7.45pm. About an hour in to Dr Grant’s lecture, a bald geezer stands up. “Can someone tell me what he just said?” he shouts. The room is silent, so he expands: “Do any of you have any idea what he’s talking about? Honestly?”
An affronted man near the stage sits up. “Yes,” he replies loudly.
“Go on then,” says the geezer. “Explain it to me.”
“What, you want me to explain the whole thing? Won’t that be a bit time consuming?” says Affronted Man.
“Summarise,” challenges geezer.
nullibiquité was kind enough to provide links to audios of the talks in question:
Žižek’s shtick works for a number of reasons among readers who are not ordinarily receptive to calls to the barricades. One is that he is a clown, that he cuts his Leninism with enough sweet stuff about Jennifer Lopez and whatever other trash passes across his hotel TV screens that readers can easily assume to be a put-on every bit that they are not inclined to accept. Another reason, obviously, is the way he plays on his foreignness. He’s been through it, Western readers will tell themselves, and has surely earned the right to hold forth on these matters. But anyone who would joke that the only position he would accept in the Slovenian government is that of chief of secret police evidently has not been through it quite enough. Slovenia was the freest republic of the freest federal state in the socialist bloc: the Switzerland of Yugoslavia, as Slobodan Milošević once scoffed. This does not mean it was always easy to be a Lacanian intellectual in Ljubljana during the Tito era, but the sort of inconvenience Žižek faced is categorically different than, say, the Stalinist show trials in the Soviet Union of the 1930s (made possible, of course, by the secret police).
Žižek, I mean, is not speaking from any particular position of experience when he suggests that there is something to be salvaged from the legacy of the Bolshevik revolution. When he suggests that what is to be salvaged is the very most brutal part of that legacy, moreover, he is just being flippant, and Western readers should not let him get away with it simply on the grounds that he has funny accent marks in his last name.
I had a rather open weekend, mainly due to various waiting room scenarios, so not open by choice, I suppose, and I brought a book along, like you do, to kill some time. It just happened to be Žižek’s latest Living in the End Times which I have purchased but have not read, and to be honest, I didn’t really plan on reading it as one reads a book, i.e. from cover to cover. I was planning to skim through it one day to see what the kids are into these days and be cool if anyone asked if I read it. Continue reading →
I was reading yet another article about Slavoj Zizek this morning–a figure I’ve basically stopped paying attention to for various reasons–and almost vomited when I came across this:
He is very much a thinker for our turbulent, high speed, information-led lives,” says Sophie Fiennes, “precisely because he insists on the freedom to stop and think hard about who you are as an individual in this fragmented society. We need a radical hip priest and Slavoj is that in many ways.”
Good grief (somewhere a single tear is slowly making its way down Wavy Gravy’s cheek). I mean, really. Gag. Thankfully, the author of the article qualifies this idiotic statment, albeit with another nausea inducing gem:
The very thought, I suspect, would have him quaking in his proletarian boots – and free airline socks.
Quaking? Perhaps (isn’t Zizek always “quaking?”) The phrase “proletarian boots” –clearly an attempt at wit–is just a bit over the top. The author of the article, like most articles about him, wastes a bunch of space discussing Zizek’s appearence. Ooh…Proletarian boots, such a fashion statement! I must march down to the closest TJ Max and get some! Continue reading →
Here’s an interesting article about the Communism Conference in London this weekend from The Socialist Worker by Alex Callinicos, “Slavoj Zizek’s Ideas need to link with reality.” I’ve pasted the full text below. Callinicos raises some interesting questions about some contradictions revolving around the relationship between theory and practice and the 100 pound entrance fee, ahem.
Nearly a thousand people will be attending a conference this weekend on “The Idea of Communism” in central London. In itself, this isn’t a big deal. Left wing conferences take place regularly in central London. The Socialist Workers Party’s annual Marxism event attracts several thousand participants every summer.
There are two things that are different about this particular conference. The first is that it isn’t being organised by a political organisation or journal, but by Birkbeck College’s Institute for the Humanities. Secondly, the conference is attracting an unusual amount of media attention. The Financial Times devoted a full page of its weekend edition to an interview with the director of the Institute for the Humanities, Slavoj Zizek, headlined “The modest Marxist”.
