favour of an excessive logic of 'the more you give (the more you repay your debts), the more you owe' (or 'the more you have what you long for, the more you lack, the greater your craving'; or – the consumerist version – 'the more you buy, the more you have to spend'): that is to say, the paradox which is the very opposite of the paradox of love where, as Juliet put it in her immortal words to Romeo, 'the more I give, the more I have'. The key to this disturbance, of course, is the surplus-enjoyment, the objet petit a, which exists (or, rather, persists) in a kind of curved space – the nearer you get to it, the more it eludes your grasp (or the more you possess it, the greater the lack).[2]

Perhaps sexual difference comes in here in an unexpected way: the reason why the superego is stronger in men than in women is that it is men, not women, who are intensely related to this excess of the surplus-enjoyment over the pacifying functioning of the symbolic Law. In terms of the paternal function, the opposition between the pacifying symbolic Law and the excessive superego injunction is, of course, the one between the Name-of-the-Father (symbolic parental authority) and the 'primordial father' who is allowed to enjoy all women; and it is crucial here to recall that this rapist 'primordial father' is a male (obsessional), not feminine (hysterical) fantasy: it is men who are able to endure their integration into the symbolic order only when this integration is sustained by some hidden reference to the fantasy of the unbridled excessive enjoyment embodied in the unconditional superego injunction to enjoy, to go to the extreme, to transgress and constantly to force the limit. In short, it is men in whom the integration into the symbolic order is sustained by the superego exception.

This superego-paradox also allows us to throw a new light on to the functioning of today's artistic scene. Its basic feature is not only the much-deplored commodification of culture (art object produced for the market), but also the less noted but perhaps even more crucial opposite movement: the growing 'culturalization' of the market economy itself. With the shift towards the tertiary economy (services, cultural goods), culture is less and less a specific sphere exempted from the market, and more and more not just one of the spheres of the market, but its central component (from the software amusement industry to other media productions). What this short circuit between market and culture entails is the waning of the old modernist avant-garde logic of provocation, of shocking the establishment. Today, more and more, the cultural-economic apparatus itself, in order to reproduce itself in competitive market conditions, has not only to tolerate but directly to provoke stronger and stronger shocking effects and products. Just think of recent trends in the visual arts: gone are the days when we had simple statues of framed paintings – what we get now are exhibitions of frames without paintings, dead cows and their excrement, videos of the insides of the human body (gastroscopy and colonoscopy), the inclusion of olfactory effects, and so on.[3] Here again, as in the domain of sexuality, peversion is no longer subversive: such shocking excesses are a part of the system itself; the system feeds on them in order to reproduce itself. Perhaps this is the only possible definition of postmodern as opposed to modernist art: in postmodernism, the transgressive excess loses its shock value and is gully integrated into the established artistic market.[4]

Another way to make the same point would be to emphasize how, in today's art, the gap that separates the sacred space of sublime beauty from the excremental space of trash (leftover) is gradually narrowing, up to the paradoxical identity of opposites: are not modern art object more and more excremental objects, trash (often in quite literal sense: feaces, rotting corpses . . . ) displayed in – made to occupy, to fill in – the sacred place of the Thing? And is not this identity in a way the hidden 'truth' of the entire movement? Is not every element that claims the right to occupy the sacred place of the Thing by definition an excremental object, a piece of trash that can never be 'up to its task'? This identity of opposite determinations (the elusive sublime object and/or excremental trash) – with the ever-present threat that the one will shift into the other, that the sublime Grail will reveal itself to be nothing but a piece of shit – is inscribed in the very kernel of the Lacanian objet petit a.

