Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Slavoj Žižek at The Creative Time Summit

October 12, 2012—October 13, 2012

NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts

Slavoj Žižek at The Creative Time Summit

Creative Time has commissioned and presented ambitious public art projects with thousands of artists throughout New York City, across the country, around the world—and now even in outer space.

Slavoj Žižek, author of Less than Nothing and the upcoming The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, will be one of the keynote speakers at the fourth annual Creative Time Summit at NYU’s Skirball Center in New York City on October 12-13. Curated by Nato Thomspson, since 2009 the Creative Time Summit has brought international artists, curators, critics, scholars, and activists to discuss art and its transformative effect on politics.

Creative Time Summit 2012: Confronting Inequality will focus on global economic inequity and boasts presenters including Mike Daisey, Jeff Chang, Suzanne Lacy, Josh MacPhee, Hito Steyerl and Rebel Díaz.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Welcome to the “Spiritual Kingdom of Animals” | Slavoj Žižek on the moral vacuum of global capitalism

The documentary The Act of Killing (Final Cut Film Production, Copenhagen) premiered in 2012 at the Telluride film festival and was also shown at Toronto International Film Festival. The Act of Killing, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, provides a unique and deeply disturbing insight into the ethical deadlock of global capitalism.

The film – shot in Medan, Indonesia, in 2007 – reports on a case of obscenity which reaches the extreme: a film, made by Anwar Congo and his friends, who are now respected politicians, but were gangsters and death squad leaders playing a key role in the 1966 killing of cca 2,5 millions of alleged Communist sympathizers, mostly ethnic Chinese. The Act of Killing is about “killers who have won, and the sort of society they have built.” After their victory, their terrible acts were not relegated to the status of the “dirty secret”, the founding crime whose traces are to be obliterated – on the contrary, they boast openly about the details of their massacres (the way to strangle a victim with a wire, the way to cut a throat, how to rape a woman in a most pleasurable way…). In October 2007, the Indonesian state TV produced a talk show celebrating Anwar and his friends; in the middle of the show, after Anwar says that their killings were inspired by gangster movies, the beaming moderator turns to the cameras and says: “Amazing! Let’s give Anwar Congo a round of applause!” When she asks Anwar if he fears the revenge of the victim’s relatives, Anwar answers: “They can’t. When they raise their heads, we wipe them out!” His henchman adds: “We’ll exterminate them all!”, and the audience explodes into exuberant cheers… one has to see this to believe it’s possible. But what makes Freemen extraordinary is also the level of reflexivity between documentary and fiction – the film is, in a way, a documentary about the real effects of living a fiction:
“To explore the killers’ astounding boastfulness, and to test the limits of their pride, we began with documentary portraiture and simple re-enactments of the massacres. But when we realized what kind of movie Anwar and his friends really wanted to make about the genocide, the re-enactments  became more elaborate. And so we offered Anwar and his friends the opportunity to dramatize the killings using film genres of their choice (western, gangster, musical). That is, we gave them the chance to script, direct and star in the scenes they had in mind when they were killing people.”[i]

Did they reach the limits of the killers’ “pride”? They barely touched it when they proposed to Anwar to play the victim of his tortures in a reenactment; when a wire is placed around his neck, he interrupts the performance and says “Forgive me for everything I’ve done.” But this is more a temporary relapse which did not lead to any deeper crisis of conscience – his heroic pride immediately takes over again. Probably, the protective screen which prevented a deeper moral crisis was the very cinematic screen: as in their past real killings and torture, they experienced their activity as an enactment of their cinematic models, which enabled them to experience reality itself as a fiction – as great admirers of Hollywood (they started their career as organizers and controllers of the black market in peddling cinema tickets), they played a role in their massacres, imitating a Hollywood gangster, cowboy or even a musical dancer.

Here the “big Other” enters, not only with the fact that the killers modeled their crimes on the cinematic imaginary, but also and above all the much more important fact of society’s moral vacuum: what kind of symbolic texture (the set of rules which draw the line between what is publicly acceptable and what is not) a society must be composed of, if even a minimal level of public shame (which would compel the perpetrators to treat their acts as a “dirty secret”) is suspended, and the monstrous orgy of torture and killing can be publicly celebrated even decades after it took place, not even as a extraordinary necessary crime for the public good, but as an ordinary acceptable pleasurable activity? The trap to be avoided here is, of course, the easy one of putting the blame either directly on Hollywood or on the “ethical primitiveness” of Indonesia. The starting point should rather be the dislocating effects of capitalist globalization which, by undermining the “symbolic efficacy” of traditional ethical structures, creates such a moral vacuum.
However, the status of the “big Other” deserves here a closer analysis – let us compare The Act of Killing to an incident which drew a lot of attention in the US some decades ago: a woman was beaten and slowly killed by a violent perpetrator in the courtyard of a big apartment block in Brooklyn, New York; of the more than 70 witnesses who clearly saw what was going on from their windows, not one called the police – why not? As the later investigation established, the most prevalent excuse by far was that each witness thought someone else already had or surely would do it. This data should not be moralistically dismissed as a mere excuse for moral cowardice and egotistic indifference: what we encounter here is also the function of the big Other – this time not as Lacan’s “subject supposed to know,” but as what one could call “the subject supposed to call the police.” The fatal mistake of the witnesses of the slow Brooklyn killing was to misread the symbolic (fictional) function of the “subject supposed to call the police” as an empirical claim of existence, wrongly concluding that there must be at least one who effectively did call the police – they overlooked the fact that the function of the “subject supposed to call the police” is operative even if there is no actual subject who enacts it.[ii]

Does this mean that, through the gradual dissolution of our ethical substance, we are simply regressing to individualist egotism? Things are much more complex. We often hear that our ecological crisis is the result of our short-term egotism: obsessed with immediate pleasures and wealth, we forgot about the common Good. However, it is here that Walter Benjamin’s notion of capitalism as religion becomes crucial: a true capitalist is not a hedonist egotist; he is, on the contrary, fanatically devoted to his task of multiplying his wealth, ready to neglect his health and happiness, not to mention the prosperity of his family and the well-being of environment, for it. There is thus no need to evoke some high ground moralism and trash capitalist egotism – against capitalist perverted fanatical dedication, it is enough to evoke a good measure of simple egotist and utilitarian concerns. In other words, the pursuit of what Rousseau calls the natural amour-de-soi requires a highly civilized level of awareness. Or, to put it in the terms of Alain Badiou: contrary to what he implies, the subjectivity of capitalism is NOT that of the “human animal,” but rather a call to subordinate egotism to the self-reproduction of the Capital. However, this does not imply that Badiou is simply wrong: the individual caught into the global market capitalism necessarily perceives itself as a self-interested hedonist “human animal,” this self-perception is a necessary illusion.
In other words, self-interested egotism is not the brutal fact of our societies but its ideology – the ideology philosophically articulated in Hegel’s
Phenomenology of Spirit towards the end of the chapter on Reason, under the name of “das geistige Tierreich” – the “spiritual kingdom of animals,” Hegel’s name for the modern civil society in which human animals are caught in self-interested interaction. As Hegel put it, the achievement of modernity was to allow “the principle of subjectivity to attain fulfillment in the self-sufficient extreme of personal particularity.”[iii] The reign of this principle makes possible civil society as the domain in which autonomous human individuals associate with each other through the institutions of free-market economy in order to satisfy their private needs: all communal ends are subordinated to private interests of individuals, they are consciously posited and calculated with the goal of maximizing the satisfaction of these interests. What matters for Hegel here is the opposition of private and common perceived by those on whom Hegel relies (Mandeville, Smith) as well as by Marx: individuals perceive the common domain as something that should serve their private interests (like a liberal who thinks of state as a protector of private freedom and safety), while individuals, in pursuing their narrow goals, effectively serve the communal interest. The properly dialectical tension emerges here when we become aware that, the more individuals act egotistically, the more they contribute to the common wealth. The paradox is that when individuals want to sacrifice their narrow private interests and directly work for the common good, the one which suffers is the common good itself – Hegel loves to tell historical anecdotes about a good king or prince whose very dedication to the common good brought his country to ruins. The properly philosophical novelty of Hegel was to further determine this “contradiction” along the lines of the tension between the “animal” and the “spiritual”: the universal spiritual substance, the “work of all and everyone,” emerges as the result of the “mechanical” interaction of individuals. What this means is that the very “animality” of the self-interested “human animal” (the individual participating in the complex network of civil society) is the result of the long historical process of the transformation of medieval hierarchic society into modern bourgeois society. It is thus the very fulfillment of the principle of subjectivity – the radical opposite of animality – which brings about the reversal of subjectivity into animality.

