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Heartfelt Plea from International Journal of Žižek Studies.

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Stop, Stranger and Ponder the Real!

Against the “campaign to erase Žižek”, his ” growing exclusion from the public media”, and the “almost unheard of personal brutality” of the attacks on him, in the interests of proletarian democracy and the completion of the sentence’s signification with its last term we publish this heartfelt appeal.” More on the International Journal of  Žižek studies here:

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "journal zizek studies"

Discerning readers may note that Jacques-Alain Miller and his mates’ “ferocious campaign ”  denouncing Žižek’  as a “fraud”  have previous,

First panic attack

In 1981, Zizek spent a year in Paris, where he met some of the thinkers whose work he had been so avidly consuming. He would return often. In 1982, however, Lacan died and his mantle passed to his son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller – a man who would play an important role in Zizek’s career. A former student of Althusser’s, Miller had impressed Lacan with the coherence he brought to the master’s sprawling theoretical system. While many Lacanians accuse Miller of simplifying Lacan (perish the thought!), others believe that Lacan’s posthumous reputation would not have grown without Miller’s ordering influence. A shrewd political operator, Miller was eager to expand the Lacanian empire farther than its progenitor had ever imagined. Miller taught two classes in Paris: one that was open to anyone, and an exclusive, thirty-student seminar at the École de la Cause Freudienne in which he examined the works of Lacan page by page. After a brief interview, Zizek and Dolar were invited to attend this latter class. “Miller took enormous interest in us because we came from Yugoslavia,” Dolar remembers. “We had been publishing Lacan in Problemi and Analecta for years, and he was grateful for that. He thinks very strategically and didn’t have anyone else established in Eastern Europe. To him, we were the last stronghold of Western culture on the eastern front.”

But it all ended in tears,

As the head of the main Lacanian publishing house, Miller was in a position to turn Zizek’s doctoral dissertation into a book. So, when not presenting his fabricated dreams and fantasies, Zizek would transform his sessions into de facto academic seminars to impress Miller with his keen intellect. Although Zizek successfully defended his dissertation in front of Miller, he learned after the defense that Miller did not intend to publish his thesis in book form. The following night he had his first panic attack, which had all the symptoms of a heart attack. Eventually, he placed the manuscript with the publishing house of a rival Lacanian faction.

Jacques-Alain Miller on Slavoj Žižek:

“So you remember that Freud asked himself the famous question, “What do women want?” As a man, he asked himself this question; and perhaps as a woman too. We do not have the answer, in spite of thirty years of Lacan’s teaching. We tried. So it’s not a discriminating question. I have another question, which has been troubling me for years, which is —What do Americans want?—I have the answer! A partial answer. They want Slavoj Zizek! They want the Lacan of Slavoj Zizek. They like it better than the Lacan of the Freudian Field, for the time being perhaps. The question is, do they want very definite concepts? Or do they want some room to wrangle? Some negotiating space? And that is the case with the concepts of psychoanalysis.”

from Ordinary Psychosis lacanian ink 46

Remember,

“Nowadays, you can do anything that you want—anal, oral, fisting—but you need to be wearing gloves, condoms, protection.”
― Slavoj Žižek.

And,

“In a traditional German toilet, the hole into which shit disappears after we flush is right at the front, so that shit is first laid out for us to sniff and inspect for traces of illness. In the typical French toilet, on the contrary, the hole is at the back, i.e. shit is supposed to disappear as quickly as possible. Finally, the American (Anglo-Saxon) toilet presents a synthesis, a mediation between these opposites: the toilet basin is full of water, so that the shit floats in it, visible, but not to be inspected. […] It is clear that none of these versions can be accounted for in purely utilitarian terms: each involves a certain ideological perception of how the subject should relate to excrement. Hegel was among the first to see in the geographical triad of Germany, France and England an expression of three different existential attitudes: reflective thoroughness (German), revolutionary hastiness (French), utilitarian pragmatism (English). In political terms, this triad can be read as German conservatism, French revolutionary radicalism and English liberalism. […] The point about toilets is that they enable us not only to discern this triad in the most intimate domain, but also to identify its underlying mechanism in the three different attitudes towards excremental excess: an ambiguous contemplative fascination; a wish to get rid of it as fast as possible; a pragmatic decision to treat it as ordinary and dispose of it in an appropriate way. It is easy for an academic at a round table to claim that we live in a post-ideological universe, but the moment he visits the lavatory after the heated discussion, he is again knee-deep in ideology.”
― Slavoj ŽižekThe Plague of Fantasies