In its most radical dimension, this impasse is the impasse that affects the process of sublimation – not in the common sense that art production today is no longer able to generate properly 'sublime' objects, but in a much more radical sense: the very fundamental matrix of sublimation, that of the central Void, the empty ('sacred') place of the Thing exempted from the circuit of everyday economy, which is then filled in by a positive object that is thereby 'elevated to the dignity of the Thing' (Lacan's definition of sublimation), seems to be increasingly under threat; what is threatened is the very gap between the empty Place and the (positive) element filling it in. If, then, the problem of traditional (premodern) art was how to fill in the sublime Void of the Thing (the pure Place) with an adequately beautiful object – how to succeed in elevating an ordinary object to the dignity of a Thing – the problem of modern art is, in a way, the opposite (and much more desperate one): one can no longer count on the Void of the (Sacred) Place being there, offering itself to be occupied by human artefacts, so the task is to sustain the Place as such, to make sure that this Place will 'take place' – in other words, the problem is no longer that of horror vacui, of filling in the Void, but, rather, that of creating the Void in the first place. Thus the co-dependence between an empty unoccupied place and a rapidly moving, elusive object, an occupant without a place, is crucial.[5]

The point is not that there is simply the surplus of an element over the places available in the structure, or the surplus of a place that has no element to fill it out – an empty place in the structure would still sustain the fantasy of an element that will emerge and fill out this place; an excessive element lacking its place would still sustain the fantasy of an as yet unknown place waiting for it. The point is, rather, that the empty place in the structure is in itself correlative to the errant element lacking its place: they are not two different entities, but the obverse and reverse of one and the same entity – that is, one and the same entity inscribed into the two surfaces of a Moebius strip. In other words, the paradox is that only an element which is thoroughly 'out of place (an excremental object, a piece of 'trash' or leftover) can sustain the void of an empty place, that is, the Mallarméan situation in which rien n'aura eu lieu que le lieu ('nothing but the place will have taken place') – the moment this excessive element 'finds its proper place', there is no longer any pure Place distinguished from the elements which fill it out.[6]

Another way to approach this tension between the Object and the Void would be through the different modalities of suicide. First there is, of course, suicide as an act that 'bears a message' (protest against political, erotic, and so on, disappointment), and is, as such, addressed to the Other (for example, political suicides like public burnings which are supposed to shock an awaken the indifferent public). Although it involves the dimension of the Symbolic, this suicide is, at its most fundamental, imaginary – for the simple reason that the subject who accomplishes it is sustained in it by the imagined scene of the effect his or her act will have on posterity, on its witnesses, on the public, on those who will learn about it; the narcissistic satisfaction provided by such imagining is obvious . . . Then there is suicide in the Real: the violent passage à l'acte, the subject's full and direct identification with the object. That is to say, for Lacan, the subject ($ – the 'barred', empty subject) and the object-cause of its desire (the leftover which embodies the lack that 'is' the subject) are strictly correlative: there is a subject only in so far as there is some material stain/leftover that resists subjectivization, a surplus which, precisely, the subject cannot recognize itself. In other words, the paradox of the subject is that it exists only through its own radical impossibility, through a 'bone in the throat' that forever prevents it (the subject) from achieving its full ontological identity.

So we have here the structure of the Moebius strip: the subject is correlative to the object, but in a negative way – subject and object can never 'meet'; they are in the same place, but on opposite sides of the Moebius strip. Or – to put it in philosophical terms – subject and object are identical in the Hegelian sense of the speculative coincidence/identity of radical opposites: when Hegel praises the speculative truth of the vulgar materialist thesis of phrenology 'The spirit is a bone', his point is not that the spirit can actually be reduced to the shape of the skull, but that there is a spirit (subject) only in so far as there is some bone (some inert material, non-spiritual remainder/leftover) that resists its spiritual sublation-appropriation-mediation. Subject and object are thus not simply external: the object is not the external limit with regard to which the subject defines its self-identity, it is ex-timate with regard to the subject, it is its internal limit – that is, the bar which itself prevents the subject's full realization.

