Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Stop the Crackdown against Russian Anti-Fascists! (open letter)

Original in Russian published here:
The crackdown against anti-fascists in Russia has recently gained momentum. The country’s repressive law enforcement authorities view involvement in the anti-fascist movement as a crime in itself.

Moscow anti-fascists Alexey SutugaAlexey OlesinovIgor Kharchenko andIrina Lipskaya are currently in jail in connection with dubious and unproven accusations of “disorderly conduct.” Anti-fascists Alexandra DukhaninaStepan ZiminAlexey Polikhovich and Vladimir Akimenkov are among those accused of involvement in “mass riots” on Bolotnaya Square on May 6 in Moscow, when riot police brutally dispersed an authorized opposition rally. Clear evidence of their guilt still has not been presented.
In Nizhny Novgorod, law enforcement authorities are attempting to have anti-fascists declared an “extremist group.” Although on October 18 a court sent the case against the fictional organization “Antifa-RASH” (whose alleged IDs “anti-extremist” police detectives planted on activists during a search) back to the police for further investigation, the Nizhny Novgorod political police are unlikely to leave the activists alone. Igor Kharchenko has also been charged under this same article of the Russian criminal code (“involvement in the the activities of an extremist group”). Alexey Olesinov and Alexey Sutuga’s defense attorneys also expect that authorities will attempt to have their clients declared “extremists.”

The attorneys and comrades of the arrested activists believe this is being done to make it easier for police to prosecute anti-fascists and social activists. If guilty verdicts are returned in the Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod cases, a wave of similar “extremist” cases will follow all over Russia. Anti-fascists are today officially stigmatized as “extremists.” What is next? A court ban on anti-fascist views?

We consider it unacceptable that an individual can be persecuted simply for political views and activities dedicated to the fight against racism. We demand a fair and partial investigation in these criminal cases, and prosecution of all law enforcement officers who abuse their authority and flagrantly fabricate criminal cases against civil society activists.

Svetlana Reiter, journalist
Pavel Chikov, civil rights activist
Andrei Loshak, journalist
Oleg Kashin, journalist
Artyom Loskutov, artist
Pavel Pryanikov, gardener, journalist
Shura Burtin, journalist
Arkady Babchenko, war correspondent
Igor Gulin, poet, literary critic
Maria Kiselyova, artist
Ilya Budraitskis, leftist activist
Alexander Chernykh, journalist
Victoria Lomasko, artist
Anna Sarang, sociologist
Tatyana Sushenkova, photographer, artist
Jenny Kupren, journalist, political exile
Sergei Devyatkin, journalist, political exile
Mikhail Maglov, civic activist
Pavel Nikulin, journalist
Alexei Yorsh, artist,
Maria Klimova, journalist
Nikolay Oleynikov, artist
Alexander Tushkin, journalist
Daniil Dugum, journalist, anarchist
Andrei Krasnyi, artist
Dmitry Grin, artist
Alexander Litinsky, journalist
Isabelle Makgoeva, leftist activist
Yuliana Lizer, journalist, documentary filmmaker
Dmitry Vilensky, artist
Ilya Shepelin, artist
Tasya Krugovykh, photographer, filmmaker
Vyacheslav Danilov, political scientist
Tatyana Volkova, art critic
Yegor Skovoroda, journalist
Georgy Rafailov, leftist activist
Dmitry Tkachov, editor, journalist
Alexander Delfinov (Smirnov), poet, journalist
Nadezhda Prusenkova, journalist
Anton Nikolaev, artist
Yulia Bashinova, journalist
Denis Mustafin, artist
Matvei Krylov, artist
Olesya Gerasimenko, journalist
Grigory Tumanov, journalist

How to fix the USA

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Slavoj Žižek talks new book, Occupy Wall Street at SIPA

Žižek rose to prominence in his native Yugoslavia, where he said he was “a mid-level dissident, enough to be jobless but not enough to be arrested.” His popular anti-capitalist cultural philosophy attracted an overflowing crowd, some who had come from outside the University just to see him speak.
Žižek was at Columbia to talk about his new book, “2011: The Year of Dreaming Dangerously,” but he touched on a wide array of other topics. Moderator Stathis Gourgouris, professor of classics at Columbia, started this panel on “one of the most provocative thinkers of our time” by noting that “moderating Žižek is an impossible event.” Gourgouris, along with Lydia Liu of East Asian Languages and Bruce Robbins of English, admitted that they found it difficult to put up arguments against Žižek or stop him once he got going.
Building on the arguments in his book, which sold out at the door, Žižek cited many philosophers from the Core Curriculum, including Marx, Rousseau and his “big love,” Hegel. Paraphrasing one of Hegel’s central ideas in reference to the crises of 2011, Žižek said, “Before the Fall, paradise was stupid animality. Only retroactively can we generate the specter of what we have fallen from.” “2012: The Year of Dreaming Dangerously” is Žižek’s take on the revolutions and upheavals of 2011, which he said he views as key turning points in the questioning of capitalism.
Before these revolutions, he argued, capitalism was a dogma, de-politicized because it was such an unquestionable part of our society. “Here, there are more people who believe that Armageddon is coming than that capitalism should be adjusted,” Žižek said. But the global economic collapse began to rip a hole in the fabric of these dogmas, Žižek said.
“Bankers were always greedy. Capitalism as it is today cannot be regulated,” he said. “It simply gave them the tools to realize that greed.” This financial crisis, Žižek argued, led to Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and the upheavals in Europe. In this new multi-centric world, countries like China, which subscribe to ‘communist,’ non-traditional models of capitalism, are swiftly gaining the upper hand, he added. The world should start to question just what it means to go beyond the constraints of capitalism.
During the question and answer period, Žižek was confronted by a Maoist who wanted a debate. Instead of dismissing him, Žižek called out his arguments and set a date for the contest to thunderous applause and laughter.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Famous Marxist turns heads and challenges assumptions