In its most recent edition, this fine journal has published these indispensable works:

Toilet Humour and Ecology on the First Page of Finnegans Wake: Žižek’s Call of Nature, Answered by Joyce

Daniel Bristow

Abstract

This article draws out ecological aspects convergent on the first page of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939) and explores them through Žižek’s theoretical perspectives on humanity today and its relation to the waste and chaos that underpins the state of nature that it is reliant on; that is in relation to the Lacanian category of the Real. It does so in an attempt to bring together Joyce and Žižek (who has tended to reject the writer in his work) so as to demonstrate the theoretical possibilities that can arise out of their synthesis. The essay’s methodology is tripartite, working through a theoretical part – utilising, as well as Žižek’s ecology, Lacanian psychoanalysis and the ecosophical thought of Félix Guattari – a textual part, drawing on Joyce scholarship pertinent to the first section of the Wake, and towards a practical part, which aims to condense the work of the essay and outline a route to a possible praxis, which takes into account the real of nature.

 

What WALL-E Can Teach Us About Global Capitalism in the Age of the Anal Father

Felicia Cosey

Abstract

This article employs the animated feature film WALL-E to examine a contemporary incarnation of paternal authority, the anal father of enjoyment.  Slavoj Zizek coined the expression “anal father of enjoyment” to identify a metaphorical father who operates counter to Sigmund Freud’s oedipal (or primitive father).  Unlike the oedipal father, the anal father does not command the subject to sacrifice enjoyment as a price for entry into the social order.  Rather, the anal father directs the subject to enjoy excessively.  This article reasons that the anal father figuration is a result of global capitalism.  While a post-apocalyptic event, such as climate change, may destroy the planet, it does not end capitalism.  Yet, WALL-E suggests that with the demise of the anal father, capitalism can be replaced with an alternative economic system.

Alas, they have not published these indispensable oeuvres:

Slavoj Žižek: Trump Presidency could result in a “big awakening” and begin “new political processes.”

The leadership of ‘events’

Andrew Coates unravels Slavoj Žižek’s ‘communist hypothesis’

Slavoj Žižek: A Radical Critique. Andrew Coates.

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Written by Andrew Coates

February 5, 2018 at 5:05 pm

Slavoj Žižek: Trump Presidency could result in a “big awakening” and begin “new political processes.”

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Image result for Slavoj Žižek caricature

Slovenian Hipster Hegelian, Marxist Medialogue and Lacanian Lad Likes Trump.

In 1990, the well-known Slovenian sociologist, philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek was the Liberal Democracy of Slovinia candidate for the Presidency of Slovenia (an auxiliary body of the President of the Republic, abolished in 1992).  The party is a member of the LIberal International and Alliance of Liberal and Democrats for Europe Party.

Slavoj Žižek is in the Presidential news again, this time it’s the US race.

He has courted predictable outrage with remarks appearing (‘dialectically’) to favour Trump.

Earlier this year the Slovenian Hipster Hegelian, Marxist Medialogue and Lacanian Lad, was in trouble for calling for the ““militarisation” of European responses to the refugee crisis in Against the Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbours (2016) This, it should always be recalled was  in the context of this ‘contradiction’, “my greatest problem with all this humanitarianism is that people are not aware of what is really happening in Europe – the massive anti-immigrant populist movement.”The following particularly aroused controversy.

The Slovenian savant  considered that there is a need to

Formulate a minimum set of rules that are obligatory for everyone, without feat that will appear ‘Eurocentric’ religious freedoms, the protection of individual freedom against group pressure, rights of woman, and so on; and second, within these limits, unconditionally insist on the tolerance of different ways of life.

Such should be a “positive emancipatory leitkultur..”

Many might consider that those who attacked Žižek as a ‘racist’  were themselves trying to impose their own “leitkultur” which involves accepting absolute “difference” and a right to impose reactionary mores inside “their” community.