What happens in the suicidal passage à l'acte, however, is precisely the subject's direct identification with the object: the object is no longer 'identical' to the subject in the sense of the Hegelian speculative identity of the dialectical process with the very obstacle that sustains this process – they coincide directly; they find themselves on the same side of the Moebius strip. This means that the subject is no longer the pure Void of negativity ($), the infinite desire, the Void in search of the absent object, but 'falls into' the object directly, becomes the object; and – vice versa – the object (cause of desire) is no longer the materialization of the Void, a spectral presence that merely gives body to the lack that sustains the subject's desire, but acquires a direct positive existence and ontological consistency. Or, to put it in the terms of the minimal gap between the Object and its Place, the Void/Clearing within which the object appears: what happens in the suicidal passage à l'acte is not that the object falls out of its frame, so that we get only the empty frame-void (i.e. so that 'nothing but the place itself takes the place'); what happens, rather, is the exact opposite – the object is still there; it is the Void-Place that disappears; it is the frame that falls into what it frames, so that what occurs is the eclipse of the symbolic opening, the total closure of the Real. As such, only is the suicidal passage à l'acte not the highest expression of the death drive; rather, it is the exact opposite of the death drive.

For Lacan, creative sublimation and the death drive are strictly correlative: the death drive empties the (sacred) Place, creates the Clearing, the Void, the Frame, which is then filled in by the object 'elevated to the dignity of the Thing'. Here we encounter the third kind of suicide: the 'suicide' that defines the death drive, symbolic suicide – not in the sense of 'not dying really, just symbolically', but in the more precise sense of the erasure of the symbolic network that defines the subject's identity, of cutting off all the links that anchor the subject in its symbolic substance. Here, the subject finds itself totally deprived of its symbolic identity, thrown into the 'night of the world' in which its only correlative is the minimum of an excremental leftover, a piece of trash, a mote of dust in the eye, an almost-nothing that sustains the pure Place-Frame-Void, so that here, finally 'nothing but the place takes place'. So the logic of displaying an excremental object in the sublime Place is similar to the way the Hegelian infinite judgement 'The spirit is a bone' functions: our first reaction to Hegel's 'The spirit is a bone' is 'But this is senseless – spirit, its absolute, self-relating negativity, is the very opposite of the inertia of a skull, this dead object!' – however, this very awareness of the thorough incongruity between 'spirit' and 'bone' is the 'Spirit', its radical negativity . . . Along the same lines, the first reaction to seeing faeces in the sublime Place is to ask indignantly: 'Is this art?' – but it is precisely this negative reaction, this experience of the radical incongruity between the object and the Place it occupies, that makes us aware of the specificity of this Place.

And, in effect, as Gérard Wajcman suggests in his remarkable book L'objet du siècle,[7] is not the great effort of modernist art focused on how to maintain the minimal structure of sublimation, the minimal gap between the Place and the element that fills it in? Is this not why Kasimir Malevich's 'Black Square on White Surface' expresses the artistic endeavour at its most elementary, reduced to the stark distinction between the Void (the white background/surface) and the element (the 'heavy' material stain of the square)? That is to say, we should always bear in mind that the very tense [futur antérieur"] of Mallarmé's famous rien n'aura eu lieu que le lieu makes it clear that we are dealing with a utopian state which, for a priori structural reasons, can never be realized in the present tense (there will never be a present time in which 'only the place itself will take place'). It is not only that the Place it occupies confers sublime dignity on an object; it is also that only the presence of this object sustains the Void of the Sacred Place, so that the Place itself never takes place, but is always something which, retroactively, 'will have taken place' after it has been disturbed by a positive element. In other words, if we subtract from the Void of the Thing, it is not simply to demonstrate that 'anything goes', that the object is ultimately irrelevant, since any object can be elevated into and occupy the Place of the Thing; this recourse to excrement, rather, bears witness to a desperate strategy to ascertain that the Sacred Place is still there.

