Blesok no. 22, August-September, 2001

Territorial Apories: the Imaginary and the Real Aspects of (the) Location
(of Balkans)

Katerina Kolozova


    In this short essay I am attempting to explore the part that the location – the spatial and geographic situatedness, in as much as real and/or material[1] – plays within the mechanisms and the dynamics of subjectivization. Here I am referring to a complex/complicated historico-politico cultural/national Subject, and more specifically to the Balkan (or/and the Southeast European) Subject with respect to the European Subject.[2]
    This is a debate, in terms of its theoretical backdrop, primarily indebted to the Foucaultian/Butlerian discursive tradition (theories of power and the performative powers of discourse as Power). Primarily though not puristically. Namely, there may be des demarches de discours, which may appear incongruent and/or even contradictory with the theoretical tradition I am primarily taking recourse to, as I have just stated. Here I am more specifically referring to the position of the “Name of the real/Real” within the discourse of this article. However, I prefer not to be hindered by the obligation of fidelity and loyalty towards any discursive/theoretical tradition or school, and this preference of mine is immanently linked with the very considerations I tend to purport here.
    Namely, in the context of this debate, a key position is being assigned to the concept of the real/Real. The latter is, to a certain extent though not exclusively or entirely, informed with/as the Lacanian/Zizekian theoretical construction. The real/Real operating in this text is also informed – maybe even awkwardly, considering its simultaneous Lacanism – with its conceptualization and theorization by François Laruelle. Namely, Laruelle conceives the real as one in no oppositionary relation to the “fiction” (the imaginary, symbolic … illusion?), or rather in-no-relation with it, as Laruelle argues for “a thought of non-rapport”.
    In an ironical move of (a seeming) contradiction, I shall, only briefly, apply the just renounced logic of opposition (and of the oppositionary relation between the real and the fiction) by dividing my discussion into two parts: of the “real” location (performing as imaginary); and of the “imaginary” location (performing as real).
    The real is, I am aware, a more or less canceled category within/by the post-strucuturalist or post-modern theoretical moment. And from the influential contemporary theorizing of the socio-cultural and psycho-linguistic phenomena, by way of conferring to the real the position of the unthinkable Real, the very opposition is seemingly absent. However, I believe that this opposition is always already presupposed by these discourses and is of perhaps foundational [fundamental] or substantial significance for them. I have argued elsewhere on this matter more elaborately and more extensively, and here I shall offer only a brief account or a condensed argumentation, before moving to the question of the both aspects of the (Balkan) location.
    The very axiomatic position of the real (or the Real) within the (or THE) discourses of today as unthinkable, excluded from the pure, ghostly pale-faced realm of the undisturbed noematicity of the sign/significance is revealing the presence of an oppositionary logic of exclusiveness. The sign is clean from the presence of the absent Real. Even in Lacanian and Zizekian discourse, the traumatizing Real, although one that intervenes within the signifying chain as its productive tuché, is still (and precisely) that which is outside the linguistic, uncontainable within and by Thought, it is still (and precisely) the unthinkable. Following the (short) tradition of critique of metaphysics, the post-structuralist and/or the postmodernist theoretical and philosophical discourses most often – when it comes to the question of its substance and its truthfulness (read: relation to the reality, the real) – define or qualify this realm of pure significance as imaginary. (Or symbolic, phantasmatic… – the non-real.) The overthrown idea/matter opposition has been replaced by that of imaginary (fiction)/real, the latter performing as the first (and replacing it as reinstating it).

