Friday, February 27, 2009

From Marcus Pound's Žižek: A (Very) Critical Introduction

Excerpts from Žižek's Afterword:

"The true adultery is not to copulate outside of marriage, but to copulate in a marriage without love: the simple adultery just violates the law from outside, while marriage without love destroys it from within, turning the letter of the law against its spirit. So, to paraphrase Brecht yet again: what is a simple adultery compared to (the adultery that is a loveless) marriage! It is not by chance that Wagner's underlying formula 'marriage is adultery' recalls Proudhon's 'property is theft'--in the stormy 1848 events, Wagner was not only a Feuerbachian celebrating sexual love, but also a Proudhonian revolutionary demanding the abolition of private property; so no wonder that, later on the same page, Wagner attributes to Jesus a Proudhonian supplement to 'Thou shalt not steal!': 'This also is a good law: Thou shalt not steal, nor covet another man's goods. Who goeth against it, sinneth: but I preserve you from sin, inasmuch as I teach you: Love thy neighbor as thyself; which also meaneth: Lay not up for thyself treasures, whereby thou stealeth from thy neighbor and makest him to starve: for when thou hast thy goods safeguarded by the law of man, thou provokest thy neighbor to sin against the law." (p. 152)

[...] "These lines cannot but evoke the famous passages from The Communist Manifesto that answer the bourgeois reproach that Communists want to abolish freedom, property, and family: it is the capitalist freedom itself that is effectively the freedom to buy and sell on the market and thus the very form of unfreedom for those who have nothing but their labor force to sell; it is the capitalist property itself that means the 'abolition' of property for those who own no means of production; it is the bourgeois marriage itself that is the universalized prostitution. In all these cases the external opposition is internalized, so that one opposite becomes the form of appearance of the other (bourgeois freedom is the form of appearance of the unfreedom of the majority, etc.). However, for Marx, at least in the case of freedom, this means that Communism will not abolish freedom but, by way of abolishing the capitalist servitude, bring about actual freedom, the freedom that will no longer be the form of appearance of its opposite. It is thus not freedom itself that is the form of appearance of its opposite, but only false freedom, the freedom distorted by relations of domination." (p. 153)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cheap Shots Against Žižek

Why American Corporate Academics (and Other Capitalist Flunkies) Accuse Žižek of Inconsistency:

"Two leitmotivs of your approach to Lacan are already discernible in what you have said. The first is that you do not conceal Lacan's inconsistencies: you seem always to be on the lookout for unexpected shifts in his position. Your Lacan is a theoretician engaged in continuous polemics against himself, his own previous statements....

True, the fundamental presupposition of my approach to Lacan is the utter incongruity of a 'synchronous' reading of his texts and seminars: the only way to comprehend Lacan is to approach his work as a work in progress, as a succession of attempts to seize the same persistent traumatic kernel. The shifts in Lacan's work become manifest the moment one concentrates on his great negative theses: 'There is no Other of the Other', 'The desire of the analyst is not a pure desire'....Upon encountering such a thesis, one must always ask the simple question: who is this idiot who is claiming that there is an Other of the Other, that the desire of the analyst is a pure desire, and so on? There is, of course, only one answer: Lacan himself a couple of years ago. The only way to approach Lacan, therefore, is to read 'Lacan contre Lacan' (the title of the 1993-4 Jacques-Alain Miller seminar)."

From Žižek's The Metastases of Enjoyment: on Women and Causality (London: Verso, 1994), Appendix A, p. 173

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Is the Lacanian Community 'Stalinist'?

From Žižek's The Metastases of Enjoyment: on Women and Causality (London: Verso, 1994), Appendix A, pp. 171-172:

"One should acknowledge openly what many a critique of the alleged 'totalitarian', 'Stalinist' nature of Lacanian communities makes a big deal of by allusion: yes, the 'spirit', the structuring principle, which expressed itself distortedly in the Stalinist Party, found its proper form in the Lacanian community of analysts," [...]

"The choice here is unavoidable--that is to say, what occurs after passe, when the analysis is over? One the one side is the 'obscurantist" choice: passe as an intimate experience, an ecstatic moment of authenticity that can only be transmitted from person to person in an initiating act of communication. On the other is the 'Stalinist' choice: passe as an act of total externalization through which I irrevocably renounce the ineffable precious kernel in me that makes me a unique being, and leave myself unreservedly to the analytic community. This homology between the Lacanian analyst and the Stalinist Communist can be unfolded further: for example, the Lacanian analyst, like the Stalinist Communist, is in a sense 'infallible'--in contrast to ordinary people, he does not 'live in error', the error (the ideological delusion) is not an inherent constituent of his speech. So when he is empirically 'wrong', the causes are purely external: 'fatigue', 'nervous overcharge', and so on. What he needs is not theoretical enlightenment of his error but simply to 'take a rest' and restore his health...