If you’re not familiar with Slavoj Zizek, the prophetic philosopher and cultural theorist from Slovenia, the first thing you should know about him is that he has opinion on just about everything.  When listening to him speak, you are guaranteed to fully comprehend less than 50 percent of everything he says, be thoroughly annoyed by his fidgeting, and yet still, ultimately, manage to be absolutely blown away.   Tuesday night’s panel featuring Slavoj Zizek alongside Columbia’s own Stathis Gourgouris, Lydia Liu, and Bruce Robbins was no exception.
In his introduction Stathis Gourgouris, Professor of Comparative Literature, commented that Zizek produces thought and writings at a “super human speed and scale.” Although the official topic of the panel was discussion of Zizek’s newest book The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, in which Zizek argues that the“events of 2011 augur a new political reality,” Zizek structured his presentation around five “short interventions.” Demonstrating an incredible propensity for analysis of our current unique existence as a globalized world, Zizek left the audience with several troubling thoughts, claiming ultimately “our times are a time of un-doing” requiring us to reimagine the political sphere as it is and as it could be.  Zizek predicts “a divorce on the horizon between capitalism and democracy” and argues that, as our political landscape begins to change, we must think more radically and ask more radical questions if we are to emerge from our current state of political upheaval.  Despite the heavy nature of the discussion, Zizek managed to keep a light tone throughout, even ending his presentation with the declaration, “Now I exposed myself like Jesus Christ”.
Although he takes a radical, Marxist approach, Zizek’s conjectures still contained grains of truth that could be appreciated by everyone regardless of political background. Furthermore, in representing ideas of extreme radicalism, Zizek forces us all to bring into question our own political ideals and, most importantly, to defend them.  This idea was made evident by the panel portion that followed Zizek’s initial presentation.  In this section of the evening Robbins, Liu, and Gourgouris each offered critiques of Zizek’s arguments, which were followed by a final rebuttal by Zizek.
Engaging, entertaining, and witty, Zizek was undeniably the star of the panel.  Initially, I doubted the sense in even bringing in additional panelist\s, but hearing Zizek’s response to the critiques of Gourgouris, Liu, and Robbins completely changed my opinion.  Zizek was completely invigorated by the opportunity to debate.  He thoughtfully rebuked criticisms with well-crafted answers that tended to contain a few more curse words than his prepared portion, much to the audiences’ delight.  During the question and answer portion, Zizek even promised a particularly discontented attendee the opportunity to debate him on the merits of communism when he returns to New York in April.  I personally am looking forward to the event but fear slightly for this man – if there was one lesson to be learned from Tuesday night’s panel it is that, if you debate Zizek, you will lose. The impassioned manner in which Zizek debates reminds us that this is what politics is supposed to be: real debate, real radicalism, and real ideas.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Historical Materialism Conference

CfP: Historical Materialism Ninth Annual Conference, London, 8-11 November

CfP: The Ninth Annual HM Conference will take place in Central London from 8-11 November 2012

The Ninth Annual HM Conference will take place in Central London from 8-11 November 2012

Weighs Like a Nightmare

Historical Materialism Ninth Annual Conference

Has Marx been reanimated once again? From mainstream media to academia, this question hangs in the air. The old ghosts of revolution appear to be shaking off their shackles and getting agitated. What is this spirit? Who are the militants haunting this ramshackle capitalism? Are these new spectres - stalking the streets of Syria, Tunisia and Egypt, Athens, Spain and Wall Street and beyond - or direct descendants of socialist and communist ones? How does the past haunt the present? How might the present haunt the future?

As new conflicts and struggles emerge, the old questions refuse to go away: What type of organisation is needed to sharpen the conflicts, if any? Who are the agents of history and change? Is the scope of political action national or international? What is the political value of alliances and fronts? Does history cunningly work a progressive path through and around the contingencies of struggle? Are the same mistakes to be made, the same failures repeated?

The ninth HM annual conference focuses on the returns and the persistence of political forms and theoretical problems, on the uses and abuses of the history of Marxism in this turbulent present and on the ways and forms in which an inheritance of various Marxist traditions can help us to organise and to act in contemporary struggles.

