Compendium | A harrowing encounter

Rockstar philosophers debate the meaning of Halloween

Slavoj Žižek

I attended again this year, I have to say it, a Halloween party, this hedonist perversion of our degenerate society – the paradox is that we continue to host parties when none of us really want to attend them. What is going on here, though, is that this is a costume party. One is expected, as it were, to dress up, to present one’s self in disguise.

One might say the costume party is of the order of the Imaginary, it is mere fraud; the costume is a narcissistic construction of the ego, the subject sublimates her uncomfortable identity.

I am disgusted with this approach to this phenomenon, we must look at it differently. The Halloween party reduces the subject to the costume, the subject materializes as a thing, the costume completes the commodification of her identity. This is what makes the costume party a locus of truth under modern capitalism, it epitomizes the impasse of consumerism, the capitalist ideology, and so on. Let me be clear: I am prepared to go to the end. We have to flip this naive view entirely on its head: the costume is what is real, I claim. It is the subject herself who is imaginary.

I am reminded here of a classic joke that has circulated for decades among Lacanians, about the man who believes himself to be a kernel of grain. He is cured, convinced, so to speak, by a psychologist that he is not a kernel of grain but a man. But he then returns to the psychologist, he is trembling and very scared – there is a chicken outside the door, and he is afraid it will eat him. “You know very well that you are not a kernel of grain, but a man,” says the doctor. “Of course I know,” replies the patient, “but does the chicken?”

This illustrates the subjective experience of the Halloween costume: I know, pragmatically, that I am not a unicorn, or a Minion, or some (per)version of an inert object, but does the Other know? The party-goer has a strange suspicion that she might be found out, yes, she fears that the object she perversely adorned herself with is constitutive of her Being through the perception of the Other. The sublime irony of the costume is, how shall I put this, that what we seek to hide is what we put on display.

When Heidegger speaks of the self-concealing truth of being, he has in mind precisely this: we have put on our costume, exposing, as it were, our body to the gaze of the Other – the disguise makes us shameless, invisible, and yet we find ourselves naked again, puking on the bathroom floor.

This is why it is imperative to re-actualize Lenin, to repeat him in the Kierkegaardian sense: to retrieve the revolutionary impulse for the present constellation of costume parties. Only the “concrete analysis of the concrete situation,” of course, allows the subject to rediscover a radical openness in the Halloween party – as my good friend Alain Badiou would put it, to make the costume party an Event. The signifier “Lenin” is what formalizes the notion so intuitive but inexpressible to most of us: that we have not, as the liberal paradigm would have it, reached the “end of parties.” This impossible task is, I claim, the most practical thing to do.

Ayn Rand

Halloween is a glorification of the individual. It is a celebration of man’s mind to think and to create and to make. It is an opportunity for the individual to participate in the free market in the form of buying costumes. Those of an inferior state shall tell you that Halloween is a hedonistic practice that serves no purpose but to push men into an inescapable spiral of consumerism, drunkenness, and cultural appropriation. These are the same men who have dragged men of justice, of independence, of reason, of wealth, and of self-esteem to their sacrificial altars.

But let it be known that man is an end in himself, and never a means. Never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for yours. One must be able to support one’s own, by one’s own means – those who cannot afford that must try harder, obviously. Wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think.

Let us go back to Halloween. What is Halloween? A day in the year where individuals are asked to imitate there heroes, so as to become them. Arguably, one could say: “But if the individual becomes someone else, does that not mean that these individuals have used another as a means for their own ends?” To that I say, you are clearly lack the required level of intelligence to understand this really basic precept of Objectivism, which I have definitely not stolen from Immanuel Kant.

The costume, in the end, is merely a tool – one that I have purchased with my own money. Thousands of the same costume were made at a factory elsewhere – and it is only reasonable that I support the factory owner. Who am I to fight the invisible hand of the market?

Objectively speaking, there is an inherent value in everything. I have bought this typewriter with which I write. I have bought this jacket I wear. In this sense, we must all be like architects – not like those who stick to classical styles, but more like that one I created for my glorious book, The Fountainhead. Howard Roark fought against the conformism of boring traditions, by ignoring them. And did he win in the end? Roark was a mountain. Mountains don’t lose.

Halloween celebrates non-conformity and the individual. By using his wealth, man buys costumes and expresses himself. The costume is the individual – the individual is also the individual. The costume exists, and so does the individual. To exist is to be something, as distinguished from the nothing of non-existence. Centuries ago, the man who was (no matter what his errors) the greatest of your philosophers, has stated the formula defining the concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge: A is A. A thing is itself.

Existence is identity, consciousness is identification. To imitate is to humble. To humble is to empower yourself. And an individual empowered is the most powerful thing in existence.

So when you go dress up for Halloween, remember to bask in the glory of your individualism. Consider the greatest heroes of man’s past: Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford. When you dress up like them, you are humbling them. How powerful is the individual that humbles the mountain? These men converted pure thought into wealth – and here you are becoming them. Well, maybe after all, you can have your cake and eat it too.

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