The “imaginary” aspects of real location

    Topographic situatedness, inasmuch as the Imago-Real, is endowed with the capacity of being constitutive for the subjectivity/identity constructions. Thus, to be located in the Balkans is the territorial, both as real as well as imaginary, produced – and producing itself – as signification; or/and locus produced – and producing as -signification.
    To be inherently linked with the territory of the Balkans, or constituted by this material link (as being born and raised in the Balkans and/or being a citizen of one of its countries), is, or rather involves, the real (also as the Real) as subjectivizing factor. And it comes to pass through the Gaze. And more specifically through the gaze of the European Other (although there are other Others, such as, for instance, the Oriental Other or the American Other, the latter in many culturally constitutive aspects not differing significantly from the European).
    The European gaze is to be taken as centrally constitutive for the Balkan subjectivity considering the fact of its (or, of the Balkan countries) current, predominant aspirations for European integration. However, the European aspirations, or rather, the identification with Europe, of the Balkans are something which significantly precedes the current political moment. For centuries, namely, the entire education of the Balkan nations has been basically that of the Western civilization, supplemented by our modest East European contributions. For this, and for some other important reasons, one can declare the European Other to be the foundational Other of the Balkan Subject. The Great Narratives, the Ideologies, or the ideological Imaginaries, within which the Balkans have lived for at least 150 years (in some of its countries, such as Croatia, hundreds of years longer) have been those of the West. One could say that the European Other holds the position of THE Other for the Balkan subjectivity.
    Always already trapped within the formative powers of this gaze, the location on the soil of the Balkans becomes the source of production of a set/complex of significations forming what can be called a borderline European subjectivity. Subjectivity that is in a continuous crisis with respect to its pretended/intended European character, in a continuous frustration by its never fully attained European identity, or/and reconciled with its situation at the borders of (the phantasmatic) Europe. Its topographical position is on the borders of Europe, at its expiring ends; topographically, the Balkans is the borders, or is at the borders of Europe, and this is a conditioning moment for the emergence of an entire imaginary. Or, to put it differently and (hopefully) more plainly, the real – or, the imago-real – location itself produces the ways of construction of the Balkan subjectivity.
    Furthermore, the relevance of this topographical situatedness – for the creation of the imaginary of the subjectivity construct in question, and the power mechanisms it is subjected to – is not merely metaphorical. By way of acting as the Lacanian Real in its aspect of tuché – that is as trauma interrupting the signifying chain, the bearer of the pleasure principle
[3] – it is an active aspect of the formation of the Subject. It performs as a sign, as imaginary or symbolic (or fiction[4]), it performs as a presence within the signifying chain and not as absence.
    The real situatedness at the geographical borders of Europe becomes the imago-real investment within the political imaginaries (or some would argue: symbolic)[5] of both the Balkan as well as the European subjectivity, scilicet for their construction of the Balkan identity as a borderline European identity and subjectivity. It is the imago-real, holding the position and the Name of the Real, which is continuously being translated and articulated into the political imaginary – and their justifications – of the West of Europe (or rather EU). It is that which has been accorded the role of representing (Vorstellungsrepraesentataenz) the support of the real, the reality, and/or “the material truth” of the political imaginaries.
    Namely, it acts as (is) the material support, performs as (if) the final word of the Real, or of Reality, of the EU’s phantasmatic Europe. Western Europe’s claim to the exclusive right to the name of Europe, and its exclusive prescription for the identity it (this name) should perform, finds its solid argument in the topographical reality. “After all, spatially, the Balkans is far from the Center of Europe”, (which is, of course, not in the topographical Central Europe). Consequently, it is also the imago-real investment in EU’s official politics towards the Balkans, such as its insultingly strict and rigid visa-requirement policies. And in a reverse way, within the subjecivizing gaze of Europe, while constructing itself, the Balkan subjectivity takes recourse to the same topographical fact as the truth of the Real, as the reality (material) support for the same imaginary (“explaining” its own marginality).