Traces of this shift can be detected everywhere today, especially in the fast-developing Asian countries where capitalism exerts a most brutal impact. Bertolt Brecht’s The Exception and the Rule (a learning play written in 1929-30) tells the story of a rich Merchant who, with his porter (“coolie”), crosses the Yahi Desert (yet another of Brecht’s fictional Chinese places) to close an oil deal. When the two get lost in the Desert and their water supplies are running low, the Merchant mistakenly shoots the coolie, thinking he was being attacked, when the coolie was actually offering him some water that he still had left in his bottle. Later, in a court, the Merchant is acquitted: the Judge concludes that the Merchant had every right to fear a potential threat from the coolie, so he was justified in shooting the coolie in self-defense regardless of whether there was an actual threat. Since the Merchant and his coolie belong to different classes, the Merchant had all the reasons to expect hatred and aggression from him – this is the typical situation, the rule, while the coolie’s kindness was an exception. Is this story yet another of Brecht’s ridiculous Marxist simplification? No, judging from the report from today’s real China:

“In Nanjing, half a decade ago, an elderly woman fell while getting on a bus. Newspaper reports tell us that the 65 year old woman broke her hip. At the scene, a young man came to her aid; let us call him Peng Yu, for that is his name. Peng Yu gave the elderly woman 200RMB (at that time enough to buy three hundred bus tickets) and took her to the hospital. Then, he continued to stay with her until the family arrived. The family sued the young man for 136,419 RMB. Indeed, the Nanjing Gulou District Court found the young man to be guilty and ordered him to pay 45,876 RMB. The court reasoned, ‘according to common sense’, that because Peng Yu was the first off the bus, in all probability he had knocked over the elderly woman. Further, he actually had admitted his guilt, the court reasoned, by staying with the elderly woman at the hospital. It being the case that a normal person would not be as kind as Peng Yu claimed he was.”[iv]

Is this incident not exactly parallel to Brecht’s story? Peng Yu helped the old lady out of simple compassion or decency, but since such a display of goodness is not “typical”, not the rule (“a normal person would not be as kind as Peng Yu claimed he was”), it was interpreted by the court as a proof of Peng Yu’s guilt, and he was appropriately punished.

Is this a ridiculous exception? Not so, according to the People’s Daily (the government newspaper) which, in an online opinion poll, asked a large sample of young people what they would do if they were to see a fallen elderly person: “87% of young people would not help. Peng Yu’s story echoes the surveillance of the public space. People will only help when a camera was present”. What such a reluctance to help signals is a change in the status of public space: “the street is an intensely private place and seemingly the words public and private make no sense”. In short, being in a public space does not entails only being together with other unknown people – in moving among them, I am still within my private space, engaged in no interaction with or recognition of them. In order to count as public, the space of my co-existence and interaction with others (or the lack of it) has to be covered by security cameras.

Another sign of this same change can be found at the opposite end of watching people die in public and doing nothing – the recent trend of public sex in hard-core porn. There are more and more films which show a couple (or more persons) engaged in erotic games up to full copulation in some heavily frequented public space (on a public beach, inside a streetcar or train, at a bus or train station, in the open space of a shopping mall…), and the interesting feature is that a large majority of foreigners who pass by (pretend to) ignore the scene – a minority throws a discrete glance at the couple, even less of them makes a sarcastic obscene remark. Again, it is as if the copulating couple remained in its private space, so that we should not be concerned by their intimacies.

This brings us back to Hegel’s “spiritual animal kingdom” – that is to say, who effectively behaves like this, passing by dying fellows in blessed ignorance or copulating in front of others? Animals, of course. This fact in no way entails that ridiculous conclusion that we are somehow “regressing” to the animal level: the animality with which we are dealing here – the ruthless egotism of each of the individuals pursuing his/her private interest – is the paradoxical result of the most complex network of social relations (market exchange, social mediation of production), and the fact individuals themselves are blinded for this complex network points towards its ideal (“spiritual”) character: in the civil society structured by market, abstraction rules more than ever in the history of humanity. In contrast to nature, the market competition of “wolves against wolves” is thus the material reality of its opposite, of the “spiritual” public substance which provides the background and base for this struggle among private animals.
It is often said that today, with our total exposure to the media, culture of public confessions and instruments of digital control, private space is disappearing. One should counter this commonplace with the opposite claim: it is the public space proper which is disappearing. The person who displays on the web his/her naked images or intimate data and obscene dreams is not an exhibitionist: exhibitionists intrude into the public space, while those who post their naked images on the web remain in their private space and are just expanding it to include others. And, back to The Act of Killing, the same goes for Anwar and his colleagues: they are privatizing the public space in a sense which is much more threatening than economic privatization.

[i] Quoted from the publicity material of Final Cut Film Production.
[ii] One can even imagine an empirical test for this claim: if one could recreate a circumstance in which each of the witnesses were to think that he or she is alone in observing the gruesome scene, one can predict that, their opportunist avoidance of “getting involved in something that isn’t your business”, a large majority of them would have called the police.
[iii] G.W.F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1991, par. 260.
[iv] Michael Yuen, “China and the Mist of Complicated Things” (text given by the author).

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Spain's crisis spawns alternative economy that doesn't rely on the euro

Time banks and alternative currencies can be used to trade goods as well as services

Ariana Eunjung Cha for The Washington Post
Guardian Weekly

Alternative ... a butcher in Rosenheim, Germany, holds the Cheimgauer currency, created to help bolster the local economy. Photograph: Paul Cooper/Rex Features
Psychologist Angels Corcoles recently taught a seminar about self-empowerment for women, and when she finished the organisers handed her a cheque with her fee. The amount was in hours, not euros.

But Corcoles didn't mind. Through a citywide credit network that allows people to trade services without money, the 10 hours Corcoles earned could be used to pay for a haircut, yoga classes or even carpentry work.

At a time when the future of the euro is in doubt and millions are unemployed, a parallel economy is springing up in parts of Spain, allowing people to live outside the single currency.

In the city of Málaga, on the country's southern Mediterranean coast just 130km from Africa, residents have set up an online site that allows them to earn money and buy products using a virtual currency. The Catalonian fishing town of Vilanova i la Geltrù has launched a similar experiment but with a paper credit card of sorts. It implements a new currency worth slightly more than the euro when it is used at local stores.

In Barcelona, the preferred model is time banks, which allow people to trade their services in hours without the involvement of money at all.

"This is a way for people who are on the fringes of the economy to participate again," said Josefina Altes, co-ordinator of the Spanish Time Bank Network.

Similar projects are popping up in Greece, Portugal and other eurozone countries with troubled economies.

These experiments aim to take communities back to a time when goods and services were bartered, before things such as interest rates, market speculation and derivatives complicated the financial world.

While some local governments have backed these efforts, others have raised questions about their implications for taxes, the effect on local wages and the potential for fraud.

Social money or alternative currency systems have existed throughout history, mostly in places such as remote coal towns or occupied countries during war, or during times of great economic stress.

Many of these efforts took years to set up, and the number of people involved is limited. In Spain, however, the economic crisis has been an impetus to move faster. There are now more than 325 time banks and alternative currency systems in Spain involving tens of thousands of citizens. Collectively, these projects represent one of the largest experiments in social money in modern times.

Peter North, a senior lecturer at the University of Liverpool who has written two books about the subject, said alternative currencies – or scrips – have tended to appear during times of crisis and often disappear soon afterwards. But North says the efforts in Spain may last longer because they are connected to the 15M, or indignados, movement, originally a youth initiative organised through internet sites that was the inspiration for the Occupy protests.

"Instead of just being a desperate way for people to survive a horrible economic crisis, this is part of the co-operatives, credit unions, community banks, organic farms and recovering factories – the alternate economy – that the Occupy movement is groping towards," North said.

While each social-money project has its own accounting rules, the basic concept is the same. You earn credits by providing services or selling goods, and you can redeem the credits with people or businesses in the network.

In Vilanova i la Geltrù's central square, a growing number of stores – including an upscale artisanal Catalonian bread shop, a deli and an electronics shop – now post blue Turutas aqui si (Turutas accepted here) signs in their windows.

Started as a way of breaking with the global financial system, the alternative currency – named after a traditional wind instrument – has been embraced by only about 190 of the town's 67,000 residents. But organisers say more are signing up as the crisis deepens.