We invite proposals for presentations or panels (with two or three suggested participants) on topics such as: the echoes of the past in the present; learning or not learning from the past; the reanimation of revolution; history as farce, history as tragedy; historiography and Marxism; cycles; circulation; anti-memory as a political stance; new histories of capital and the labour movement; Marxism and 'deep history'; theory as history; the role of archival sources in history and the place of theory; rhythms of historical development, combined, uneven or otherwise; concepts of pre-capitalism; the question of successive modes of production; historical or other materialisms; the return of radical politics in Eastern Europe and elsewhere; post-communism; the endless afterlives of 'Classical' Marxists and 'Western' Marxist theorists and others who refuse to go away; the reruns of crisis; the role of memory and the revisioning of history; forgotten figures suddenly blasted into contemporary relevance; perma-war; imperial ghosts and their legacies, racism's haunting returns; old and new world orders; old and new cultures; avant-gardes and rearguards; the re-reading of classic texts; the question of Marxism's relation to tradition; ideas of inheritance and 'selective tradition'; recovery; recuperation; periodisation; continuities and discontinuities; narratives of new and old beginnings (of history, of culture, of the Left, of Marxism).

Interview with Dr. Dr. Božidar Debenjak (in Slovenian)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Cutesy Pie Vocabulary of 21st-Century Fascism: “Dvushechka” and “Jam Day”

By Sergey Chernov

The St. Petersburg Times

The Russian language is believed to be rich and highly nuanced.
This made foreign journalists think hard about how to translate the worddvushechka, used by President Vladimir Putin in reference to the two-year sentences the imprisoned women of the feminist punk collective Pussy Riot were given in August for an anti-Putin performance in a Moscow cathedral.

“The whole case ended up in court and the judge slipped them a dvushechka,” Putin said when interviewed for his 60th birthday television special, which aired Sunday.

Dvushechka is a vulgar diminutive of “two,” and so news agency Agence France-Presse translated it as “a little two,” while the Associated Press news agency chose to avoid the subtleties and translated the word as a plain “two years.”

This is a pity because the Russian word says a lot about the person who uses it. It sounds loutish, somewhat tender and almost lustful, giving the idea that a man who has it in his vocabulary has a certain amount of power, finds nearly sexual pleasure in imposing it on those who cannot defend themselves and does not care what others think about it.

In classic Russian literature, diminutives are frequently used by the most repulsive characters.

Using the word about prison terms for anybody — even if they were not young women, two of whom have young children — suggests a sinister background and evil frame of mind.

After dropping his dvushechka, Putin, however, was quick to remark, “I have nothing to do with it.”

According to Putin, Pussy Riot’s performance was not political, but pure hooliganism, for which they “got what they asked for.”

If anybody had any doubts about his direct involvement, now they should not.

Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, were arrested March 3, while Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, was arrested March 16. The three have been held in a Moscow detention center since then.

Their crime consisted of entering the church when there was no service being held and trying to videotape a music performance, which was stopped by the church’s guards after less than 60 seconds.

Like Pussy Riot’s other performances, it was directed against Putin and was called “Holy Mother of God, Drive Putin Away.”

Putin expressed his satisfaction about the verdict three days before a postponed appeal hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 10. The women’s defense team said it sees his remarks as applying pressure on the court.

But quite frankly, an official of such stature has many other, more discreet ways to give orders to the court than via television.

A number of protests are planned around the world Wednesday, but not in St. Petersburg, where a rally was held Oct. 1. Check Pussy Riot’s support websites for times and locations.

Meanwhile, in a videotaped birthday card that resembles a deliberate and total inversion of Pussy Riot’s brief performance in the Moscow cathedral and their entire short career prior to that, the “women’s movement” Otlichnitsy (“Teacher’s Pets”) invoked a frequent and irritatingly cutesy-pie play on words whereby den’ rozhdeniia (“birthday”) is turned into den vareniia (“jam day”) and presented the so-called Russian president with several jars of jam, including orange jam (by the woman on the right in the back row) “so that our country is never shaken by orange revolutions and there is more vitamin C in our politics.” (Thanks to Comrade Olga for the heads-up.)
Reflections on Seminar Xvii

Monday, October 8, 2012

Chávez Wins New Term in Venezuela, Holding Off Surge by Opposition

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chávez, long a fiery foe of Washington, won re-election on Sunday, facing down cancer and the strongest electoral challenge of his nearly 14 years in office and gaining a new mandate to deepen his socialist revolution.

Though his margin of victory was much narrower than in past elections, he still won handily. With 90 percent of the votes tallied, Mr. Chávez received 54 percent, to 45 percent for his opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski, the national election council said. Fireworks erupted in Caracas after the news, and Chávez supporters celebrated in the streets.

Shortly before 11:30 p.m. local time, Mr. Chávez stepped out onto the balcony of the presidential palace in Caracas and waved to a sea of jubilant supporters. “My words of recognition go out from here to all who voted against us, a recognition for their democratic temperament,” he said. A former soldier, he called the election a “perfect battle.”