It is presumably Zizek, one of the most dazzling figures on the intellectual left, who has succeeded in attracting as speakers at the conference some of the best known continental philosophers – notably Alain Badiou, Toni Negri and Giorgio Agamben, along with, among others, Terry Eagleton and Peter Hallward. The emphasis indeed seems to be on philosophy. “From Plato onwards, Communism is the only political Idea worthy of a philosopher,” the conference publicity declares. Continue reading →
I have been reading Terry Eagleton’s Holy Terror in the last couple of days, and I think I’m enjoying it, despite having a bit of an ambiguous initial encounter with Eagleton’s work earlier in life. It is full of great literary references and it makes for an enjoyable read when you recognize and understand the allusions, having been brought up on mostly Russian and Soviet literature, and Eagleton’s allusions coming primarily from Western tradition, it makes for a good self-esteem boosting exercise. The first couple of chapters deal with Dionysus, Greek tragedy, law, sublime, order, chaose and all kinds of other cool subjects, it’s quite a feast. However, when reading about law I kept remembering Zizek’s favorite example that, in some or other variation, sounds something like that: Imagine a father asking a young child to go see grandma, the child refuses (hates grandma) and father forces him to go anyway. Father is the law in this scenarios, the child is the constituents in a state of law, their refusal is overcome with enforcement yet they retain a sort of internal rebellious attitude toward the law because they realize that they are forced to obey. In Zizek’s scenario then a second variant has a different twist: a father, upon hearing of the child’s refusal to go, leaves the final decision up to the child- “Well, if you don’t want to go, it’s ok, it’s up to you.” Zizek’s comment is usually something like this: “Look at this permissive parent, he thinks he’s leaving the decision up to the child, but in fact he is pressing for an internalization of the law, now any decision of the child will be supposedly his/her decision, he will most likely agree to go, but the enforcement will come from within, and therefore with it will come the guilt.” Lately Zizek’s been adding another example from a movie where a girlfriend is yelling at the boyfriend: “I don’t want you to do the dishes, I want you to want to do the dishes.” Continue reading →
I cite has a reaction to Kirsch-Zizek virtual encounter that has an intriguing comment from a reader who suggests that one must not be surprised to read Adam Kirsch’s “review” of Zizek’s books, apparently, we’re dealing with a pattern. In October, Kirsch reviewed Raymond Geuss’s new book in a piece titled “The Roar of Justice” – enjoy!
Still, in his brash, self-congratulatory attempt to get to the bottom of politics—to replace illusion with reality, ideals with power—Geuss lacks the ruthless consistency of his patron saint, Thrasymachus. “The unjust is lord over the truly simple and just: he is the stronger, and his subjects do what is for his interest, and minister to his happiness, which is very far from being their own,” Thrasymachus says. It follows that the only logical course for any human being is to try to be happily unjust, rather than simple—that is, stupid—and just.
Yet this does not at all seem to be Geuss’s view. On the contrary, his attacks on the Bush administration and the war on Iraq, and his loathing of the bourgeois complacency of Rawls and Nozick, all suggest that he has his own conception of justice, which involves solidarity with the oppressed and resistance to the powerful. (He approvingly quotes not just Lenin but Brecht.) But it’s hard to see how, on his own showing, any critique of existing power arrangements could have any intellectual or moral coherence. The world of Thrasymachus is a war of all against all, in which the powerful will always win. If Geuss does not want to inhabit such a world—and who does?—he should acknowledge that the inquiry into the nature of justice, which has occupied philosophers from Socrates to Rawls, is not an ideological trick, but the necessary beginning of all attempts to make the world more just.
“Solidarity with the oppressed”? No way! How unjust is that? “Resistance to the powerful”? Nice…
There is a close similarity between the speeches George W. Bush has given since the crisis began and his addresses to the American people after 9/11. Both times, he evoked the threat to the American way of life and the necessity of fast and decisive action to cope with the danger. Both times, he called for the partial suspension of American values (guarantees of individual freedom, market capitalism) in order to save the same values.
Faced with a disaster over which we have no real influence, people will often say, stupidly, ‘Don’t just talk, do something!’ Perhaps, lately, we have been doing too much. Maybe it is time to step back, think and say the right thing. True, we often talk about doing something instead of actually doing it – but sometimes we do things in order to avoid talking and thinking about them. Like quickly throwing $700 billion at a problem instead of reflecting on how it came about.