The tuché of imaginary location: the knock of Real

    In our “simulated” global world, the (Lacanian) knock of the Real and the sensation of re-institution into reality (a very dubious one according to the theoretical moment of today) with its (within theory, withering) aspect of the invincible Real, does happen in some parts of the Globe. Such as in most of the Balkan post-communist countries (Macedonia, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Albania…), and not only often, but relentlessly.
    One meets an insurmountable bureaucratic wall when one attempts to acquire a visa for one of the countries of EU (USA, as well). The excessive demands of impossible proofs that one is not a criminal or a potential emigrant, the humiliatingly long, endless – often entirely absurd – procedures do act, perform as the knock (tuché) of the foundationally frustrating, unpenetrable kernel of the Impossible Real.
    I am speaking of the effect of – precisely the Lacanian/Zizekian – Real that has been produced by the signifying chain itself and has entered into interaction with it (with the Order of the Sign). This is indeed a theoretically rather problematic remark, but nevertheless, I would argue that the claim about the Imaginary (or the Symbolic…, the Sign) performing as the Real is of key political relevance. Namely the main political argument of this article is that it is precisely “the presence of the absence”, or the effect of the Real within the political realities (of the Balkans), which is of key relevance for the new and more productive political discussions of the Balkans today. Furthermore, the reductionist tendencies to always already (dialectically) reduce the Real (or the real) to the Imaginary do have a political bearing, contained primarily in the very oppositionary/exclusive logic of the binary structure. Moreover, besides its “purely” ideological nature, the political bearing extends also to the realm of experience as such (it, thus, includes the bodily one, as well) assuming? A certain accountability with respect to the real/”real” experiences (of – for instance – the Balkanites.)
    It would be perhaps an unjust generalization to say that “the imaginary reductionism” (the philosophico-theoretical tendencies to reduce every effect of the real to the imaginary as the only Possible, the Real being the Impossible Itself) is the one responsible of (over-) relativization of certain political issues. (Issues, not categories.) Here I mean primarily – responsibility and/or accountability concerning the afflicted trauma of the Real. And yet I would risk this generalization arguing that instead of an alarm to prompt actions, the realizations of the kind “Balkans is Europe’s alter-ego”
[6] incite but an endless soliloquies and auto-referential theorizations of the West (of Europe). Said’s discourse of orientalism and Todorova’s of balkanism, have proliferated into valuable theoretical productions but have not inspired much of concrete initiatives in the West, such as, for instance, a wider (or any?) public debate about the EU visa-requirement towards the Balkan countries.
    Certainly I am not trying to underestimate the paramount importance – paramount, according to myself as according to so many others – of the works of Said or Todorova. (The letter being an unavoidable point of reference in my own efforts to think and write about Balkan subjectivity.) I am merely proposing a thought (about the Balkan subjectivity/identity) along the lines that have been proposed for the last few years by Slavoj Žižek, namely a way of thinking/theorizing recurrently related to the question of “the Real and historicity”.[7]????
    The call for an immediate, or a more timely, political action can be raised through the introduction into discourse of the trauma itself – the Real. As the inutterable [indicible], unsignifyable, as the absence and as aphasia, for the least; nevertheless, as a subject to discussion. Or as the Laruellian thinkable real (as non-opposed to fiction, or to the imaginary, symbolic …“illusion”) making possible the discussion (or the thought) in terms of the real (la pensée en terms du réel), in terms the singular and the non-relative (or non-relationary).[8] The introduction of this and such “real” into the political discussions of today announces a more “radical” discourse. And this is a radicalism of the “exclusive” thought; however, not in the sense of the oppositionary exclusiveness, but in the sense of the particular, in terms of the Laruellian thought of the One (or rather, la Vision-en-Un)[9] and the real.
    The notion of the real as the particular, inspired by Laruelle’s notion of the real as singular, is fairly consonant with the Lacanian Real as tuche: hazard, coincidence and contingencytuch is accidence, coincidence, contingency, hazard.">[10] – the unexpected knock of the Real. In this sense it is also in a relation of consistency with the role within historicity assigned to the Real by Zizek: “non-substantial inherent limit, point of failure, and thus sets in motion the contingent process of historicization – symbolization” (Butler, Laclau and Zizek, 1999?: 9), but is itself positively defined. Namely the real is the presence and (or rather, trough) the act of the singular and the one, even if one does not deconstruct or abandon the Lacanian [the psychoanalytical] concept of the Real as the Impossible and Unpenetrable (but yet not the Unthinkable).
    By way of introduction into theoretical discussion of the topographical location (as the real/imago-real generating the imaginary) – or of the fact of spatial/physical frustration brought about through the visa-requirement policy – discourses, together with their aspirations and responsibilities, are being reshaped. The absence of the real, in as much – I emphasize – as trauma and tuché, from what purports to be pertinent theory (inasmuch as theory) is liable? For the ways and shapes the latter takes.  