The problem is that today, in the double movement of the progressive commodification of aesthetics and the aesthetification of the universe of commodities, a 'beautiful' (aesthetically pleasing) object is less and less able to sustain the Void of the Thing – so it is as if, paradoxically, the only way to sustain the (Sacred) Place is to fill it up with trash, with an excremental object. In other words, it is today's artists who display excremental objects as objects of art who, far from undermining the logic of sublimation, are desperately striving to save it. And the consequences of the collapse of the element into the Void of the Place itself are potentially catastrophic: without the minimal gap between the element and its Place, there simply is no symbolic order. That is to say, we dwell within the symbolic order only in so far as every presence appears against the background of its possible absence (this is what Lacan is aiming at with his notion or the phallic signifier as the signifier of castration: this signifier is the 'pure' signifier, the signifier 'as such', at its most elementary, in so far as its very presence stands for, evokes its own possible absence/lack).

Perhaps the most succinct definition of the modernist break in art is thus that, through it, the tension between the (art) Object and the Place it occupies is reflectively taken into account: what makes an object a work of art is not simply its direct material properties, but the place it occupies, the (sacred) Place of the Void of the Thing. In other words, with modernist art a certain innocence is lost for ever: we can no longer pretend that we directly produce objects which, on account of their properties – that is to say, independently of the place they occupy – 'are' works of art. For this reason, modernist art is forever split between the two extremes represented at its very origins by Malevich and Marcel Duchamp: on the one side the pure formal marking of the gap which separates the Object from its Place ('Black Square'); on the other, the display of a common everyday ready-made object (a bicycle) as a work of art, as if to prove that what constitutes art hinges not on the qualities of the art object but exclusively on the Place this object occupies, so that anything, even shit, can 'be' a work of art if it finds itself in the right Place. And whatever we do after the modernist break, even if it is the return to fake neoclassicism à la Arno Bekker, is already 'mediated' by that break.

Let us take a twentieth-century 'realist' like Edward Hopper: (at least) three features of his work bear witness to this mediation. First, Hopper's well-known tendency to paint city-dwellers at night, alone in an overlit room, seen from outside, through the frame of a window – even if the window framing the object is not there, the picture is drawn in such a way that the viewer is compelled to imagine an invisible immaterial frame separating him or her from the painted objects. Second, the way Hopper's pictures, in the very hyperrealist way they are drawn, produce in their viewer an effect of derealization, as if we are dealing with dreamy, spectral, aethereal things, not common material things (like the white grass in his countryside paintings). Third, the fact that his series of paintings of his wife sitting alone in a room illuminated by strong sunlight, staring through the open window, is experienced as an unbalanced fragment of a global scene, calling for a supplement, referring to an invisible off-space, like the still of a film shot without its counter-shot (and one can maintain that Hopper's paintings are already 'mediated' by the cinematic experience).

In this precise sense, one is tempted to assert the contemporaneity of artistic modernism with Stalinism in politics: in the Stalinist elevation of the 'wise leader', the gap that separates the object from its place is also brought to an extreme and thus, in a way, reflectively taken into account. In his key essay 'On the problem of the Beautiful in Soviet Art' (1950), the Soviet critic G. Nedoshivin claimed:

Admist all of the beautiful material of life, the first place should be the occupied by images of our great leaders . . . The sublime beauty of the leaders . . . is the basis for the coinciding of the 'beautiful' and the 'true' in the art of socialist realism.

How are we to understand this logic which, ridiculous as it may seem, is at work even today, with North Korea's Kim Jong Il? [9] These characterizations do not refer to the Leader's actual properties – the logic here is the same as that of the Lady in courtly love who, as Lacan emphasized, is addressed as an abstract Ideal, so that 'writers have noted that all of the poets seem to be addressing the same person . . . In this poetic field the feminine object is emptied of all real substance.'[10] This abstract character of the Lady indicates the abstraction that pertains to a cold, distanced, inhuman partner – the Lady is by no means a warm, compassionate, understanding fellow-creature:

By means of a form of sublimation specific to art, poetic creation consists in positioning an object I can only describe as terrifying, an inhuman partner.

