What, then, does the self-beating in Fight Club stand for? IN a first approach, it is clear that its fundamental stake is to reach out and reestablish the connection with the real Other, that is, to suspend the fundamental abstraction and coldness of the capitalist subjectivity best exemplified by the figure of the lone monadic individual who, alone in front of the PC screen, communicates with the entire world. In contrast to the humanitarian compassion that enables us to retain our distance toward the other, the very violence of the fight signals the abolition of this distance. Although this strategy is risky and ambiguous (it can easily regress into proto-fascist macho logic of violent make bonding), this risk has to be assumed – there is no other direct way out of the closure of the capitalist subjectivity. The first lesson of Fight Club is thus that one cannot pass directly from capitalist to revolutionary subjectivity: the abstraction, the foreclosure of the others, the blindness for the others’ suffering and pain, has first to be broken in a risk-taking gesture of directly reaching toward the suffering other – a gesture that, since it shatters the very kernel of our identity, cannot but appear as extremely violent. However, there is another dimension at work in the self-beating: the subject’s scatological (excremental) identification, which equals adopting the position of the proletarian who has nothing to lose. The pure subject emerges only through this experience of radical self-degradation, when I let/provoke the other to beat the crap out of me, emptying me of all substantial content, of all symbolic support that could confer on me a minimum of dignity. Consequently, when jack beats himself in front of his boss, his message to the boss is: “I know you want to beat me; but, you see, your desire to beat me is also my desire, so, if you were to beat me, you would be fulfilling the role of the servant of my perverse masochist desire. But you are too much of a coward to act out your desire, so I will do it for you – here you have it, what you really wanted. Why are you so embarrassed? Are you not ready to accept it?” Crucial here is the gap between fantasy and reality. The boss, of course, would have never actually beaten up Jack: he was merely fantasizing about doing it, and the painful effect of Jack’s self-beating hinges on the very fact that he stages the content of the secret fantasy his boss would never be able to actualize. (Slavoj Zizek. 2003. The ambiguity of the masochist social link. In Rothenberg, Foster & Zizek, eds. Sic 4: Perversions and the social relation. 112-25. 116-7.)
This passage sums up to me why psychoanalysis is such a fun literature to pursue. It possesses a creative and penetrating gaze into events, with a startling ability to explain what is going on. However, it is a reductionist science (read: too creative) and denies the possibility of many differing interpretations (assuming the main principle of psychoanalysis that intent is not important.)
My reading of the scene Zizek discusses is different and probably more in line with the simpleton’s reading: Jack wants to extort money from his boss and fakes a beating to force his boss to give in to the demand, because the boss’s description of how Jack was beaten up by himself would not be credible to anyone except for Zizek.
Zizek’s reading of the scene, however, attributes the same fantasy to both Jack and the boss – to beat Jack up. This is the psychoanalytic tradition: reducing human desire to a basic immutable truth. While desires fluctuate across situations, there is not an allowance in this dyad for differing desire. There is not account in either the movie nor in Zizek’s re-presentation of the movie of the boss wanting to beat Jack up. This is an asserted desire on Zizek’s part and it is understandable why, if the boss does not share jack’s desire then Zizek’s argument falls apart. The boss is no longer a coward. The boss is no longer demonstrating the gap between fantasy and reality.