Butler, Judith. 1993. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”. New York & London: Routledge.
______________, Ernesto Laclau & Slavoj Žižek. 2000. Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left. Verso Books.
Lacan, Jacques. 1973. Les quatres concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse. Texte établi par Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Éditions de Seuil.
Laruelle, François. 1989. Philosophie et non-philosophie. Liège-Bruxelles: Pierre Mardaga.
Todorova, Maria. 1997. Imagining the Balkans. Oxford University Press.


1. With the entire ambiguity of the both terms/categories taken into account. After Judith Butler’s seminal deconstruction of the notion of the material and bodily in her 1993 book Bodies That Matter it has become rather difficult to “safely” operate with the undeconstructed notion of materiality as the pure category of the mysterious, speechless Material as opposed to the Sign, Idea… Butler has shown that the body, thus the “material” (and the notion of “materiality” itself), is always already “populated” by the phantasmatic. In other words, we always already conceive the material … in certain, different ways.
2. And I would like to call to your attention the fact that serious politico-theoretical discussion has started on both subjects (and Subjects); see Julija Kristeva, The Crisis of the European Subject… and Dusan Bjelic and Obrad Savic (eds), 2001. The Balkans as Metaphor. MIT Press (not yet published).


3. “N'est il remarquable que, &aegrave; l'origine de l'expérience analytique, le réel se soit présenté sous la forme de ce qu'il y a en lui d'inassimilable – sous la forme du trauma, déterminant toute sa suite, et lui imposant une origine en apparence accidentelle? Nous nous trouvons l&aegrave; au coeur de ce qui peut nous permettre de comprendre le caractère radical de la notion conflictuelle introduite par l'opposition du principe de plaisir au principe de réalité – ce pourquoi on ne saurait concevoir le principe de réalité comme ayant, par son ascendant, le dernier mot.” (Lacan, 1973: 65)
4. Both in Butler as well in Laruelle appears the notion/term of “fiction” as the opposite to the real, within the binary structure, (Butler, 1993: 6 et passim; Laruelle, 1989: 231 et passim).
5. I rather choose the term of the imaginary, following Butler's discussion in Bodies That Matter, where she conjectures “what operates under the sign of the symbolic may be nothing other than precisely that set of imaginary effects which have become naturalized and reified as the law of signification.” (Butler, 1993: 79)


6. See Todorova, in her Imagining the Balkans, refering to Van Gennep’s concept of liminality (Todorova, 1997: 18).
7. Contingency
8. Cf., “The problem of philosophy in general originates from the fact that it never thinks of the terms in their specificity, but as contrary to each other, within their relations, and, in the best case, on their borders and in their proximity. As a result of this, the concept of the real, like any other [concept], designates an amphibologic [amphibologique] reality, a limitrophy of the real, regardless of fact whether it is placed beyond [au-del&aegrave;] the latter, or before it [en deça], or on the border between the two. From classical rationalism to contemporary deconstructions, fiction has remained captivated within that relation of the mixed [le rapport de mixte], i.e., of the unitary [unitaire]. Excluded by the real, internalized by it, while internalizing it herself and pretending to co-determine it, [fiction, le fictionnel] has never escaped these games of inter-inhibition [entre-inhibition], which are those that philosophy plays with herself, where it is but one of the toys of a history which pretends to surpass it.”(Laruelle, 1989, 232)
9. See Laruelle, 1989, 37 ff.
10. The meaning of the Greek word tuch is accidence, coincidence, contingency, hazard.

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