The Lady is never characterized for any of her real, concrete virtues, for her wisdom, her prudence, or even her competence. If she is described as wise, it is only because she embodies an immaterial wisdom or because she represents its functions more than she exercises them. On the contrary, she is as arbitrary as possible in the tests she imposes on her servant.[11]

And is it not the same with the Stalinist Leader? Does he not, when he is hailed as sublime and wise, also 'represent these functions more than he exercises them'? Nobody would claim that Malenkov, Beria and Khruschev were examples of male beauty . . . (In contrast to the Stalinist Leader, the psychoanalyst is objectively' ugly even if he is actually a beautiful or sexually attractive person: in so far as he occupies the impossible place of the abject, of the excremental remainder of the symbolic order, he represents' the function of ugliness.) In this sense, the designation of the Stalinist Leader as 'sublime' is to be taken literally, in the strict Lacanian sense: his celebrated wisdom, generosity, human wamth, and so on, are pure representations embodied by the Leader whom we 'can only describe as terrifying, an inhuman partner' – not symbolic authority obeying a Law, but a capricious Thing which is 'as arbitrary as possible in the tests it imposes on its servants'. Thus the price the Stalinist Leader pays for his elevation into the sublime object of beauty is his radical 'alienation': as with the Lady, the 'real person' is effectively treated as an appendage to the fetishized and celebrated public Image. No wonder the practice of retouching was so widely used in official photographs, with a clumsiness that is often so obvious that it is difficult to believe it was not intentional – as if to show that the 'real person', with all its idiosyncrasies, is to be totally replaced by its alienated wooden effigy. (One of the rumours about Kim Jong Il is that he actually died in a car crash a couple of years ago, and that in recent years a double has replaced him in his rare public appearances, so that the crowds can catch a glimpse of the object of their worship – is this not the best possible confirmation  of the fact that the 'real personality' of the Stalinist Leader is thoroughly irrelevant, a replacable object, since it does not matter if it is the 'real' Leader or his double, who has no actual power?) Is not this practice of elevating a common vulgar figure into the ideal of Beauty – of reducing beauty to a purely functional notion – strictly correlative to the modernist elevation of an 'ugly' everyday excremental object into a work of art?[12]

One of the most illuminating ways of locating this break between traditional and modern art would be via reference to the painting that in effect occupies the place of the 'vanishing mediator' between the two: Gustave Coubert's (in)famous 'L'origine du monde', the torso of a shamelessly exposed, headless, naked and aroused female body, focusing on her genitalia; this painting, which literally vanished for almost a hundred years, was finally – quite appropriately – found among Lacan's belongings after his death.[13] 'L'origine' expresses the deadlock (or dead end) of traditional realist painting, whose ultimate object – never fully and directly shown, but always hinted at, present as a kind of underlying point of reference, starting at least from Albrecht Dürer's Verweisung – was, of course, the naked and thoroughly sexualized female body as the ultimate object of male desire and gaze. Here the exposed female body functioned in a way similar to the underlying reference to the sexual act in classic Hollywood movies, best described in the movie tycoon Monroe Stahr's famous instruction to his scriptwriters from Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon:

At all times, at all moments when she is on the screen in our sight, she wants to sleep with Ken Willard . . . Whatever she does, it is in place of sleeping with Ken Willard. If she walkds down the street she is walking to sleep with Ken Willard, if she eats her food it is to give her enough strength to sleep with Ken Willard. But at not time do you give the impression that she would even consider sleeping with Ken Willard unless they were properly sanctified.[14]

So the exposed female body is the impossible object which, precisely because it is unrepresentable, functions as the ultimate horizon of representation whose disclosure is forever postponed – in short, as the Lacanian incestuous Thing. Its absence, the Void of the Thing, is then filled in by 'sublimated' images of beautiful but not totally exposed female bodies – by bodies which always maintain a minimal distance towards That. But the crucial point (or, rather, the underlying illusion) of traditional painting is that the 'true' incestuous naked body is nonetheless waiting there to be discovered – in short, the illusion of traditional realism does not lie in the faithful rendering of the depicted objects; rather, it lies in the belief that behind the directly rendered objects is the absolute Thing which could be possessed if only we were able to discard the obstacles or prohibitions that prevent access to it.