Does not this 'infallibility' of the Lacanian analyst imply that Lacanian discourse is totally dominated, permeated, by the Master-Signifier?


Quite the contrary: paradoxical as it may sound, it implies that the analytic community is the only community capable of passing by the Master-Signifier. What is the Master-Signifier, strictly speaking? The signifier of transference. Its exemplary case occurs when, while reading a text or listening to a person, we assume that every sentence harbours some hidden profound meaning--and since we assume it in advance, we usually also find it." [...]

"Such a transferential relationship is what the community of Lacanian analysts avoid via their 'infallibility': this community is not founded upon some supposed knowledge, it is simply a community of those who know.
In short, it is the 'subjective destitution', the subject's complete self-externalization, that makes the Master superfluous: a Master is a Master only in so far as I, his subject, am not completely externalized;" [...]

"The constitutive illusion of religious discourse, for example, is that God addresses each individual by name: I know God has me precisely in his mind..."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Unothodox maybe, but Marxist nonetheless

From Žižek and Daly, Conversations with Žižek (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2004), pp. 147:

"I think that there is a central idea developed by Georg
Lukács and the Frankfurt School which, in spite of all my criticism of the Western Marxist tradition, is today more actual than ever. The idea is that the economy is not simply one among the social spheres. The basic insight of the Marxist critique of political economy--of commodity fetishism and so on--is that the economy has a certain proto-transcendental social status. Economy provides a generative matrix for phenomena which in the first approach has nothing to do with economy as such. For example, we can speak about reification, the commodification of culture and of politics and so on. At the level of form, the capitalist economy has a universal scope. So what interests me is the global structuring dimension of what goes on at the level of capitalist economy. It is not just one domain among others."

[...] "The problem for me is , what is working class today? I think that we should certainly abandon any fetish about the centrality of the working class. But at the same time we should abandon the opposite (postmodern) fetish: that the working class is disappearing; that it is meaningless to speak about the working class. Both are wrong."

From Žižek and Daly,
Conversations with Žižek (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2004), pp. 149:

"My position is almost classical Marxist in the sense that I would insist that anti-capitalist struggle is not simply one among other political struggles for greater equality, cultural recognition, anti-sexism and so on. I believe in the central structuring role of the anti-capitalist struggle."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Fetish of the Working Class

From Žižek and Daly, Conversations with Žižek (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2004), pp. 145-146:

[...] "we also, of course, have a classical Trotskyism which I think represents something of a tragic position because it is always addressed to the fetish of the working class as a revolutionary party. When I speak to some of my orthodox Marxist friends, it is typical how, with their vision of all of the upheavals from Solidarity in Poland to the disintegration of communism and, more recently, the fall of Milosevic, they are always telling the same story: that those who truly brought down these corrupt degenerate communist regimes were workers--workers' strikes, workers' movements and so on. So the story goes that there was always a chance of an authentic workers' revolution, but since there wasn't a proper political party there, the workers' movement was co-opted either by nationalists, neo-capitalists, CIA agents or whatever. Sometimes there is an element of truth in this. With the early mobilizations of Solidarity, for example, the original demands were for greater socialism and not private property. But nonetheless, I think that the standard idea that in all these cases we had a missed opportunity for socialist revolution is a deep delusion. It doesn't function in this way."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Charismatic Speech, Love, Knowledge

From Bruce Fink's Lacan to the Letter (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), p. 68:

"Lacan sees his own oral teaching as an important part of training. To his mind, his seminars contribute to the training of analysts far more than his writings ever could (even though they too strive to achieve certain training effects). Since Plato's time, it has been clear that oral transmission engenders love and that love and knowledge are not unrelated. Lacan's seminars provide a transferential context, engendering love in the students, love that puts them to work. The student at Lacan's seminar is inspired to work, much as the analysand is in analysis. There is more to it than that, of course: Lacan was, from many accounts, a fine and charismatic speaker who made a great impression on his audience. He also seemed to crave and genuinely thrive on the transference love he inspired in his students. He worked for that love, just as they worked for him."

Enjoyment, the Will of the People, Envy

From P.D. James' The Children of Men (Random House, 1993), pp. 104-105

Luke said gently: "Protection, comfort, pleasure. There has to be something more."

"It's what people care about, what they want. What more should the Council be offering?"

"Compassion, justice, love."

"No state has ever concerned itself with love, and no state ever can."

Julian said: "But it can concern itself with justice."

Rolf was impatient: "Justice, compassion, love. They're all words. What we're talking about is power. The Warden is a dictator masquerading as a democratic leader. He ought to be made to be responsible to the will of the people."