Still, after a spirited campaign, the polarizing Mr. Chávez finds himself governing a changed country. He is an ailing and politically weakened winner facing an emboldened opposition that grew stronger and more confident as the voting neared, and held out hope that an upset victory was within reach.

Mr. Chávez has said that he would move forward even more aggressively to create his version of socialism in Venezuela in a new six-year term, although his pledges were short on specifics.

His health, though, remains a question mark. He has undergone several rounds of treatment for cancer in the last 15 months, but has refused to make public essential details of his illness. If he overcomes the disease and serves out his new term to its end in 2019, he will have been in power for two full decades.

Toward the end of the campaign, facing pressure from Mr. Capriles, he pledged to make his government more efficient and to pay more attention to the quality of government programs like education. He even made appeals for the middle class and the opposition to join in his revolution.

But Mr. Chávez spent much of the year insulting and trying to provoke Mr. Capriles and his followers. And on Sunday night, he had to face the fact that the people he taunted as squalid good-for-nothings, little Yankees and fascists, turned out to be nearly half the electorate.

As the opposition’s momentum grew, Mr. Chávez’s insults seemed to lose their sting. By the end of the campaign, young people in Caracas were wearing colorful T-shirts that said “majunche” or good-for-nothing, Mr. Chávez’s favorite taunt.

Mr. Capriles was subdued on Sunday night, congratulating Mr. Chávez and saying he hoped the president would see the result as “the expression today of a country with two visions, and to be president means working to solve the problems of all Venezuelans.”

He appeared poised to carry on his fight in the elections for state governors in December. “You should all feel proud, do not feel defeated,” he told supporters.

Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a research institute in Washington, called the presidential election “a fundamental turning point.” He said Mr. Chávez was “going to have to deal with a very different society than he dealt with in his last term, a society that’s awakened and more organized and more confident.”

Even so, the opposition is a fragile coalition with a history of destructive infighting, especially after an election defeat. Mr. Capriles will have to keep this fractious amalgam of parties from the left, right and center together in order to take advantage of the new ground they have gained.

“The opposition has more power, it feels more support,” said Elsi Fernandes, a schoolteacher, who voted for Mr. Capriles on Sunday morning in Catia, a poor neighborhood in Caracas. “The difference is that we’re not going to stay with our arms crossed.”

The turnout was more than 80 percent, the highest in decades, the election council said. People stood in line for hours, although the voting appeared in most cases to run smoothly.

Venezuela uses a touch-screen electronic voting system, and voters are identified with a digital thumbprint reader; technical problems at some polling places caused long delays and, in some, a resort to backup paper ballots. Polling places were told to keep working until everyone in line at closing time had a chance to vote.

Venezuela is mired in problems, including out-of-control violent crime, crumbling roads and bridges, and power blackouts that regularly plague much of the country outside the capital. Oil production, the country’s mainstay, has plateaued in recent years, and other exports have not picked up the slack. The overall economy grew this year, largely because of a huge pre-election boost in government spending, but clouds loom. A devaluation of the Venezuelan currency, the bolívar, is widely seen as inevitable, and inflation remains stubbornly high.

Mr. Chávez has trumpeted his programs to help the poor, and has pointed to a sharp reduction in the number of people living in poverty. But he has governed during a phenomenal rise in oil prices, which have soared from $10 in 1998, the year before he took office, to more than $100 in recent years and the high $80s now, pouring huge amounts of revenue into Venezuela. Mr. Capriles, who has served as a legislator, mayor and governor, campaigned almost nonstop, seeking to contrast his energetic style with the reduced schedule of Mr. Chávez, who received a diagnosis of cancer in 2011.

Mr. Chávez has kept most details of his condition secret, refusing to say exactly what kind of cancer he has or where in his body it is. He received chemotherapy last summer after an operation to remove a tumor, but the cancer returned and he had another operation in February, followed by radiation therapy. The operations and treatments were performed in Cuba, taking Mr. Chávez out of Venezuela for extended periods.

His health, and whether he was well enough to serve a new six-year term, always loomed over the campaign, but it receded as an issue as Mr. Chávez gradually increased his public appearances. Still, he never threw himself into campaigning at the frenzied pace of Mr. Capriles.

Opposition to Mr. Chávez has long been divided and easily manipulated by Mr. Chávez, a master politician who kept his rivals off balance. Mr. Capriles changed that. He crisscrossed the country, campaigning in places long considered bastions of support for Mr. Chávez, including urban slums and poor rural areas. He told voters that he was the future and Mr. Chávez the past.

Mr. Chávez dismissed Mr. Capriles as an unworthy opponent, accusing him of lying about wanting to continue Mr. Chávez’s social programs. He called Mr. Capriles a right-wing oligarch in disguise who sought to bring back the bad old days of rule by the rich. In Catia, María Elena Severine, 59, who works as a cleaner in a bank, said that Mr. Chávez was still as fresh a candidate as when he first ran in 1998. She lives in a rental apartment but hopes someday to be given a new home government-built home.