What Courbet accomplishes here is the gesture of radical desublimation: he took the risk and simply went to the end by directly depicting what previous realistic art merely hinted at as its withdrawn point of reference – the outcome of this operation, of course, was (to put it in Kristevan terms) the reversal of the sublime object into abject, into an abhorrent, nauseating excremental piece of slime. (More precisely, Courbet masterfully continued to dwell on the imprecise border that separates the sublime from the excremental: the woman's body in 'L'origine' retains its full erotic attraction, yet it becomes repulsive precisely on account of this excessive attraction. Courbet's gesture is thus a dead end, the dead end of traditional realist painting – but precisely as such, it is a necessary 'mediator' between traditional and modernist art – that is to say, it represents a gesture that had to be accomplished if we were to 'clear the ground' for the emergence of modernist 'abstract' art.

With Courbet, the game of referring to the forever absent 'realist' incestuous object is over, the structure of sublimation collapses, and the enterprise of modernism is to re-establish the matrix of sublimation (the minimal gap that separates the Void of the Thing from the object that fills it in) outside this 'realist' constraint, that is, outside of the belief in the real presence of the incestuous Thing behind the deceptive surface of the painting. In other words, with Courbet, we learn that there is no Thing behind its sublime appearance – that if we force our way through the sublime appearance to the Thing itself, all we will get is a suffocating nausea of the abject; so the only way to re-establish the minimal structure of sublimation is directly to stage the Void itself, the Thing as the Void-Place-Frame, without the illusion that this Void is sustained by some hidden incestuous Object.[15] We can now understand in what precise way – and paradoxical as it may sound – Malevich's 'Black Square', as the seminal painting of modernism, is the true conterpoint to (or reversal of) 'L'origine': with Courbet, we get the incestuous Thing itself which threatens to implode the Clearing, the Void in which (sublime) objects (can) appear; while with Malevich, we get its exact opposite, the matrix of sublimation at its most elementary, reduced to the bare marking of the distance between foreground and background, between a wholly 'abstract' object (square) and the Place that contains it. The 'abstraction' of modernist painting should therefore be viewed as a reaction to the overt presence of the ultimate 'concrete' object, the incestuous Thing, which turns it into a disgusting abject – that is to say, turns the sublime into an excremental excess.[16]

And the task of historical materialist analysis is to locate these all too formal determinations in their concrete historical context. First, of course, there is the aestheticization of the universe of commodities mentioned above: its ultimate result is that – to put it in somewhat pathetic terms – today, the true pieces of trash are the 'beautiful' objects with which we are constantly bombarded from all sides; consequently, the only way to escape trash is to put trash itself into the sacred place of the Void. However, the situation is more complex. On the one hand, there is the experience of (real or fantasized) global catastrophies (from nuclear or ecological catastrophe to holocaust) whose traumatic impact is so strong that they can no longer be conceived as of simple events that take place within the horizon/clearing sustained by the Void of the Thing – in them, the very Thing is no longer absent, that is, present as a Void, as the background of actual events, but threatens to become directly present, to actualize itself in reality, and thus to provoke a psychotic collapse of the public space. On the other hand, the prospect of a global catastrophe was not peculiar to the twentieth century – so why did it have such an impact precisely in that century, and not before? Again, the answer lies in the progressive overlapping of aesthetics (the space of sublime beauty exempt from social exchange) and commodification (the very terrain of exchange): it is this overlapping and its result, the draining away of the very capacity to sublimate, that changes every encounter with the Thing into a disruptive global catastrophe, the 'end of the world'. No wonder, then, that in the work of Andy Warhol, the ready-made everyday object that found itself occupying the sublime Place of a work of art was none other than a row of Coke bottles.


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