Theo said: "Ah, the will of the people. That's a fine sounding phrase. At present, the will of the people seems to be for protection, comfort, pleasure." He thought: I know what offends you--the fact that Xan enjoys such power, not the way he exercises it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Justice, Equality, Envy, Evil, Revolution

If John Brown and Lenin were egotists, then I can accept those remarks of Žižek's from his book Violence that you cited in a recent post. But when I look around me here in the USA (Unreflective States of Arrogance), I do not see benign egotists who are too concerned with their own good to cause harm to anyone. What I see are self-worshiping idiots with large cars and small libraries.

In the Unreflective States of Arrogance I see thousands of submissive but pompous, hypocritical academics who have sold their souls for TIAA-CREF, homes in exclusive neighborhoods, perfect hairstyles, tasteful clothes, and pearly-white, crocodile smiles. They have privileged access to information and what do they use it for? Vainglorious self-promotion, posturing, and reckless competition over trifles.

But I also see--here in the USA--thousands of good-intentioned, lower-class people who still believe in democracy. These are the people who must be converted to the cause before communism can win. Many of our invisible and forgotten workers also serve in the National Guard or the Reserves. I am a veteran; but I did not enlist in order to invade other countries and to steal the natural resources. I did not enlist in order to preserve the system of privileges as it now stands. I believe a dream is worth dying for, and the nation I love (the nation I thought I would be serving when I enlisted) is not the nation we really are, but the nation we might be someday. Unless we are hypocrites who want revolution without revolution, the left must re-appropriate from the right notions like duty, honor, and self-sacrifice. I have a dream of what the USA could be, like our nonviolent martyr, Martin Luther King jr., who said that "if a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live."

Let the cowardly and vain American academics pre-judge me to be naive; I do not care. I challenge any one of these pseudo-leftist intellectuals to explain to me how the left will really accomplish anything without involving the unemployed and the working poor. The problem now is that most North American workers still admire people like Bill Gates instead of people like John Brown, Lenin, and Che. My Žižek is the one who educates the proletariat.

If "self-love" involves risking one's reputation (or even better, one's very existence) for the sake of the millions of slum dwellers and all of the other abject, disenfranchised human beings--including the future generations whose inheritance we are currently wasting--then is this really egotism?

If Che was an "egotist" then okay, I can accept Žižek's remarks that you cited. But if Che was acting out of "envy," then give me such envy or give me death. I agree with Plato that the love of luxuries and privileges corrupts the soul (call it "self-reflexive negativity" or "death drive" if you prefer). The only reason I care about money is to save enough of it to someday leave this evil empire. All around me in the Unreflective States of Arrogance I see swaggering, domineering individualists who have no concern for future generations or for the ecology. I see politicians who are puppets dancing on strings pulled by corporations. And of course I prefer chocolate to vanilla, but when are we finally going to socialize these corporations? It looks to me like we will wait do it until it is too late for us: after the ecology is destroyed and we are a province of China's empire.

Okay, theory matters. But so does the revolution. And even if he sometimes seems to contradict himself or waver, I believe that for Žižek theory is not the only thing that matters. In spite of what he sometimes provocatively blurts out, people matter to him also; this is precisely why he wants communism to win: he has said as much in other texts and in interviews.

Give me the Žižek who (like Badiou) loves Western movies, admires courage, and puts a guillotine on the dust jacket of In Defense of Lost Causes. I have no use at all for a cute and lovable, overgrown teddy bear. Dirty jokes bore me; and I cannot find inspiration in a narcissistic, pure theoretician. Some of us simply cannot bury our heads in ontology and metapsychology. You have your Žižek and I have mine. Maybe he's no Lenin, but if my Žižek won't keep speaking out for the dispossessed, then I'll look into Badiou or elsewhere.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Žižek's Most Profound Contribution

Nothing is easier than to find these little inconsistencies, or passages where Žižek seems to conflate two closely-related terms. But this kind of exercise is for grade-grubbing graduate students and boring, "deadwood" academics. Žižek has already said that his heart is not really in the political writing, because leftists expect answers which he cannot give (answers no one can give).

Žižek has also already said that he is most proud of those passages in his writing in which he gives a good interpretation of Hegel. And Žižek has said that his Lacan is Miller's Lacan. He has already told anyone who was paying attention that his true focus is not on political theory but on self-reflexive negativity, on the death drive, on subjectivity as the negative universality that unites all speaking animals. Only if we focus on this negative a priori will we grasp the misguided nature of all "identity politics".

Žižek writes so much and he is always provocative. But take him at his word: "Theory matters." His philosophical anthropology might make him seem to be the new Marx, but he is definitely not the new Lenin. His most profound theoretical contribution is ontology and metapsychology, not politics.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Justice, Equality, Envy, Evil

"What Nietzsche and Freud share is the idea that justice as equality is founded on envy--on the envy of the Other who has what we do not have, and who enjoys it. The demand for justice is thus ultimately the demand that the excessive enjoyment of the Other should be curtailed so that everyone's access to enjoyment is equal."