Ton Dalmau, 57, one of the founders of the initiative, said the goal is to keep the money in circulation, which means that the bank where people keep their Turutas does not offer any interest.

"We are returning money to its origins and making it purely a system of exchange," he said.

Jordi Morera, 25, whose family owns the bread shop, said that accepting Turturas hurts his bottom line because his raw materials can be paid for only in euros. But he said the sacrifice is worth it because he believes in the goals of the initiative.
"Money limits our lives more than we realise," Morera said.

In Málaga, David Chapman, 65, said social money encourages innovation because you have to start thinking about different services or products you can offer to be able to participate in the market.

Chapman, a carpenter originally from Britain who has made Spain his home for 25 years, said he recently sold six sun ovens he made himself for a total of 300 comuns, the community's virtual currency. He was planning on cashing some of them in to pay someone to paint his house.

Launched three years ago by Chapman and some friends, the project has seen dramatic growth. From March to August, the number of people using the virtual currency has jumped from around 250 to 470, with most of the newcomers in their 20s and 30s.
The scale of the Barcelona projects is significantly larger, with more than 100 time banks that range in size from a few dozen members to 3,000.

Many of the time banks operate like real banks – with individual accounts, ledgers, chequebooks and, in many cases, even auditors. Some conduct transactions with physical checks and are overseen by a secretary who keeps track of deposits. Others exist solely on the internet.

Sergi Alonso, a 30-year-old computer technician who has been unable to find a full-time job, said he has helped numerous neighbours develop web pages and troubleshoot hardware problems through a time bank. In return, he was able to get private sewing instruction and piano lessons and learn about graphic design.

Time banks help remind people that "regardless of your skills, you can always bring things to others", Alonso said.

Greeks go back to basics as recession bites

By Chloe Hadjimatheou

BBC News, Evia, Greece

As Greece sinks ever deeper into the most severe economic depression in living memory, some young people are taking drastic action to change their lives.

In the spring of 2010, just as the Greek government was embarking on some of its harshest austerity measures, 29-year-old Apostolos Sianos packed in his well-paid job as a website designer, gave up his Athens apartment and walked away from modern civilisation.

In the foothills of Mount Telaithrion on the Greek island of Evia, Mr Sianos and three other like-minded Athenians set up an eco-community.

The idea was to live in an entirely sustainable way, free from the ties of money and cut off from the national electricity grid.

'Crisis of civilisation'

The group sleeps communally in yurts they have built themselves, they grow their own food and exchange the surplus in the nearest village for any necessities they cannot produce.

 “The Greek financial crisis is not all negative”
--Apostolos Sianos

"What others saw as a global economic crisis, we saw as a crisis of civilisation," Mr Sianos explains.

"Everything seemed to be in crisis - healthcare, the environment, education. So we made the decision to try something different."

Mr Sianos and his eco-activist companions first met in an online forum in 2008 and after two years of exploring ideas decided to put their principles into practice.

"When I first made the decision to give up the city and move to this patch of land I was a little nervous," he admits.

"But now I can't imagine ever being attracted by that kind of lifestyle again."

The community calls itself "Free and Real" - an acronym for Freedom of Resources for
Everyone, Respect, Equality, Awareness and Learning.

Now in its second year, it has 10 permanent members and more than 100 part-time residents who spend some of the year there.

But the last few months have seen an explosion of interest in the community from Greeks who feel let down by the system and find life in the financially crippled cities stifling.
Last year the country's economy shrank by 7% and 2012 could see a similar dip; in real terms that means thousands of businesses going bust and tens of thousands of people being laid off.

A recent survey by Thessaloniki University suggested 76% of Greeks would like to emigrate, but for those who cannot afford to start a new life abroad, going back to farming the land is an increasingly attractive alternative.

Mr Sianos says that this year has seen an enormous movement of people from big cities to the countryside, with many contacting his community to ask for advice on sustainable living and organic farming.

"The Greek financial crisis is not all negative," he says.

"It is providing a huge opportunity for people to see that the system they live in is not working, so they can begin looking for alternatives."

Seasonal jobless

Hundreds of miles away, another group of young Greeks is taking an entirely different approach to the dire circumstances their country finds itself in.

Like most people in Greece's fourth-largest city Heraklion, Andonis Sklavenitis is what he calls an "insecure worker".

Last year he worked a few months helping out on an archaeological dig and this year he has managed to get a few shifts a week as an airport security guard.

Since leaving university with a degree in tourism he has worked in bars, restaurants and shops, but in almost every one of those jobs his employers have refused to give him sick pay, holidays or pay his national insurance contributions.

To make matters worse it is all seasonal work. As soon as the summer is over he will rejoin the growing numbers of unemployed.

Mr Sklavenitis's experience is typical; Crete has the highest jobless rate of any region in the country, with nearly one in four people out of work and many others in unstable positions without decent conditions.

In 2010, when Mr Sklavenitis and his unemployed friends realised that their numbers were growing, they decided it was time they stood up for their rights.

They established the first Association of the Unemployed, which had two main objectives: to fight for decent working conditions and to provide practical and psychological support to those struggling financially.

 “If I didn't have that connection with other people in my position, which reassures me that I am not alone, I would probably have killed myself by now”
--Nikos Vrahasotakis

After the latest round of cuts, unemployment benefit in Greece is now around 350 euros (£273; $431) per month, but only those who have up-to-date national insurance contributions are eligible; and even then it only lasts for one year.

"When the 12 payments are up you are completely on your own," Mr Sklavenitis says.
Among the association's demands are free travel on public transport for the jobless, as well as discounts on electricity and telephone bills.

One member who desperately needs help with his bills is Nikos Vrahasotakis.

The 30-year-old does odd jobs as a cleaner, making around 10 euros daily, barely enough to feed his young family.

"I just got an electricity bill for 600 euros; it is the fourth bill they have sent, so I am expecting them to cut us off any day," he says.

Food and support

Mr Vrahasotakis, who is not entitled to state benefits, lives with his wife and 18-month-old daughter in an old building that used to be a canteen.

"In the winter it is freezing and a few months ago part of the ceiling caved in," he says.
Without the support of the association he says he would not be able to cope.

"If I didn't have that connection with other people in my position, which reassures me that I am not alone, I would probably have killed myself by now," he admits.

As well as the psychological support the association provides, they also distribute food parcels to families in dire circumstances.

Director Nikos Karantinakis, 31, says he and his whole family - father, mother and fiancee - are all unemployed and depend on food handouts to supplement the little they manage to grow in their garden.

"There are arguments every day at home because everyone is so stressed," he says.
It is estimated that around 1,000 people a day are losing their jobs in Greece and already the percentage of the population not working is higher than those who are employed. It is those under the age of 35 who have been the hardest hit.

"Our whole generation is on hold," Mr Karantinakis says.

 “Being able to work is a basic human right in a civilised society”
--Nikos KarantinakisDirector, Heraklion Association of Unemployed

He and his fiancee are unable to plan a future together. Starting a family is completely out of the question.

Since the Association of Unemployed was created in Crete, other chapters have been cropping up around the country, in big cities such as Athens, Thessaloniki and Patras.
Beyond the support it provides its members, Mr Karantinakis says the association has had few successes, but it has allowed him to feel he is doing something.

Before he began focusing on unemployed rights he used to sit in his room staring at the ceiling. Now he spends his days petitioning local government and organising demonstrations.

"Being able to work is a basic human right in a civilised society," he says.

"If the government won't provide us with it then we will have to fight for it."

American Pussy Riot

A call for revolution in the New York Times?

Adbusters , 21 Aug 2012


American zealots for the recently convicted Russian punk rock trio Pussy Riot don’t know what they’re actually supporting, says New York Times Russian columnist Vadim Nikitin. If they did, they might think twice – Pussy Riot stands for ideals most American liberals, let alone conservatives, don’t really want. The US has a long history of loving their competitors’ dissidents. And Russia, either communist or oligarchical, has always proven to be the perfect foil.

Here’s what Vadim Nikitin has to say:

From Madonna to Björk, from the elite New Yorker to the populist Daily Mail, the world united in supporting Russia’s irreverent feminist activists Pussy Riot against the blunt cruelty inflicted on them by the state. It may not have stopped Vladimir Putin’s kangaroo court from sentencing them to two years in prison on charges of hooliganism, but blanket international media pressure helped turn the case into a major embarrassment for the Kremlin.