“I like my president,” she said. “He is the revolution. He is change.”

Capitalism: How the Left Lost the Argument

by Slavoj Žižek

One might think that a crisis brought on by rapacious, unregulated capitalism would have changed a few minds about the fundamental nature of the global economy.

One would be wrong. True, there is no lack of anti-capitalist sentiment in the world today, particularly as a crisis brought on by the system's worst excesses continues to ravage the global economy. If anything, we are witnessing an overload of critiques of the horrors of capitalism: Books, newspaper investigations, and TV reports abound, telling us of companies ruthlessly polluting our environment, corrupted bankers who continue to get fat bonuses while their banks are bailed out by taxpayer money, and sweatshops where children work overtime.

Yet no matter how grievous the abuse or how indicative of a larger, more systemic failure, there's a limit to how far these critiques go. The goal is invariably to democratize capitalism in the name of fighting excesses and to extend democratic control of the economy through the pressure of more media scrutiny, parliamentary inquiries, harsher laws, and honest police investigations. What is never questioned is the bourgeois state of law upon which modern capitalism depends. This remains the sacred cow that even the most radical critics from the likes of Occupy Wall Street and the World Social Forum dare not touch.

It's no wonder, then, that the optimistic leftist expectations that the ongoing crisis would be a sobering moment -- the awakening from a dream -- turned out to be dangerously shortsighted. The year 2011 was indeed one of dreaming dangerously, of the revival of radical emancipatory politics all around the world. A year later, every day brings new proof of how fragile and inconsistent the awakening actually was. The enthusiasm of the Arab Spring is mired in compromises and religious fundamentalism; Occupy is losing momentum to such an extent that the police cleansing of New York's Zuccotti Park even seemed like a blessing in disguise. It's the same story around the world: Nepal's Maoists seem outmaneuvered by the reactionary royalist forces; Venezuela's "Bolivarian" experiment is regressing further and further into caudillo-run populism; and even the most hopeful sign, Greece's anti-austerity movement, has lost energy after the electoral defeat of the leftist Syriza party.

It now seems that the primary political effect of the economic crisis was not the rise of the radical left, but of racist populism, more wars, more poverty in the poorest Third World countries, and widening divisions between rich and poor. For all that crises shatter people out of their complacency and make them question the fundamentals of their lives, the first spontaneous reaction is not revolution but panic, which leads to a return to basics: food and shelter. The core premises of the ruling ideology are not put into doubt.
They are even more violently asserted.

Could we in fact be seeing the conditions for the further radicalization of capitalism? German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk once told me that, if there is a person alive to whom they will build monuments 100 years from now, it is Lee Kuan Yew, the Singaporean leader who did more than anyone else to promote and implement the marriage of capitalism and authoritarianism -- an arrangement he euphemistically referred to as "Asian values." The virus of this authoritarian capitalism is slowly but surely spreading around the globe, nowhere more so than China.

Faced with today's explosion of capitalism in China, analysts often ask when political democracy as the "natural" political accompaniment of capitalism will enforce itself. But what if the promised democratization never arrives? What if China's authoritarian capitalism is not a stop on the road to further democratization, but the end state toward which the rest of the world is headed?

Leon Trotsky once characterized tsarist Russia as "the vicious combination of the Asian knout [whip] and the European stock market," but the description applies even better to today's China. In the Chinese iteration, the combination may prove to be a more stable one than the democratic capitalist model we have come to see as natural.

The main victim of the ongoing crisis is thus not capitalism, which appears to be evolving into an even more pervasive and pernicious form, but democracy -- not to mention the left, whose inability to offer a viable global alternative has again been rendered visible to all. It was the left that was effectively caught with its pants down. It is almost as if this crisis were staged to demonstrate that the only solution to a failure of capitalism is more capitalism.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

yet another facile review of a Žižek book

The unbearable lightness of Slavoj Žižek’s communism

The Year of Dreaming Dangerously - review.

The Year of Dreaming Dangerously
Slavoj Žižek
Verso, 142pp, £7.99

Marxism has always been, since the first collaborations of Marx and Engels, a thoroughgoing critique of capitalist society from the standpoint of a far less developed concept of socialism or communism. In this sense, its premise is a utopian conclusion never yet demonstrated – namely, that there can be a better form of modern society, based on a different regime of property, than one dominated by the accumulation of private capital. No one can in fairness require a detailed picture of this future condition but the vision has to enjoy some minimum plausibility. Otherwise, only a description of capitalism can be offered and some suggestions for reform but no fundamental critique.
Since the 1970s – and especially since 1991 – perhaps the greatest challenge for Marxism has been to keep alive the belief in the possibility of a superior future society. The belief was trampled almost to extinction by miscarried Third World revolutions, capitalist transformation in China, the capitulations of European socialist parties, Soviet collapse and the ostensible triumph of liberal capitalism.