To make himself clear Žižek  went on to say,

With regard to the refugees, our prop­er aim should be to try and recon­struct glob­al soci­ety on such a basis that des­per­ate refugees will no longer be forced to wander around. Uto­pi­an as it may appear, this large-scale solu­tion is the only real­ist one, and the dis­play of altru­ist­ic vir­tues ulti­mately pre­vents the car­ry­ing out of this aim. The more we treat refugees as objects of human­it­ari­an help, and allow the situ­ation which com­pelled them to leave their coun­tries to pre­vail, the more they come to Europe, until ten­sions reach boil­ing point, not only in the refugees’ coun­tries of ori­gin but here as well. So, con­fron­ted with this double black­mail, we are back at the great Len­in­ist ques­tion: what is to be done?

One would have to be soothsayer to imagine the details of what world order the author has in mind here – but the intentions are surely good…..

But let that pass.

As often is the case with Žižek, people pick and choose what they want to hear.

I like this (though it’s old hat chez Coatesy),

…yet another Left­ist taboo that needs to be aban­doned is that of pro­hib­it­ing any cri­tique of Islam as a case of ‘Islamo­pho­bia’. This taboo is a true mir­ror-image of the anti-immig­rant pop­u­list demon­isa­tion of Islam, so we should get rid of the patho­lo­gic­al fear of many West­ern lib­er­al Left­ists that they might be guilty of Islamo­pho­bia.

Yet, I didn’t like this, on Donald Trump,

“Read Trump closely – it is difficult to do, I know – and if you extract his total racist and sexist stupidities, you will see that here and there, where he makes a complete proposal, they’re usually not so bad,” “He said he will not totally dismantle universal healthcare, raise the minimum wage, and so on.”

“Trump is a paradox: he is really a centrist liberal, and maybe even in his economic policies closer to the Democrats, and he desperately tries to mask this. So the function of all of these dirty jokes and stupidities is to cover up that he is really a pretty ordinary, centrist politician.”

Less noticed is that at the conclusion of Against the Double Blackmail Žižek called for a kind of left-wing leap in the dark, an act of profound ontological will, against the course of history.

As he put it, in strangulated sub-Walter Benjamin sentences,

In contrast to classical Marxism, in which ‘history is on our side’ (the proletariat fulfills a predestined task of universal emancipation), in today’s constellation, the big Other is against us; left to itself, the inner thrust of our historical development leads to catastrophe. To apocalypse. Here, the only thing that can prevent catastrophe is pure voluntarism, i.e. our free decision to act against historical necessity.

The  latest Žižek news is now of just such a jump into catastrophe…..

The ‘alt-right’ site Breitbart reports,

Slovenian-born philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek said a Hillary Clinton presidency is a greater danger to the nation than a President Donald Trump.

Žižek explained that while he is “horrified” by Trump, he believes a Trump presidency could result in a “big awakening” that could set into motion the formation of “new political processes.”

By contrast, Žižek said he sees Clinton as “the true danger”–pointing specifically to her insincerity, her ties to the Wall Street banks, and her dedication to the “absolute inertia” of our established political system.

Zižek explained that Trump has been able to “disturb” the entrenched political system and argued that a Trump win could set into motion “new political processes”:

“In every society, there is a whole network of unwritten rules, how politics works, and how you build consensus. And Trump disturbed this. If Trump wins, both major parties–Republicans and Democrats–would have to return to basics, rethink themselves, and maybe some things can happen there. … It will be a kind of big awakening. New political processes will be set in motion, will be triggered.”

Žižek, who has been described as “the Elvis of cultural theory,” rejected the narrative that a Trump presidency would introduce fascism in America. “Look, America is still not a dictatorial state. He will not introduce fascism,” Žižek said.

While the rockstar Lacanian Marxist professor, who has been described as a “leftist rabble-rouser,” said he was concerned by Trump’s pledge to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, Žižek explained that, in his view, the threat of a conservative court pales in comparison to the danger posed by a Hillary Clinton presidency:

“Listen, Trump has openly said … he will nominate right-wingers [to the Supreme Court], so there are dangers [to a Trump presidency]. I’m just afraid that Hillary stands for this absolute inertia, the most dangerous one, because she’s a cold warrior, and so on, connected with banks pretending to be socially progressive.”

How far should we take any of this seriously?