Yet there is something about the West’s embrace of the young women’s cause that should make us deeply uneasy, as Pussy Riot’s philosophy, activism and even music quickly took second place to its usefulness in discrediting one of America’s geopolitical foes. Twenty years after the end of the Cold 

War, are dissident intellectuals once again in danger of becoming pawns in the West’s anti-Russian narrative?

Back in the ’70s, the United States and its allies cared little about what Soviet dissidents were actually saying, so long as it was aimed against the Kremlin. No wonder so many Americans who had never read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s books cheered when he dissed the Soviet Union later felt so shocked, offended and even betrayed when he criticized many of the same shortcomings in his adoptive homeland. Wasn’t this guy supposed to be on our side?

Using dissidents to score political points against the Russian regime is as dangerous as adopting a pet tiger: No matter how domesticated they may seem, in the end they are free spirits, liable to maul the hand that feeds them.


Chilean tax reform incites new wave of student discontent



Wave of student takeovers sweep Santiago after the approval of controversial tax reform.

Hundreds of student protesters occupied various political party headquarters to show their indignation at the passage of a controversial tax reform late Tuesday night.

Frustrated high school students took over the headquarters of the center-left Christian Democratic Party (DC), the far-right Independent Democratic Union Party (UDI), and the liberal Party for Democracy (PPD), while the Socialist Party (PS) headquarters was occupied by university students.

High schoolers also staged a failed attempt to occupy the Communist Party (PC) headquarters. While most headquarters were taken peacefully, Álvaro Pillado, president of the UDI youth league, said protesters stormed the UDI headquarters by force, throwing rocks and smoke grenades.
According to Santiago police, the DC, UDI, and PPD occupations were evicted by Wednesday afternoon, and students voluntarily withdrew from the PS headquarters with no police intervention.

Members of the Socialist Youth explained to the press that the goal of their occupation was to hold their party accountable for its actions which they interpreted as incongruous with the core beliefs of the party. While socialist deputies voted en masse against the bill, all but one socialist senator supported it.

"It has been a peaceful occupation... we want to express our discontent with the actions of our congressmen and from now on the socialist youth will reclaim its space, and dispute that space within the party," Gabriel Ossandón, the group’s spokesperson, explained to press.

The tax reform will allot US$1.23 billion to education spending, mostly by way of an increased business tax. While it aimed to address student pressures for education reform, critics say it falls far short of what the country needs.

Hoping to soften the anticipated backlash from student groups, President Sebastián Piñera had directly addressed them in a televised speech Tuesday after the bill was passed.

"A message for the students: I know you are not responsible for the problems that face our education system today, but I do know that you should be part of the solution," he said.

However, Gabriel Boric, president of the Federation of Students of the Universidad de Chile (FECH), asserted that the students needed a stronger role in “the solution.”

"We do want to be part of the solution. We are not here just to say 'this is bad' and 'I don't like this' but we will not accept the argument by politicians that says 'thanks very much students for bringing this issue to light, now its our job to resolve it,'” Boric told CNN Chile. “We have proposals and we want them heard."

Boric said he would outline said proposals to the Ministry of Education this Thursday.

While happy about the increased budget for education reform, Boric questioned the ways in which those funds will be invested.

"(The funds will) mainly benefit a system of education that produces segregation in our country, and moreover it reinforces the for-profit education system," Boric said. "This reform does not address the needs of our country today … At the end of the day both sides are a little uncomfortable with it.”

By Gwynne Hogan (hogan@santiagotimes.cl)
Copyright 2012 - The Santiago Times

Protesters blockade Mexico's biggest TV station

(Reuters) - Thousands of protesters on Thursday blockaded the studios of Mexico's most popular TV network, accusing it of biased coverage of the July 1 presidential election.

Shouting "Tell the truth," the demonstrators, including students and union workers, stopped employees entering the offices of the Televisa studios in Mexico City although they allowed others to leave.

The protesters allege that Televisa supported Enrique Pena Nieto, who won the election by almost 7 percentage points over leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The protesters promised to continue the blockade for 24 hours.

Televisa, which carried on broadcasting as normal, argues that it covered the election fairly and gave all candidates time on prime-time news shows.

Televisa is the world's most popular Spanish language network and sells its soap operas around the globe.

Lopez Obrador has claimed that Pena Nieto paid Televisa for favorable coverage and bought votes. He has filed a legal challenge to the vote with an electoral tribunal, asking it to annul the ballot.

The tribunal has until September to rule on the accusations and officially declare Pena Nieto as president. It is widely expected to uphold the vote.

(Reporting By Ioan Grillo; Editing by Eric Beech)

Victory for Quebec students

SEPTEMBER 6, 2012 

Students and their supporters throughout the Canadian province of Quebec are celebrating the ousting of Liberal Premier Jean Charest, the promise of the withdrawal of Bill 78 and most importantly the freeze in tuition fees. This victory comes after six months of student strike involving more than 190 000 students.

Quebec students who already paid the lowest tuition fees across North America were faced with a 75% tuition fee increase. Even if the planned increase had gone ahead, Quebec students still would have pay less than in any other Canadian province. Why? Quebec students have a strong tradition of fighting for free education since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. And if you fight you can win!

During the six month –long strike many the demonstrations held on the 22nd of each month reached up to 500 000 protesters. However, it was the roughly180 local unions organised in CLASSE which carried the fight from day to day shutting down the Port of Montreal, ministerial meetings and nearly all classes in post-secondary education across the province.

In the face of state repression, the use of tear gas, shock grenades, the arrest of thousands of protesters, and riot police in college corridors, students didn’t buckle but instead called upon workers and the neighbourhoods to join in nightly pots and pans protests, the casseroles. Charest’s unpopular Bill 78 acted as a catalyist for the student movement to turn into a popular movement.

But student protesters were not only campaigning against tuition fees. Time again, they argued that Finance Minister Raymond Bachand’s provincial budget of 2011-2012 would cut public and accessible healthcare, hydroelectricity and education.

Over the last nine years in power the Liberals have pursued to restructure society in the interest of the rich. Tax cuts for corporations have gone hand in hand with increasing the retirement age to 67. After trade unions suffered a blow in 2005 it was announced that student fees were to increase. As the ‘sacred cows of Quebecoise society’ came under attack students engaged in a ‘general strike’, causing significant economic damage to the provincial government. This meant that the elections were a referendum on the student movement and dominated by two topics: tuition fees and student debt.

With full privatisation looming, students did not want to see a repeat of their 2005 strike, which saw them go back to class empty-handed. Students have learnt some important lessons. They are organising on a departmental/faculty basis, which has strengthened the overall organisation of the strike. This has also helped them to hold their unions and executives to account.

The high point of the ‘Quebec Spring’ has been the 350,000-strong demonstration in Montreal on May 22. Following the biggest student demonstration ever, students called for a week of economic disruptions, bringing inner cities’ traffic to a standstill while also mobilising 30,000 parents in support of the students’ demands. The two largest public sector unions also called their membership on to the streets for the mobilisation.

The looming summer break did not succeed in breaking the strike either. Instead students continued to carry their message into the streets and to the election rallies.

While the mainstream media continuously claimed that the liberal government had “extended a hand” by offering students an “increased bursary and loan programs”, the government was intent on breaking the movement time again. Premier Jean Charest said: “The decision has been made and we will not back down”. This only strengthened the determination of student strikers, and led them to forge new alliances. Students organised solidarity with locked-out Rio Tinto Alcan workers and with hundreds of Aveos employees who recently lost their jobs.

Protests also saw environmentalists and students come out together. They stormed the top floor of a conference centre in which Charest was to unveil further details of his ‘Plan Nord’, a mining plan which will see a 1.2-million-square kilometre stretch of indigenous land be sold off to big business.

At the same time, other students stormed a meeting of the federal Immigration minister Jason Kenney, best known for his anti-gay and anti-immigration stances.

This display of resistance has inspired activists far beyond the provincial borders of Quebec. The question is whether the newly elected nationalist government will stick to its promises and whether students will continue to be part of the fight for a different kind of society. Another Quebec is possible! Another world is possible!