The scepticism that replaced it was twofold. The would-be revolutionary left seemed to possess neither a serious strategy for the conquest of power nor a programme to implement, should power be won. In this context, the maximalism of the left at its high-water marks could only ebb into a kind of survivalist minimalism. The pith of minimalism lay in the alter-globalisation slogan: “Another world is possible.” Its most eloquent expression may have been Fredric Jameson’s book on Utopia, Archaeologies of the Future (2005), which sought to preserve the concept of a break with capitalism in conditions under which neither the bridge across the chasm nor the institutions lying on the other side could be imagined.

These are the reduced circumstances in which the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek has been, for at least the past dozen years or so, the world’s best-known Marxist thinker. With gra­phomaniacal productivity and postmodern range, Žižek writes mainly about contemporary ideology and culture in the broad sense that covers everything from an animated Hollywood blockbuster such as Kung Fu Panda to the forbidding ontology of Alain Badiou. Corrugated with dialectical reversals and seeming at times to consist exclusively of digressions, Žižek’s writing is often described, with some justice, as elusive. Even so, his basic analysis of the end-of-history ideology that swept the world after 1991 has been simple enough.

Žižek ventriloquised the mindset in First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (2009), one of his many entertaining, funny and shamelessly repetitive books: “Capitalism is a system which has no philosophical pretensions . . . The only thing it says is: ‘Well, this functions.’ And if people want to live better, it is preferable to use this mechanism, because it functions.” As he went on to argue in his own voice, “The very notion of capitalism as a neutral social mechanism is ideology (even utopian ideology) at its purest.” In fact, neoliberal “post-ideology” resembled nothing so much as a caricature of Marxist historical determinism. It merely substituted liberal capitalism for communism in claiming that here we beheld the final form of human society, as legitimated by science – in this case, socio­biology and neoclassical economics – and as certified on the proving ground of history.

Such a view was often declared after the cold war in a triumphalist spirit. Lately, with the outbreak, still uncontained, of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, it has persisted in a more resigned key. In his latest book, Žižek quotes David Simon, creator, in the television epic The Wire, of as damning a portrait of class-riven America as any Marxist could wish for: “I accept that [capitalism] is the only viable way to generate wealth on a wide scale.”

Žižek not only rejects this nearly unanimous conclusion but discerns in unexpected places – whether in the chauvinist eruptions of the political right or the low-grade commercial output of US cinema – the abiding wish, however disfigured and denied, for a “radical emancipatory politics”. In recent years, Žižek’s name for such a politics has been simply “communism”. He has carried out this dual operation – against the supposed necessity of capitalism, in favour of the renewed possibility of com­munism – by invoking a remarkable roster of thinkers. Hegelian in philosophy, Marxist in economics, Leninist in politics and an exponent of Jacques Lacan’s particularly baroque strain of psychoanalysis, Žižek combined these ways of thinking at a time when all of them separately, let alone together, had fallen into disrepute. He knew the reaction this courted, as can be seen in a line from In Defence of Lost Causes (2008): “What should have been dead, disposed of, thoroughly discredited, is returning with a vengeance.” Nor did this foul-mouthed wise guy, with an eastern bloc accent out of Central Casting, baiting his detractors with talk of “good old Soviet times” and plucking at his black T-shirt with Tourettic insistence, make himself much more presentable to conventional opinion as a personality.

For many fellow leftists, it has been both a winning performance and a vexing one. Žižek isn’t exactly to blame for his press, much less for the failure of the media to pay similar attention to other left-wing thinkers. Even so, his intellectual celebrity has seemed a symptom of the very intellectual impasse he has diagnosed. A ruthless criticism of capitalism, it turned out, could still be contemplated outside the academy – but only on condition that it appear as the work of a jester or provocateur. In this way, the figure of Žižek seemed to represent, encouragingly, the lifting of the post-cold-war embargo on radical thought and at the same time, discouragingly, its reimposition.

A similar ambiguity attaches to The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, a brief consideration of several of the revolts and convulsions of 2011, from the Arab spring and Anders Behring Breivik’s massacre in Norway to the London riots and Occupy Wall Street in the US. Did last year’s dreams, with their conscious or unconscious emancipatory content, pose a danger to contemporary capitalism or mainly to the dreamers themselves? In other words, did they prefigure a revolutionary challenge to the system or merely demonstrate that such an awakening remains all but inconceivable?

The book begins with Zizek’s general presentation of a capitalism marked by “the long-term trend of shifting from profits to rents”, “the much stronger structural role of unemployment” and the rise of a ruling class defined more by high salaries than direct capital income. Only the last of these features, however, is integrated into Žižek’s explanation of political rebellion: some but not all protesters are recent graduates angry that a college degree no longer assures them a good salary. More relevant to the rest of The Year of Dreaming Dangerously is Žižek’s contention that capitalism can’t be reformed. He disdains the idea, characteristic of “the archetypal left-liberal European moron”, that we need “a new political party that will return to the good old principles” and “regulate the banks and control financial excesses, guarantee free universal health care and education, etc, etc”.

