Žižek (2003) drawing on the work of G. K. Chesterton (1995) remarks on The Doctrine of Conditional Joy (DCJ). With regard to the Other, the DCJ goes something like this: You will gain a great fortune and live in a palace if you never utter the word ‘fire.’ The idea of the DCJ then is simply this, if you follow a set of arbitrary rules the self will be afforded a promised reward by the Other. One’s compliance with the rules provides the condition from which the Other is expected to act. Interestingly enough, the DCJ is not stable, rather it may be reversed. Žižek sites the example of Cinderella complaining to her godmother saying, “Why is it that I must leave the ball at midnight?” Her godmother replies, “How is it that you get to stay at the ball until midnight?” Things can always be otherwise. Žižek is, in part, interested in explaining, if things can become otherwise and if social conditions are anything but stable, how societies remain stable or adapt to change so as to remain institutionally stable in changing times. An interesting question but not one in which I am interested.
My interest lies more to trying to understand why the promise is believed in the first place. In the case, for example, of Orthodox Jews, the promise that the Messiah will arrive all the more quickly if every Jew attends to keeping the 613 mitzvot (commandments), nearly half of which are rendered obsolete because they pertain to Temple practice for Priests and for sacrifice. Two questions arise from this promise. First, how does the Other, presumably in this instance God, make this promise? What actually happens if the Other fulfills its end of the condition and causes the Messiah to arrive? Even the Orthodox admit to the possibility that many of the 613 mitzvot are arbitrary, rules of kosher foods or for saying morning prayer while wearing teffilin for example. If these rules are arbitrary then how does one know the condition is not arbitrary as well?
For the condition to be met an Hegelian synthesis must occur. What I see, however, is a dialectic without the possibility of synthesis. The dialectic exists as a fundamental tension between doing and anticipating. The synthesis, arrival of the conditional promise, never comes and if it did, would ruin everything. The arrival of Joy promised by the DCJ could never meet the expectation of the sacrifice of performance. Additionally, the tension of why not this and not that and why not that and not this is also present.
Chesterton, G. K. (1995). Orthodoxy. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Žižek, S. (2003). The puppet and the dwarf: The perverse core of Christianity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.