In  Slavoj Žižek: A Radical Critique we noted (Weekly Worker No 855 Thursday March 03 2011)

Will Žižek go further in this mystical, millennialist direction? Critics have accused him of randomly lumping together ideas, of repetition, of contradiction and of opaque thoughts. It would be better to say that his ideas are often hidden behind great verbal radicalism and convoluted digressions, as shown by his current religious themes. Very few people who take the time to decipher his writings will find substantial tools to use for mundane politics. The pictures of class divisions (included/excluded), immaterial production (exploitation reduced to rent), privatisation of the ‘commons’, and the dictatorship of the proletariat – not to mention the residue of Badiou’s timeless metaphysics – are, we have argued, botched. Nobody is going to storm heaven – or the state – with copies of these writings in their haversack.

Nobody with this rag-bag of ideas is going to begin the revival of mass emancipatory politics. It is even less likely that Trump, if he is elected (which we sincerely hope not) will lead to a “new political processes.” of benefit to any form of left.

Whatsoever.

We suspect this has the ring of truth about it,

Slavoj Zizek is auditioning to be on a CNN roundtable.Alex Shephard

The last time we checked in on collection of bodily fluids Slavoj Zizek, he was saying on-brand things about the election. Specifically, he had a “provocative thesis” that Trump was a liberal centrist. (In a Trump-ian twist, Zizek also described Trump in a way that is loosely descriptive of himself—as “personally disgusting, bad racist jokes, vulgarities, and so on.”) With five days to go until the election, Zizek is back and he’s trying on a new stained black t-shirt—the stained black t-shirt of punditry.

 No sleepless nights worrying about the future of  Žižek, though a few at the possibility that Trump might win.

*******

Written by Andrew Coates

November 5, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Slavoj Žižek: No “deeper understanding of ISIS terrorists” as SWP says “Bound to be a Response” to Imperialist Wars.

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https://i0.wp.com/versobooks-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/images/000000/438/Slavoj-Zizek-57859411a44f817186f2c66c2f28ccfe.jpg

 Žižek: Defends “European emancipatory legacy .”

“There should be no “deeper understanding” of the ISIS terrorists (in the sense of “their deplorable acts are nonetheless reactions to European brutal interventions”); they should be characterized as what they are: the Islamo-Fascist counterpart of the European anti-immigrant racists—the two are the two sides of the same coin. Let’s bring class struggle back—and the only way to do it is to insist on global solidarity of the exploited.”

Slavoj Zizek: In the Wake of Paris Attacks the Left Must Embrace Its Radical Western Roots.

Bang in cue the Socialist Workers Party announces,

After Paris: no to racism and imperialist wars that breed horror

There is no excuse, but there is a context for what has happened. Two and a half centuries of colonialism and imperialism have left a bitter legacy of hatred across much of the world against the West. More than 15 years of the “war on terror” have killed over a million people and driven millions more from their homes. There is bound to be a response.

They further state,

Ultimately those who died in Paris are themselves further victims of Western-backed wars and the reaction against them.

It takes some couilles to say that there is “no excuse” for murder, and then….find an excuse.

It also takes a while to wash the bad taste of this abject statement out of the mouth.

Slavoj Žižek by contrast gives genuine humanist, warm and democratic Marxist response to the Paris atrocity

This stands out:

The greatest victims of the Paris terror attacks will be refugees themselves, and the true winners, behind the platitudes in the style of je suis Paris, will be simply the partisans of total war on both sides. This is how we should really condemn the Paris killings: not just to engage in shows of anti-terrorist solidarity but to insist on the simple cui bono (for whose benefit?) question.

  He asks some hard questions:

Taking control of the refugee crisis will mean breaking leftist taboos.

For instance, the right to “free movement” should be limited, if for no other reason than the fact that it doesn’t exist among the refugees, whose freedom of movement is already dependent on their class. Thus, the criteria of acceptance and settlement have to be formulated in a clear and explicit way—whom and how many to accept, where to relocate them, etc. The art here is to find the middle road between following the desires of the refugees (taking into account their wish to move to countries where they already have relatives, etc.) and the capacities of different countries.

Another taboo we must address concerns norms and rules. It is a fact that most of the refugees come from a culture that is incompatible with Western European notions of human rights. Tolerance as a solution (mutual respect of each other’s sensitivities) obviously doesn’t work: fundamentalist Muslims find it impossible to bear our blasphemous images and reckless humor, which we consider a part of our freedoms. Western liberals, likewise, find it impossible to bear many practices of Muslim culture.