He proceeds to examine last year’s rebellions not chronologically but in order, it seems, of increasing approximation to his own politics. For Žižek, the xenophobic Breivik’s intellectual error (not to speak of his obvious moral catastrophe) is to misunderstand his own ideology: genuine fidelity to Europe’s heritage of Christian universalism would seek to redeem, for Muslim immigrants as well as all others, the “legacy of radical and universal emancipation”.

Next, Žižek discusses the London riots. These illustrate not an inversion of universalism but a post-ideology devoid of transpersonal meaning; looters were, like other capitalist subjects, merely grabbing what they could. “One danger,” Žižek writes, “is that religion will come to fill this void and restore meaning.”

Precisely this danger has already been realised in much of the Muslim world. Yet, in Žižek’s account, the popular overthrow of Arab autocracies, even when couched in Islamist terms, contained a “radically emancipatory core” to which the secular left should remain “unconditionally faithful”.

Finally, in a chapter that revises a talk given before the Occupy encampment in Lower Man­hattan, Žižek explains something of what he takes radical emancipation to mean. He praises Occupy for “two basic insights”. The first is that the principal political problem is capitalism “as such, not any particular corrupt form of it”. The second is that “the contemporary form of representative multiparty democracy” can’t address the problem; therefore, “Democracy has to reinvented.” My sense, as a participant in several Occupy demonstrations and one of last’s years affiliated “working groups”, is that disenchantment with representative democracy, at least in its Ame­rican travesty, does pervade the movement. The belief that capitalism can and should be surmounted, on the other hand, is hardly unknown among Occupiers but doesn’t seem general either.

Žižek sees in various popular discontents the chauvinist misprision, the consumerist absence, the communalist disguise or the anti-capitalist incipience of his own politics. Radical politics at its most basic consists of two elements: strategy and programme or how to get power and what to do with it. Žižek’s programme is straightforward: the replacement of capitalism by communism. It’s not necessary to disclaim this ambition, however, to see that his concept of capitalism is inadequately specified and his notion of communism barely articulated at all.

In his brief against reformism, Žižek scorns the idea that capitalism can be regulated “so that it serves the larger goals of global welfare and justice . . . accepting that markets have their own demands which should be respected”. This suggests that he has confused the existence of markets with that of capitalism. The same goes for Žižek’s rudimentary positive notion of communism. In Living in the End Times (2010), he describes a future society in which the “exchange of products” would give way to “a direct social exchange of activities”. This seems to imply that individuals would no longer come by goods and services through market exchange but instead in some immediate, “social” way, obviating the use of money.

Markets long predate capitalism. Capitalism is better understood as designating a society that subordinates all processes – notably the metabolism between humanity and nature, the production and distribution of goods and services and the function and composition of government – to the private accumulation of capital. As for communism, perhaps it goes without saying, since Žižek doesn’t say so, that it means eliminating private capital on any large scale and realising the Marxist goal of common ownership of the means of production. Yet would productive enterprises be owned by those who worked for them or by society at large – or somehow jointly between the two groups? Žižek doesn’t ask, let alone answer, such questions.

Imagine, in any case, a society whose productive assets are, in one way or another, the property, as Marx said, of “the associated producers”. Such a society might also entail, let’s say, strict depletion quotas for both renewable and non-renewable natural resources; welfare guarantees not only for workers but for people too young, old or ill to work; and democratic bodies, from the level of the enterprise and locality up to that of the state, wherever it hadn’t withered away. These institutions might or might not be complemented by the market. For now, however, to rule markets out of any desirable future while saying next to nothing else about its institutional complexion is to reproduce the intellectual blockage that Žižek and others ascribe to a capitalism that simply can’t imagine how another kind of society might “function”.

In The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, even the “direct exchange of activities” has vanished. Here Žižek counsels refusing capitalism from the point of view of “a communism absconditus” without worldly instantiation or conceptual content. He defends this featureless vision by warning, with compact incoherence, against “the temptation of determinist planning”: determinism refers to inevitability, while planning implies voluntarism. Yet it requires no creed of either historical predestination or revolutionary infallibility to hazard an idea, presumably subject to revision both before and after the rupture with capitalism, of a better society. Whether such a hypothesis is called communist is a secondary question; as the poet (and revolutionary) John Milton put it in another context: “The meaning, not the name I call.” At the moment, Žižek’s communism is a heavy name very light on meaning.

His strategic notions, meanwhile, are various and incompatible. At times, as in his advice to Occupy, he seems to advocate the accomplishment of revolution through democracy, though he rejects parliamentary democracy for a “reinvented” kind otherwise undescribed. More often he favours a sort of Leninist quietism, according to which “those who refuse to change anything are effectively the agents of true change”: withdrawal from the system will speed its collapse. Yet he allows that: “A strategically well-placed, precise, ‘moderate’ demand can trigger a global transformation.” The options at least display Žižek’s dialectical facility. Apparent passivity can be the highest form of activity; then again, moderation can have immoderate effects.