Žižek, Violence (Picador, 2008), p. 89

"An evil person is thus not an egotist, 'thinking only about his own interests.' A true egotist is too busy taking care of his own good to have time to cause misfortune to others. The primary vice of a bad person is precisely that he is more preoccupied with others than with himself."

Žižek, Violence (Picador, 2008), p. 92

"Here is why egalitarianism itself should never be accepted at its face value: the notion (and practice) of egalitarian justice, insofar as it is sustained by envy, relies on the inversion of the standard renunciation accomplished to benefit others: 'I am ready to renounce it, so that others will (also) NOT be able to have it!' Far from being opposed to the spirit of sacrifice, evil here emerges as the very spirit of sacrifice, ready to ignore one's own well being--if, through my sacrifice, I can deprive the Other of his enjoyment..."

Žižek, Violence (Picador, 2008), p. 92

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Violence & the Arrogance of Anonymity

From “Liberation Hurts: An Interview with Slavoj Žižek”
Interviewer: Eric Dean Rasmussen

The interview is available online at:
http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/endconstruction/desublimation

Rasmussen: Let's follow up on your suicide bomber reference. In both Welcome to the Desert of the Real and The Puppet and the Dwarf you seem to come close to endorsing "hysterical" violence as a preferable alternative to an "obsessional," micromanaged, life-in-death. I'm thinking of the contrast you make between the Palestinian suicide bomber, the American soldier waging war before a computer screen, and the New York yuppie jogging along the Hudson River. In the moment before the bomber kills himself and others, you suggest he is more alive than either the soldier or the yuppie. How would you defend yourself against charges that you are promoting terrorism or romanticizing revolutionary violence?

Žižek: Such charges may be a below-the-belt blow. Believe me, from my personal experience, coming from an ex-socialist country, I know very well the misery of living in a post-revolutionary society. Let me first state my basic position, which is the fundamental paradox that I repeat again and again in my works, and which is basically a paraphrase of that reversal by Jacques Lacan where he says, against Dostoevsky, that, if God doesn't exist, not everything is permitted, but everything is prohibited. Lacan was right, and the so-called fundamentalist terrorists are exactly the proof of his claim. With them, it's inverted: God exists, so everything is permitted. If you act as a divine instrument, you can kill, rape, etc., because, through all these mystical tricks, it's not me who is acting, rather it is God who is acting through me.

I was shocked recently when I read some speeches by Commandant Marcos of the Zapatistas. Behind a mask, Marcos says, "I am nobody. Through me, you have this poetic explosion. Through me, dispossessed peasants in Brazil, poor drug addicts and homeless people in New York, sweatshop workers in Indonesia, all of them speak, but I am nobody." See how ambiguous this position is? It appears modest, but this self-erasure conceals an extreme arrogance. It means all these people speak through me, so the silent conclusion is if you attack me, I am untouchable, because you attack all those others.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The “Che-ification” of Christ

JESUS AGAINST CAPITALISM

1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

Matthew 6:19-21;24
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Matthew 10:9
Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts.

Matthew 21:12-13
12 Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13"It is written," he said to them," 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'"

Matthew 23:16-17
16 Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?

Luke 18: 22-25
22 "There is still one thing you lack," Jesus said. "Sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
23 But when the man heard this, he became sad because he was very rich.
24 Jesus watched him go and then said to his disciples, "How hard it is for rich people to get into the Kingdom of God!
25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!"

From BBC - Religion and Ethics
http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/history/whokilledjesus_1.shtml

Jesus threatened the Temple's income:


The Temple apparatus brought in huge revenues for simple matters like purification and the forgiveness of sins. Archaeologists have discovered 150 mikvehs around the Temple. Mikvehs are ritual baths which Jews use in order to purify themselves before any act of worship.

Jewish people could only enter the Temple if they were ritually pure and almost everyone arriving in Jerusalem for Passover was deemed ritually unclean. They had to use a mikveh before they could fulfil their religious obligations. The priests controlled the mikvehs and charged people to use them.

There were so many regulations requiring ritual purification that control of the mikvehs was a way of making money.

Jesus thought the whole thing was rubbish. He taught that the elaborate purity rituals were unnecessary - the Kingdom of God was available to everyone and they didn't have to go through these rituals or pay the money in order to get there.

From Jesus Against The Church--Part III--Chapter 9
http://portlandporcupine.com/jac/chap09.html

And what would be the priority rating of home ownership to followers of the Son of Man who had no place to lay his head (Matthew 8: 20) and Whose followers sometimes had to live "in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground" (Hebrews 11: 38). The point is not that owning a home is some evil to be avoided, it is that our homes more often own us than the other way around.