Monday, September 10, 2012

chtodelat news ArtLeaks Gazette

On the urgency of launching the ArtLeaks Gazette

Artleaks was founded in 2011 as an international platform for cultural workers where instances of abuse, corruption and exploitation are exposed and submitted for public inquiry. After over a year of activity, we, members of the collective ArtLeaks felt an urgent need to establish a regular on-line publication as a tool for empowerment in the face of the systemic abuse of cultural workers’ basic labor rights, repression or even blatant censorship and growing corporatization of culture that we encounter  today.
Namely: radical (political) projects are co-opted under the umbrella of corporate promotion and gentrification; artistic research is performed on research hand-outs, creating only an illusion of depth while in fact adding to the reserve army of creative capital; the secondary market thrives as auction houses speculate on blue chip artists for enormous amounts of laundered money, following finance capitalism from boom to bust, meanwhile, most artists can’t even make a living and depend on miserly fees, restrictive residencies, and research handouts to survive; galleries and dealers more and more heavily copyright cultural values; approximately 5% of authors, producers and dealers control 80% of all cultural resources (and indeed, in reality, the situation may be even worse than these numbers suggest) ; certain cultural managers and institutions do not shy away from using repressive maneuvers against those who bring into question their mission, politics or dubious engagements with corporate or state benefactors; and last but not least, restrictive national(ist) laws and governments suppress cultural workers through very drastic politics, not to mention the national state functions as a factor of neoliberal expression in the field of culture.

Do you recognize yourself in the scenarios above? Do you accept them as immutable conditions of your labor? We strongly believe that this dire state of affairs can be changed. We do not have to carry on complying to politics that cultivate harsh principles of pseudo-natural selection (or social Darwinism) – instead we should fight against them and imagine different scenarios based on collective values, fairness and dignity. We strongly believe that issues of exploitation, repression or co-optation cannot be divorced from their specific politico-economic contexts and historical conditions, and need to be raised in connection with a new concept of culture as an invaluable reservoir of the common, as well as new forms of class consciousness in the artistic field in particular, and the cultural field more generally.

Recently, this spectrum of urgencies and the necessity to address them has also become the focus of fundamental discussions and reflection on the part of communities involved in cultural production and certain leftist social and political activists. Among these, we share the concerns of pioneering groups such as the Radical Education Collective (Ljubljana), Precarious Workers’ Brigade (PWB) (London), W.A.G.E. (NYC), Arts &Labor (NYC), the May Congress of Creative Workers (Moscow) and others (see the Related Causessection on our website). The condition of cultural workers has also recently been theorized within the framework of bio-politics, in which cognitive labor is implicitly described as a new hegemonic type of production in the context of the global industrialization of creative work.

The question then emerges, what is creative work today? To structure this undifferentiated categorizations, we will begin by addressing in our journal all those “occupied” with art who are striving towards emancipatory knowledge in the process of their activity. As the contemporary art world more and more envelops different areas of knowledge as well as the production of events, we considered it a priority to focus on this particular field. However, we remain open to discussing urgencies related to other forms of creative activity beyond the art world.

Through our journal, we want to stresses the urgent need to seriously transform these workers’ relationship with institutions, networks and economies involved in the production, reproduction and consumption of art and culture.  We will pursue these goals through developing  a new approach to the tradition of institutional critique and fostering new forms of artistic production, that may challenge dominant discourses of criticality and social engagement which tame creative forces. We also feel the urgency to link cultural workers’ struggles with similar ones from other fields of human activity – at the same time, we strongly believe that any such sustainable alliances could hardly be built unless we begin with the struggles in our own factories.

Announced Theme for the first issue: Breaking the Silence – Towards Justice, Solidarity and Mobilization

The main theme of the first issue of our journal is establishing a politics of truth by breaking the silence on the art world. What do we actually mean by this? We suggest that breaking the silence on the art world is similar to breaking the silence of family violence and other forms of domestic abuse. Similarly as when coming out with stories of endemic exploitation form inside the household, talking about violence and exploitation in the art world commonly brings shame, ambivalence and fear. But while each case of abuse may be different, we believe these are not singular instances but part of a larger system of repression, abuse and arrogance that have been normalized through the practices of certain cultural managers and institutions. Our task is to find voices, narratives, hybrid forms that raise consciousness about the profound effects of these forms of maltreatment: to break through the normalizing rhetoric that relegate cultural workers’ labor to an activity performed out of instinct, for the survival of culture at large, like sex or child rearing which, too are zones of intense exploitation today.

Implicit in this gesture is a radical form of protest – one that does not simply join the concert of affirmative institutional critique which confirms the system by criticizing it. Rather, breaking the silence implies bringing into question the ways in which the current art system constructs positions for its speakers, and looking for strategies in which to counteract naturalized exploitation and repression today.

At the same time, we recognize that the moment of exposure does not fully address self-organization or, what comes after breaking the silence? We suggest that it is therefore important to link this to solidarity, mobilization and an appeal for justice, as political tools. As it is the understanding of the dynamic interaction between the mobilization of resources, political opportunities in contexts and emancipatory cultural frames that we can use to analyze and construct strategies for cultural workers movements.  With summoning the urgency of potentia agendi (or the power to act) collectively we also call for the necessity to forge coalitions within the art world and beyond it – alliances that have the concrete ability of exerting a certain political pressure towards achieving the promise of a more just and emancipatory cultural field.

Structure of publication

The journal would be divided into six major sections.

A. Critique of cultural dominance apparatuses
Here we will address methodological issues in analyzing the condition of cultural production and the system that allows for the facile exploitation of the cultural labor-force. Ideally, though not necessarily, these theoretical elaborations would be related to concrete case studies of conflicts, exploitation, dissent  across various regions of the world, drawing comparisons and providing local context for understanding them.

B. Forms of organization and history of struggles
Cultural workers have been demanding just working conditions, struggling over agency and subjectivity in myriad ways and through various ideas about what this entails. In this section we will analyze historical case-studies of self-organization of cultural workers. Our goal is not to produce a synthetic model out of all of these struggles, rather to examine how problems have been articulated at various levels of (political) organization, with attention to the genealogy of the issues and the interaction between hegemonic discourses (of the institution, corporation, the state) and those employed by cultural workers in their respective communities.

C. The struggle of narrations
In this section we will invite our contributors to develop and practice artistic forms of narration which cannot be fully articulated through direct “leaking”. It should be focused on finding new languages for narration of systemic dysfunctions. We expect these elaborations can take different form of artistic contributions, including comics, poems, films, plays, short stories, librettos etc.

D. Glossary of terms
What do we mean by the concept of “cultural workers”? What does “gentrification” or “systemic abuse” mean in certain contexts?  Whose “art world”? This section addresses the necessity of developing a terminology to make theoretical articulations more clear and accessible to our readers. Members of ArtLeaks as well as our contributors to our gazette will be invited to define key terms used in the material presented in the publication. These definitions should be no more that 3-4 sentences long and they should be formulated as a result of a dialogue between all the contributors.

E. Education and its discontents
The conflicts and struggles in the field of creative education are at the core of determining what kind of subjectivities will shape the culture(s) of future generations. It is very important to carefully analyze what is currently at the stake in these specific fields of educational processes and how they are linked with what is happening outside academies and universities.  In this section we will discuss possible emancipatory approaches to education that are possible today, which resist pressing commercial demands for flexible and “creative” subjectivities. Can we imagine an alternative system of values based of a different meaning of progress?

F. Best practices and useful resources
In this section we would like to invite people to play out their fantasies of new, just forms of organization of creative life. Developing the tradition of different visionaries of the past we hope that this section will trigger many speculations which might help us collect modest proposals for the future and thus counter the shabby reality of the present. This section is also dedicated  to the practices which demonstrate  alternative ethical guidelines, and stimulate the creation of a common cultural sphere. This would allow cultural workers to unleash their full potential in creating values based on principles of emancipatory politics, critical reflections and affirmative inspiration of a different world where these values should form the basis of a dignified life.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Slavoj Žižek in Moscow. Some notes.

Posted on September 7, 2012 by afoniya

It is quite a complex thing to describe a Slavoj Zizek lecture. I went to two of his Moscow lectures- listened and laughed at one and listened, laughed and took copious notes at the second one. It seems such a long time since I attended the lectures that all I have are my notes on his second lecture and very vague memories of his first lecture. The problem with describing a Zizek lecture is in trying not to give a simple recapitulation of all the jokes and the serious philosophical or psychoanalytical points that these jokes or quotes from films are said to represent. As Zizek himself acknowledged many of the jokes and anecdotes have already appeared and are probably  already well known to the Zizek fan. So his quotation from Ninotchka about a waiter telling a client at a restaurant that there was no cream but there was milk so instead of having coffee without cream perhaps the customer would like coffee without milk was one I had already come across a couple of times. His jokes and anecdotes about the Communist era also came thick and fast – the wonderful conspiracy theory in the Soviet period where people imagined a secret KGB cell that was dedicated only to producing anti-Soviet jokes which would be repeated in kitchens throughout the country has since become my favourite conspiracy theory. Yet as Zizek had argued it, too, only reproduced the Stalinist paranoia that it was supposed to be conspiratorial about.