In short, things explode when members of a religious community consider the very way of life of another community as blasphemous or injurious, whether or not it constitutes a direct attack on their religion. This is the case when Muslim extremists attack gays and lesbians in the Netherlands and Germany, and it is the case when traditional French citizens view a woman covered by a burka as an attack on their French identity, which is exactly why they find it impossible to remain silent when they encounter a covered woman in their midst.

 There can be no compromise on universal human rights: the very reason we support the refugees.

Žižek suggests, reasonably in our view, this:

To curb this propensity, one has to do two things. First, formulate a minimum set of norms obligatory for everyone that includes religious freedom, protection of individual freedom against group pressure, the rights of women, etc.—without fear that such norms will appear “Eurocentric.” Second, within these limits, unconditionally insist on the tolerance of different ways of life. And if norms and communication don’t work, then the force of law should be applied in all its forms.

This is better known as secularism, or Laïcité. That is a common public framework, for the shared areas of politics and the state, that is beyond the interference of religious and sectional ideologies.  With this structure, as we argued yesterday, we should have absolute tolerance of diversity.

I will not comment further but note that comrade Žižek has the same mass line as ourselves on the following issue,

Another taboo that must be overcome involves the equation of any reference to the European emancipatory legacy to cultural imperialism and racism. In spite of the (partial) responsibility of Europe for the situation from which refugees are fleeing, the time has come to drop leftist mantras critiquing Eurocentrism.

The old postmodernist views, associated with terms such as Orientalism, have been dying for some time. What sense could they possible have when its Bangladeshi, Iranian, Kurdish, Maghrebian, South and East Asian, Arab and Africans who are in the front line of new development in universal emancipatory thought? Who has not read the writings of our comrades from these countries and been struck by their advance. 

That is, despite all the defeats, the barbarisms, Imperialism, Fascism, Stalinism, and now this….

It is as Kant said of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution,

For a phenomenon of this kind which has taken place in human history can never be forgotten, since it has revealed in human nature an aptitude and power for improvement of a kind which no politician could have thought up by examining the course of events in the past…

Contest of the Faculties. 1798.

Žižek continues, 

The next taboo worth leaving behind is that any critique of the Islamic right is an example of “Islamophobia.” Enough of this pathological fear of many Western liberal leftists who worry about being deemed guilty of Islamophobia. For example, Salman Rushdie was denounced for unnecessarily provoking Muslims and thus (partially, at least) responsible for the fatwa condemning him to death. The result of such a stance is what one can expect in such cases: The more Western liberal leftists wallow in their guilt, the more they are accused by Muslim fundamentalists of being hypocrites who try to conceal their hatred of Islam.

Tendance Coatesy has never given a toss about this worthless accusation, hurled at critics of reactionary Islamism, whether they be European or from Muslim countries. It is the secular left in the latter countries which is fighting Islamism. The only guilt the left should feel is that it is not going enough to support these beloved comrades.

This is a long article and there is a lot more to say and, sometimes disagree with – about a global evolution and the EU, not to mention a great dollop of the idiosyncratic theory of the author in the article ,  to start with. (1)

But we say this for now: chapeau comrade Žižek !

(1) Which is to say that despite finding a new best friend we remain a rationalist, an  admirer of Louis Althusser, sans Jacques Lacan, and no mate of Hegel, and even less of Alain Badiou, somebody we consider, in contrast to Cde Žižek, a Sombre oryctérope. (as Capitaine Haddock would say).

 

Slavoj Žižek: A Radical Critique.

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Weekly Worker 855 Thursday March 03 2011

The leadership of ‘events’

Andrew Coates unravels Slavoj Žižek’s ‘communist hypothesis’

 

Introductory Notes to the Article on Žižek

(This is both a foreword and an afterword.) 

Slavoj Žižek is notoriously hard to pin down. This article, from the Weekly Worker,  is a critique of his efforts to develop a modern idea of Communism. Žižek’s Communism is not just derived from traditional historical materialism. They make little reference to the ideas of the First, Second, Third and Fourth Internationals. Some of the theories and writers referred to need a lot of further discussion. These introductory notes give some help in that direction.

Reading Žižek you frequently come across the name of Jacques Lacan. The French psychoanalyst is formidably difficult. Žižek refers to Lacan as a theorist of how the human subject enters the realms of the social, the imaginary, and symbolic realm. Behind this is the ‘real’, the rock bottom beyond our direct reach. Categories such as the Other, with which the individual subject has a ‘dialectic’, pop up as well. Terry Eagleton’s The Trouble with Strangers (2009) is probably the best recent introduction to these ideas in their political context. Not that it is exactly crystal clear. Eagleton also discusses Žižek and Badiou. On the latter’s concept of the Event (see article) he says, “Nothing is more traditionally modernist than the dream of such an ineffable rupture with the actual.”(P 261) Despite this Badiou has expressed a great deal on the topic, often employing ‘mathematical’ analogies. These may well be open to the charge of ‘intellectual imposture’  – that he uses concepts from a scientific field in a social one without fully grasping their meaning. It is a small mercy that Žižek  does not follow suite.

Žižek does not often mention Lacanian politics as the French Lacanian left actually developed them. For this Bernard Sichère’s Le moment Lacanian (1983) is essential reading. The ex-Maoist Sichère, who has since become a critical philosopher in his own right, describes many of the ideas about the Other, Desire, the Law and so on, which may appear original in Žižek (though he gives them his own twist) but which are far from novel (see date of book’s publication).

Žižek’s ‘political economy’ is, to put it politely, half-digested. He cites the ‘anti-German’ theorist Moishe Postene, and his critique of the ‘metaphysics of labour’, the idealisation of it as a source of all wealth (see also Anti-German translation Here). Postone makes the hardly original point that one can find in Marx a better concept of labour as “a socially mediating activity in capitalism”. From there (amongst other sources)  Žižek developed his own appropriation of the theory of ‘immaterial labour’. Alberto Toscano and Carlo Vercellone in Historical Materialism Vol 15 Issue 1 have discussed this in detail.

It’s a complicated subject but Žižek seems unaware of these debates, or of one of the key authors I cite, Paulo Virno. Toni Negri is very conscious of the problems the concept of immaterial labour involves. Some initial indications of where it comes from are in Leçon 7 Negri’s Marx au-delà de Marx (1979). Negri, it’s important to remember, has always been concerned to relate his theories to potential and real political agents – something I note Žižek lacks. The ‘multitude’, made up of both immaterial and material labourers, could be said to be a, highly ambitious, world constituency of activists and masses. Negri (and Hardt) make reference to a series of political concepts in this respect (see the review Multitudes). They range from Spinoza, Felix Guarratari’s ideas on the state, to Carl Schmitt. Žižek’s comments on these, and concepts of democratic ‘dissensus’ and relevant ideas, such as Chantal Mouffe’s ‘agonistic – pluralist –  democracy’, are, if they have more a fleeting existence, not developed.

Finally the Weekly Worker counts amongst its contributors people with a great deal of knowledge and well-argued views on the history of the Second and Third International. It must be galling for them, and certainly is for the rest of us, to see Žižek talk with apparent authority on Kautsky, Lenin and the Russian Revolution, not to mention the Chinese Cultural ‘revolution’ without this kind of serious background. I would refer to discussion in the paper’s pages on Lars Lih’s Lenin Rediscovered (2006) to begin with. Žižek has nothing worth saying to add to these debates.

 

The leadership of ‘events’ Andrew Coates unravels Slavoj Žižek’s ‘communist hypothesis’

For Slavoj Žižek we live in apocalyptic times. The unrest and revolutions sweeping Arab countries are revelations; they disrupt the normal flow of history. Tahrir Square shook Egypt as if through “intervention of a mysterious agency that we can call, in a platonic way, the eternal idea of freedom, justice and dignity”.[1] The fall of the Mubarak state signifies more than regime change. It appealed to a “universal secular call for freedom and justice”. It shows, as Žižek never ceases to repeat, Mao’s truth that “there is great chaos under heaven – the situation is excellent”.[2] Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrew Coates

March 4, 2011 at 11:30 am

Slavoj Žižek: First as Tragedy. Then as Farce. Review

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Communist Explosion

Review: First as Tragedy. Then as Farce. Slavoj Žižek. Verso. 2009.

 

[Note More recent Critique of  Žižek  here.]