In any case the Hegel lecture was genuinely quite a fascinating one. As the person who presented Zizek argued, Zizek himself embodied a kind of truly Hegelian contradiction as was Hegel the embodiment of contradictions in his day. Zizek tried to develop this idea as to how Hegel could become both the philosopher of the Prussian State and of the French Revolution and of how Hegel went further in accepting the totality of the French Revolution, understanding that 1789 without 1793 was impossible. This led Zizek into a number of Hegelian concepts which he illustrated with the usual jokes and anecdotes. For Zizek, the contradiction of Hegel was embodied in being the end of the line in metaphysical philosophers and the first philosopher of modernity. Zizek also tried to show how the idea of great opening was embodied in the very moment of total closure and how the proclamation of an end (end of history, end of art, end of literature) is at the same time the proclamation of a beginning. (He went to hint at some of the errors of Kojeve who Lacan was greatly influenced by having said that Kojeve was the freest person he (Lacan) had ever met.

Zizek took up Hegel as a cudgel in the criticism of the totalitarianism approach. The Popperian idea of philosophers such as Hegel and Platon as represnting a threat of totalitarianism was denounced. Philosophy for Hegel was “time seized in thought”, in the sense that only when philosophy is totally immersed in a certain historical moment can it find any opening to a total or absolute knowledge. For Zizek, Lenin’s study of Hegel Logic must fully embodied Hegelian thought amongst Marxists (and that for the past 50 years no Marxist has been able to properly read Das Kapital was precisely because of their lack of knowledge of Hegel’s text). Zizek then took us on the detour regarding Lacan and Kojeve mentioned above.

Zizek also spoke about what he saw as the trinity of fundamental philosophers: Plato, Descartes and Hegel arguing that all philosophy has only ever been anti-Platonism, anti-Cartesianism or anti-Hegelianism. Zizek wanted to challenge the screen image of Hegel being interested in absolute knowledge and the philosophical madman at his purest.  He argued that there was another Hegel and then used some illustrations about Hegelian concepts such as Hegel’s idea of differentiality. Here Zizek spoke of Russian formalism and the Lotman school. He illustrated the absence of a characteristic feature as a positive feature in Hegelian thought illustrating this by the Sherlock Holmes curious incident about the dog last night story (ie the curious incident was that there was no incident).

Zizek went on to add in a number of theological ideas in his next section. Beginning with G.K. Chesterton’s idea of the philosopher policemen who tour philosophy conferences to see if crimes will be committed in the future he related this to Popper’s accusation/denunciation of Plato where Popper tries to prove that a totalitarian crime will be committed in the future because of Plato’s world view. Zizek then further elucidated Chesterton’s notion of the morality of the criminal but says that Chesterton doesn’t go far enough in discovering how morality itself is essentially criminal. The idea of Universal Law being crime elevated to the Absolute takes Zizek on a path from Proudhon, Wagner and Ilyenkov to Pussy Riot who Zizek called true Hegelians.  Zizek, then, introduces us to ways in which certain religious ideas and holistic truths become unbearable.

Hegelianism is not, Zizek is saying, telling us to look at the bigger picture but truth for
Hegelians is a kind of unilateral fact and here Zizek attacks the  the lie, or the deception of the middle path or the centrist (which was symbolised by Stalin and here we had yet another Stalin joke/anecdote about Stalin telling Bukharin -who believed that a future socialist society would still use money and Trotsky – who thought that socialist society would abolish money by telling them there was a centrist- for some there would be money and for others there would be none).

After this theology was discussed at some length- the book of Job (the first acknowledgment of the Death of God and the visit of the three ideologists), Chesterton (again) who accuses God of blasphemy, some Norwegian theologist (Krampfel?) who believed that God was all powerful but totally stupid and Levinas who argued that the injunction ‘Don’t Kill’ for example was addressed to God himself (Zizek argues that the first theology of God being dead is to be found in Judaism and not Nietzsche). He then argues about the difference between the death of God and the need for the death of Christ and that the message of this is that there is no one left to trust in. (Here he talks of Paul Claudel’s belief that we should not trust God but that God should trust us).

Zizek, then, talks about how the choices made during revolutionary times are always wrong choices at first but that the wrong choice needs to be taken in order to get to the right choice and here Zizek links this to Hegel’s understanding of the Prussian State and the French revolution.

Finally Zizek returns to totality as being only a retroactive truth – that is, every totality is only possible after the event. Here he relates it to Borges’s essay on Kafka creating his own predecessors as well as Eliot’s view in Tradition and the Individual Talent relating all this to the Hegelian view of contingency and arguing that Hegel is really more of a materialist than Marx. Hegel is more open to the ontological incompleteness of knowledge. Zizek, interestingly relates this to a Tarkovsky film where reality is not yet fully and completely formed. Reality itself, Zizek seems to be saying, is incomplete.

The exchanges after the talk were interesting and Zizek was definitely not brief in his answers. Zizek insisted that Hegel was no organicist and was not a thinker of proto harmony. Moreover he also mentioned the views of Boehme and the idea that Boehme was the first to point out the demonic side of God himself (that is, if mankind fell from God something terrible must have happened within God himself). Freud and sexuality came up in questioning too (sex not as an animalistic experience as the Church insisted but the first metaphysical experience and on this he spoke more at length during the first lecture).

Well there is no way of denying that listening to Zizek is an extraordinary experience, rather a whirlwind experience which it is difficult to pick at critically. Some comments that I have read from the Russian left are rather sceptical (both Boris Kagarlitsky and Maxim Kantor seem to think that Zizek is either rather insane or an idle chatterbox- Волван). How, in general, Zizek was understood in Moscow by those attending his lectures is hard to tell. The lectures nonetheless seemed to have generated quite a significant interest though how his ideas are interpreted still remains to be seen.

Idiotic Criticisms of Psychoanalysis

Carnival to Commons: Pussy Riot Punk Protest and the Exercise of Democratic Culture

by Claire Tancons


4. Return of the Balagan

Pussy Riot have already garnered a wide following around the world, albeit more so in Europe than anywhere else, and they are under discussion to copyright their name. On the day of or in the days immediately following their trial, balaclava-clad copycats, sometimes armed with guitars, attacked cathedrals and churches and other Christian religious symbols, which seem to have been their main target. A small group managed to climb up the Grossmuenster Cathedral in Zurich to tie up a monumental Pussy Riot Banner on the façade. On Sunday 19, two male Germans and a female Austrian were reported to have interrupted a church service at Cologne’s cathedral. The most carnivalesque aspect of these acts, in the absence of a coherent target, was their spontaneous solidarity. As for the members of the topless feminist activist group FEMEN, who assailed Patriarch Kirill on a visit to Kiev and used a chainsaw to cut down a cross, they missed the mark altogether with spectacular but uncarnivalesque actions devoid of the identificatory and counter-identificatory tensions that can provoke reversals of roles or functions like the symbolic decrowning of Putin and defrocking of Kirill.

“Russia takes to the streets to say goodbye to the regime,” says one free member of Pussy Riot in the latest released song, “Putin sets the Fires to Revolution.” Russia has been a country of revolutions before, and Pussy Riot has lit and extinguished their own fires in prior performances. Of the good intentions paving the road to democracy, Hardt and Negri joke about “[…] the Soviets who battling capitalist domination thought they were headed for a new democracy but ended up in a bureaucratic state machine.”21 There is little hope that an old-style communism or a nominal democracy will inaugurate a new era of cultural revolution. At the very least, Pussy Riot is well on its way to consolidating Russia’s democratic culture. “Russia takes to the streets to say goodbye to the regime./ Russia takes to the streets to say goodbye to the regime.” The refrain might well take Pussy Riot and their growing mass of supporters to the top charts, and the balagan then will make a full comeback to save the world.


The author welcomes any comments on this essay at carnivalagainstcapital@gmail.com

Friday, September 7, 2012

Panel discussion on Aloni’s What Does a Jew Want?: On Binationalism and Other Specters

Tuesday, October 11, 2011  7:00pm Miller Theatre

This event is free and open to the public.
No tickets or registration necessary.
Seating is on a first come, first served basis.

School of the Arts
Heyman Center for the Humanities

This panel discussion is part of the series, "Theory-Art-Action: On Binationalism and Other Specters," co-sponsored by the School of the Arts and the Heyman Center for the Humanities.

The topic for tonight's event will be Udi Aloni's newly published book, What Does a Jew Want?: On Binationalism and Other Specters (CU Press, 2011).  The panel includes Udi Aloni, Alain Badiou, Slavoj Žižek, and Alisa Solomon; the moderator will be James Schamus.

Featured Speakers


Associate Professor of Journalism
Columbia University

Rene Descartes Chair
European Graduate School

Cultural Critic and Professor of Philosophy and Psychoanalysis
The European Graduate School

Professor of Professional Practice
Columbia University

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Queen Elizabeth Hall, 24 November


Saturday 24 November 2012

After his sold out appearance in Royal Festival Hall in 2010, Slavoj Žižek returns to Southbank Centre to discuss 'The Year of Dreaming Dangerously', his analysis of the riots and revolutions that swept the world last year.

As part of our series on Modernism, Žižek discusses how these events augur a new political reality - fragments of a utopian future lying dormant in the present.

He considers the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street within the rapidly shifting world order before taking questions from the audience.

'The thinker of choice for Europe's young intellectual vanguard.' (Observer)
Book Tickets Now

Select your preferred date and time below. If a performance is no longer available it will not be clickable.

on the St. Petersburg intervention (again)

Slavoj Žižek at European University in St. Petersburg (1/6) from chto delat on Vimeo.

Irish Co-Production ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’ Secures Doc & Film Distribution

Irish co-production ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’ has been picked up by French distribution company Doc & Film International in a deal negotiated by Blinder Films’ Katie Holly and Doc & Films’ Daniela Elstner.

The Paris-based sales house is expected to release the documentary Europe-wide following its world premiere at this week’s Toronto International Film Festival.

The documentary is a co-production between Dublin’s Blinder Films and P Guide Productions in the UK. It is a sequel to director Sophie Fiennes’ ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema’, released in 2006.

‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’ sees Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek explore different ideologies through the use of classic film clips, using ‘A Clockwork Orange’, ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘The Sound of Music’ as examples.

Fiennes directed, with Blinder’s Holly producing. James Wilson, Martin Rosenbaum and Sophie Fiennes co-produced for P Guide Productions. Žižek wrote the script and presented.

Speaking of the deal with Doc & Film, which previously distributed Fiennes’ ‘Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow’, the director said: “I’m thrilled to be working again with Daniela and the team at Doc & Film. I really appreciate her continued commitment to the film and the audience for it.”

The 134 minute-long film was shot mainly in Ardmore Studios in Wicklow in 2011, before moving on to locations in LA. Dun Laoghaire-based EMC Ltd looked after post-production, with Ardmore Sound looking after sound.

The documentary was funded by the Irish Film Board, the BFI Film Fund, Film 4, Channel 4 and Rooks Nest Entertainment.

‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’ will screen at TIFF on September 7, joining seven other Irish-attached productions, including ‘Byzantium’; ‘The Sapphires’; ‘Jump’; ‘Men at Lunch’; ‘Call Girl’; ‘Anna Karenina’ and ‘Seven Psychopaths’.

Monday, September 3, 2012

“How to Read ŽIŽEK,” by Adam Kotsko

SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK, a philosopher and psychoanalyst from Slovenia, is one of the few academics to have achieved a degree of genuine popularity among general readers. He regularly lectures to overflow crowds, is the subject of a documentary film (called simply Žižek!), and surely counts as one of the world’s most visible advocates of left-wing ideas. When Žižek first broke into the English-speaking academic scene, however, few would likely have predicted such success. For one thing, his research focused on an unpromising topic: the long-neglected field of “ideology critique,” a staple of Marxist cultural criticism that had fallen into eclipse as Marxism became less central to Western intellectual life in the second half of the twentieth century.

“Ideology” is one of those philosophical terms that has entered into everyday speech with an impoverished meaning. Much as “deconstruction” means little more than “detailed analysis” in popular usage, so “ideology” tends to refer to a body of beliefs, most often with overtones of inflexibility or fanaticism. But as Žižek argued in his 1989 book The Sublime Object of Ideology, ideology is not to be found in our conscious opinions or convictions but, as Marx suggested, in our everyday practices. Explicit opinions are important, but they serve as symptoms to be interpreted rather than statements to be taken at face value.

Racism, for example. Žižek recommends that we look for symptomatic contradictions, as when the anti-Semite claims that the Jews are both arch-capitalist exploiters and Bolshevik subversives, that they are both excessively tied to their overly particular tradition and deracinated cosmopolitans undercutting national traditions. In the Jim Crow South, blacks were presented simultaneously as childlike innocents needing the guidance of whites and as brutal sexual predators. In contemporary America, Mexican immigrants are viewed at once as lay-abouts burdening our social welfare system and as relentless workaholics who are stealing all our jobs.

These contradictions don’t show that ideology is “irrational” — the problem is exactly the opposite, that there are too many reasons supporting their views. Žižek argues that these piled-up rationalizations demonstrate that something else is going on.

A similar sense that something else is going on always strikes me when I read a review of Žižek’s work in the mainstream media. (A recent example is John Gray’s review of two of Žižek’s books in the New York Review of Books, to which Žižek has responded.) Now academics are always ill-used in the mainstream press, particularly if they deal in abstract concepts and refer to a lot of European philosophers. Yet there’s something special about the treatment of Žižek. In what has become a kind of ritual, the reader of a review of Žižek’s work always learns that Žižek is simultaneously hugely politically dangerous and a clown with no political program whatsoever, that he is an apologist for the worst excesses of twentieth-century Communism and a total right-wing reactionary, both a world-famous left-wing intellectual and an anti-Semite to rival Hitler himself.
The goal is not so much to give an account of Žižek’s arguments and weigh their merits as to inoculate readers against Žižek’s ideas so they feel comfortable dismissing them. To find left-wing thinkers and movements simultaneously laughable and dangerous, disorganized and totalitarian, overly idealistic and driven by a lust for power is to suggest: there is no alternative. Rather than simply knocking around a poor, misunderstood academic in the public square, it is an attempt to shut down debate on the basic structure of our society. The rolling disaster of contemporary capitalism — war, crisis, hyper-exploitation of workers, looming environmental catastrophe — demands that we think boldly and creatively to develop some kind of livable alternative. Žižek can help.

The biggest obstacle facing the reader of Žižek’s work is not the academic trappings — the technical terms, the references to other thinkers — but a writing style that defies convention. Broadly speaking, the general expectation of argumentative writing is that it will lay out a more or less straightforward chain of reasons supporting a clear central claim. Even though we acknowledge that this format is almost never encountered in its pure form, it still remains a kind of ideal. In Žižek’s writing, though, it’s difficult to pick out anything like a “thesis statement,” and the argument most often proceeds via intuitive leaps rather than tight chains of reasoning. This is true even of pieces that are more or less totally non-academic, and it is doubtless one of the reasons his work is so often misunderstood. One thing I hope to show here, though, is that his method fits with his goals and with the kinds of phenomena he is trying to get at. Although Žižek’s work can be difficult to get into at first, he is one of the most engaging and thought-provoking writers working in philosophy today, with a unique ability to get people excited about philosophy and critical theory. He is, in short, a gateway drug, and I’m the pusher.

Already in this brief discussion of ideology, one of the most consistent features of Žižek’s work shines through: his fascination with contradictions and reversals. Žižek will frequently present what he views as a commonly accepted belief, then turn around and ask, “But is not the exact opposite the case?!” And then, as one continues reading, it often begins to seem as though the forcefully asserted opposite view is not quite Žižek’s own; it too gets called into question, with the surprising result that the first naïve view begins to look somehow less naïve.

The initial reversal can sometimes look alarmingly like a cheap, Christopher Hitchens-style contrarianism, particularly since Zizek’s political writings often start with a mainstream liberal view and then assert one that sounds much more right-wing. Yet the point is not simply to “provoke” liberals or to play devil’s advocate. Rather, these reversals are part of a strategy to keep the thought in motion. Instead of proposing a solution or finding a resting place, Žižek relentlessly seeks out further conflicts and contradictions, carrying out what Marx called “the ruthless criticism of everything existing.” The goal is not to arrive at a settled view, but to achieve greater clarity about what is really at issue, about what is really at stake in a given debate.