Slavoj Žižek came to the left’s attention in the 1990s. Initially he was called a “‘right Hegelian’ masquerading as a ‘Left Hegelian’ with a dubious neo-liberal past. (Peter Dews 1995) A few years later he was heralded as a “welcome recruit to the anti-capitalist struggle”. Blending “rarefied Lacanian themes” and Classical Marxism resulted in a “highly suggestive theory of the revolutionary act” (Alex Callinicos. 2001). More recently he has become a fixture. Someone who “defends an iconoclastic Marxism against ‘conformist liberal scoundrels’.” (Göran Therborn. 2008). Not without critics. To some on the left the Slovinian theorist’s “critique of capitalism has little to do with Marx’s” (Andrew Robinson and Simon Tormey. 2006). With such contrasting assessments it is not surprising that Wikipedia has detailed pages on Žižek’s critics and defenders. This will probably multiply them. A prolific author it is near impossible to keep up with all of his writings, but this seems certain to be his most politically engaged and politically relevant book – for what that’s worth.

No doubt First as Tragedy Then as Farce will still startle a few. We rapidly forget its laboured “IQ Test”. Marx’s well-worn phrase is taken and applied to the collapse of the liberal-democratic political utopia on 9/11” (did you notice that?), and the ‘repetition’ in the ‘farce’ of financial meltdown (is that still going on?) But this is not the main thesis. Fortunately. The central objective of the book is to “take the ongoing crisis as a starting point”, examines the “utopian core of capitalist ideology”, the nature of the “real” is mystifies, and attempts to unravel its central contradictions. That the text’s efforts to “locate aspects of our situation which open up the space for new forms of communis praxis” will have some echo is certain. Well-attended public appearances and media coverage underline Žižek’s present popularity (videos here). Though one has little evidence that his audience is doing much to “re-actualise the communist Idea.” Or to resolve the Left’s dilemmas – either to struggle for state power (what is normally called Leninism) or to reject capturing the state altogether (a line associated at the moment with John Holloway’s writings) – by adopting his own ‘Leninist’ project of “to make the state itself work in a non-statal way”. Is this the way forward for “communist praxis”? Many people will probably already think of a few objections here. What this implies for governments and civil services is not explored beyond reference to “radically changing” state power, “and its relationship to its base” “and so on”….

This review will not try to negotiate all of the “so ons”. They lead us to the inner alcoves of Žižek’s maze of concepts. Just for theory: Lacanian psychoanalysis, theories of the ideology and the subject, Kant, Hegel and subsequent German idealist philosophy, not to mention Marxist dialectics, are there in abundance. With plenty of by-ways into Badiou (star turn – here), Laclau, Saint Paul’s universalism and Walter Benjamin’s “divine violence”. Not to mention more empirically based writers picked up along the process of churning out the present pages, such as Jean-Pierre Dupuy and his warnings about potential catastrophes – commonsense advice that we should anticipate disaster before it happens that Žižek manages to render into Latinate profundity. Or musing on “humanisation” in telling stories about people that “emphasise the gap between the complex reality of the person and the role he has to play against his true nature” There is reference to Jonathan Littell’s aridly formal novel Les Beinveillants (2008), a “fictional-person account of the Holocaust form the perspective of a German participant, SS Obserturmbannführer Maximilan Aue” From thence to psychology and politics of ‘Toxic subjects’ (‘the Two-Faced Sneaky Back-Stabber’ for starters), and then the Italian Government’s use of the State of Emergency. A hotchpotch of High Theory and journalistic commentary. All of interest, but hard to keep within the boundaries of the narrative we are busy constructing out of the pages of First as Tragedy.

Invariant Communism.

We are concerned however with one, if often over-egged, dish. How Žižek’s mixes the ingredients to explain the way “invariant communism” – a “concrete universality”, “universal features that may be applied everywhere”- “has to re-invented in each new historical situation.” If the ‘Real’ of the global market mechanism, a limit on representation, how can we speak of communism today and how can it become actual? The new Spirit of capitalism for Žižek fills the symbolic dimension. A world not run by traditional hierarchy but by “post-modernism”, a flat decentred world, where the “master-Signifier” is multiple consumerism, or rather, a kaleidoscope of enforced choice. A world in which we buy for “experience”, consume for pleasure and meaning, where companies promote their “ethical values”, and politics are fragmented by our (multiple) “identities” A world that by its very permissiveness foments fundamentalist – puritan – reactions. And the populist-racist mobilisation around its own version of “fear of the toxic Other” (Žižek rarely misses a helping hand from the clichés of the academic left even when he turns round and tries to maul them). An environment, in short, which the capitalist ‘real’ – operating beyond the ken of most people – throws up a vast array of misleading images and ideas that smother radical challenge. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrew Coates

March 15, 2010 at 12:31 pm