And what is always at stake is a conflict, because for Žižek, society is always riven with conflict and contradiction. That’s why ideology produces mutually conflicting answers — it’s responding to an underlying reality that is inherently contradictory, a struggle so deep and irreconcilable that it can’t directly be put into words. Nothing is a complete and harmonious whole, from quarks all the way up to the most abstract philosophical ideal. Nothing is inherently stable, but only temporarily stabilized. It’s not that there are first positions that then come into conflict — all our positions amount to a kind of “fall-out” of our attempts to manage this ultimately unmanageable conflict.

Remaining faithful to the Marxist tradition, Žižek believes that the most apt name for the conflict at the heart of modern society is “class struggle.” The “struggle” is not between two pre-existing classes — the working class and the capitalist or owner class — that happen to enter into some kind of conflict. These two classes are the “fallout” of capitalism, which is itself conflictual in nature: people “worked” before capitalism, but the working class as a massive population of landless laborers who must sell their labor power to survive only came about as a result of capitalist development. Similarly, there were rich people before capitalism, but not a class of people who sought to extract profits from this “free” labor power. The conflict is the system, the system the conflict.

“Class struggle” is important for Žižek because it produces two completely incompatible and conflictual views of the world — the difference between the exploited and the exploiter is more than a difference of opinion, it is a completely different framework. Reasonable people from “both sides” cannot come together and hash out a compromise that takes everyone’s interests into account. The “middle ground” is an unbridgeable chasm, and ideology represents our attempts to paper over and ignore that chasm.
So when people in the U.S. produce the vision of the Mexican immigrant as the workaholic welfare queen, what is really at stake can’t be a conflict between cultures, because for Žižek that would imply pre-existing, more or less stable or homogeneous cultures that first exist and then subsequently happen to come into conflict. Nor can it be about the Mexicans who come to America and disturb the balance of our local culture, because that balance didn’t exist in the first place. No, the conflict is inherent in capitalist exploitation. The Mexicans aren’t taking “our” jobs — the owners are doing whatever they can to suppress wages, with no interest in who they pay.

The example of immigration demonstrates that conflict is never truly eliminated, but can be shifted. The task of the critic is to shift the conflict back to its proper place. Since straightforward argument presupposes a shared frame of reference, it is not a suitable tool for carrying out the kind of frame-shifting that Žižek is trying to achieve. More indirect methods are necessary.

One of Žižek’s primary tactics for shifting the frame of reference is overidentification. This strategy grows out of his experience under the Communist regime in Yugoslavia. Observing his country’s political life, Žižek came to a paradoxical realization: the fact that no one “really” bought into the official socialist ideology was not an obstacle for the rulers — cynical distance was part of their strategy for maintaining control. In this situation, Žižek proposed, the best way to resist was to take the ruling ideology at its word, naïvely demanding that the leaders fulfill the promise of their ideals.

The political situation in the contemporary West is not as straightforward, but Žižek continues to carry out a version of this strategy of overidentification in his political writings. His diagnosis of the basic political situation is found in his 1993 book Tarrying With the Negative, where he claims that mainstream liberal political leaders are fundamentally complicit with right-wing nationalism, using it as a tool in their attempt to maintain the capitalist status quo. On the one hand, right-wing outbursts and movements serve as helpful distractions, diverting people’s energy away from the real problem (people who might otherwise be rioting against bank bailouts are demanding to see Obama’s birth certificate, or arguing that birthers are crazy). On the other hand, they serve as an ever-present threat, as in the demands for the Greek electorate to approve of the E.U.-I.M.F. program, lest fascism overrun the land. One can see both sides of this dynamic in the Democratic Party’s political strategy: on the one hand, they must continually make unfortunate concessions to the political right out of a supposed “realism,” but on the other hand, they present themselves as the only thing standing between us and the unmitigated horror of a Tea Party government.

In this situation, where liberals are continually conceding that the right wing is expressing “legitimate concerns,” Žižek says essentially: yes, they are expressing legitimate concerns, but not the ones they think they’re expressing. To return to the immigration example, Žižek would proceed by agreeing that right-wing outbursts should be taken seriously — not as signs of the need for a more homogeneous culture, or for preserving American jobs, or for keeping foreigners from overwhelming the welfare state, but as symptoms of the disruptive contradictions of capitalism. Similarly, when liberals acknowledge that conservatives have a point about the need to preserve “the European tradition” or “the Christian heritage,” Žižek agrees that they do indeed have a point: we absolutely need to preserve the European tradition of radical revolution and the Christian heritage of radical equality! He shifts the conflict from one between liberals and conservatives to the one at the heart of the cultural tradition itself.

This strategy of overidentification — which can be summarized in the vertiginous formula, “Yes, of course I agree completely, but aren’t you actually completely wrong?!” — may be difficult to follow, but it produces jolting shifts that could not easily be produced any other way.

In his more academic texts, Žižek rarely states his own view directly, but routes it through the great thinkers of contradiction: above all, the German Idealist philosopher G.W.F. Hegel and the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan — two thinkers who proceed through dialogue and whose own views are notoriously difficult to decipher. This coupling of Lacan and Hegel is absolutely crucial for him. In fact, in the introduction to his latest major work, Less Than Nothing, he claims that for him and his close intellectual comrades, “whatever we were doing, the underlying axiom was that reading Hegel through Lacan (and vice versa) was our unsurpassable horizon.” Other thinkers are also extremely important to him — most notably Marx, another great thinker of contradiction who worked primarily in the mode of critique — but none so much as these two.

Yet it should be emphasized that this combination is in many ways counterintuitive, if only because Lacan is himself very distrustful of Hegel’s philosophy, and most so in the very works that are central for Žižek. This is far from the only example of a counterintuitive pairing in Žižek’s work — one of his earliest books is entitled Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Lacan: But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock, dedicated to explaining Lacan’s psychoanalytic concepts through Hitchcock’s films. Similarly, he can pair Kant with Blade Runner or Schelling with Lassie Come Home. He can explain Hegel by means of an obscene joke, and he can end a book on the subversive potential of Christianity with a meditation on a cheap candy with a toy in the middle (the “Kinder Egg”). He calls these “short-circuits,” unexpected pairings that produce striking insights.

The goal is not to show how the two fields are “actually” connected in a previously unseen way. “The reader should not simply have learned something new,” he says. “The point is, rather, to make him or her aware of another — disturbing — side of something he or she knew all the time.” The same could be said of Žižek’s work as a whole: the point isn’t so much to learn about a topic as to be jolted into a new (and yes, disturbing) perspective on the familiar.

Like Marx’s, Žižek’s “ruthless critique of everything existing” doesn’t critique “both sides” in a conflict equally. Contradictions are always asymmetrical. In the conflict between the capitalists and the workers, for example, it isn’t a matter of two different, equally limited viewpoints. In the ultimate short-circuit, the particular position of the workers represents the “truth” of the entire situation — the worker embodies the contradiction of capitalism. Similarly, the relationship between men and women in our male-dominated society cannot be accounted for in terms of stable complementary roles for the two sexes — in another short-circuit, the woman’s position directly reveals the central contradiction around which the entire society is structured.

In short, for Žižek, one must take sides in order to have access to the truth. Truth is not “universal” in the traditional sense of applying equally in every situation — each situation has its own truth. In Less Than Nothing, Žižek explains this dynamic in terms of the relationship between the universal and the particular, a topic that has bedeviled philosophers for centuries. Whereas we might normally view a “universal” as an unattainable ideal like justice or democracy that we must always strive to approximate in our particular circumstances, Žižek takes the opposite view: particular societies aren’t inadequate compared to the universal, but rather the very idea of the universal arises out of the inherent inadequacies of every particular system. In other words, the truly universal dimension is not the noble ideal, but the complaint — what unites us is not our devotion to high ideals and deep human values, but the fact that the world sucks, everywhere.

Žižek does not hold out the utopian hope of eliminating all conflict — in fact, he believes our supposedly “post-ideological” era is blinded by the truly utopian hope that all genuine conflicts might be resolved, allowing the system of liberal-democratic capitalism to go on more or less forever. What Žižek hopes for, in tracking down the contradiction at the heart of our society and identifying with the class that embodies it, is not that the world will no longer suck, but that it will no longer suck in this particular way, that we will no longer be stuck in this particular vicious cycle, that we can somehow find a way to stop frantically grasping at rationalizations for our self-destructive fixations and do something else — in short, to jolt us into the realization that there is an alternative.