Despite this last caveat, Žižek is most often an enemy of reform. However, the experience of western societies since the Second World War suggests that the old opposition between reformism and revolution is no longer useful. The heyday of the welfare state was accompanied, after all, by far more worker and student radicalisation than the era of neoliberalism that followed it, which demoralised radicals and reformers alike.

Projects of reform, in other words, have tended to nourish hopes of revolution and vice versa. In present circumstances, the achievement of reforms might well pave, rather than bar, the way to a new society, not to mention relieving some of the human misery to be endured before the advent of the communist millennium. If, on the other hand, the system were to prove incapable of incorporating any serious reforms, this would demonstrate the need for revolution that Žižek merely asserts.

This perspective, in which reform and revolution are allied, can no doubt be intelligently contested. But the time is past for the left to content itself with the blank proposition that another world is possible. What traits, other than its otherness, would such a world possess? As liberal capitalism saps its ecological foundations, defaults on its economic promises and forfeits its political legitimacy, another world is becoming inevitable. Which one do we want? And can we make this one into that one before it’s too late?


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hegel on atomism

B. The One and the Many

This (a) One in its Own Self, standing in negative relation to all its preceding moments, is entirely differentiated from each of them. It is neither a Determinate Being, nor a Something, nor a Constitution, etc. It is therefore indeterminate and unalterable. There is Nothing in it.[39] Just as there is no criterion to distinguish Being and Nothing despite the fact that they are opposites, the One is also identical with its opposite, (b) the Void. The Void can be said to be the Quality of the One.[40]

EXAMPLE: At this stage, the Logic has incorporated the ancient atomism of Leucippus and Democritus. Hegel actually held the ancient philosophical notion of atomism in higher esteem than the scientific one of modern physics because the former understood the void not just as the empty space between atoms, but as the atom’s own inherent principle of unrest and self-movement. “Physics with its molecules and particles suffers from the atom ... just as much as does that theory of the State which starts from the particular will of individuals.”[41]

The original transition of Being and Nothing to Determinate Being is again echoed here in the sphere of Being-for-Self. The One, though, as negatively related to all aspects of Quality excepting its own Quality of being the Void, cannot take on a Qualitative determinateness like Determinate Being did. In its own self-differentiation, it can only relate to itself as another self identical to it, that is, as another One. Since no new Quality has been taken on, we cannot call this transition a Becoming, but rather a Repulsion, i.e., the positing of (c)Many Ones.[42]

C. Repulsion and Attraction
Once these many Ones have been posited, the nature of their relationship begins to unfold. Because it is the nature of the One to be purely self-related, their relation to one another is in fact a non-relation, i.e., takes place externally in the Void. From the standpoint of the one One, then, there are no other Ones, that is, its relation to them is one of (a) Exclusion. Seen from within the One there is only one One, but at the same time the One only exists in the first place through its negative external relation to other Ones, i.e., for there to be the one One there must be Many Ones that mutually Exclude one another.[43]

EXAMPLE: The idea that the One is entirely self-subsistent and can exist without the Many is, according to Hegel, “the supreme, most stubborn error, which takes itself for the highest truth, manifesting in more concrete forms as abstract freedom, pure ego and, further, as Evil.”[44]

Now that Many Ones have been posited out of their Repulsion from the One, their original Oneness reasserts itself and their Repulsion passes over to (b) Attraction. Attraction presupposes Repulsion: for the Many to be Attracted by the One, they must have at first been Repulsed by it.[45]

The One having been restored to unity by Attraction now contains Repulsion and Attraction within it as moments. It is the Ideal One of Infinite Being, which, for Hegel, actually makes it more “real” than the merely Real Many. From the standpoint of this Ideal One, both Repulsion and Attraction now presuppose each other, and, taken one step further, each presupposes itself as mediated by the other. The One is only a One with reference to another One―Repulsion; but this “other” One is in itself identical to, is in fact, the original One―Attraction: each is the moment of the other. This is the (c) Relation of Repulsion and Attraction, which at this point is only relative.[46]

EXAMPLE: Although in Hegel’s estimation a triumph of the explanatory power of metaphysics over the physics based on sense perception as it was then practised, he believed that Kant’s Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft [Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science] (1786) retained many of the errors committed by the latter, foremost among these being that, since matter is given to the senses as already formed and constituted, it is taken to be such by the mind as well. The forces of Attraction and Repulsion that are supposed to act upon matter to set it in motion, then, are not seen also to be the very forces though which matter itself comes into being in the first place.[47]

Repulsion and Attraction are relative to one another insofar as the One is taken either as the beginning or result of their mediation with one another. Imparted with continuous, Infinite motion, the One, Repulsion and Attraction become the sublated moments of Quantity.[48]

Atomic thinkers, according to Hegel, did not remain wedded to the brute externality of the One and the Void. The Void was recognized as the source of movement, which, of course, means that the One and the Void did not have a purely external relation. Thus, the One can move only into unoccupied space--not into space already occupied by a One.

But this "not trivial" (Science of Logic,166) piece of information means only that the Void is the presupposition or condition of movement--not its ground. In addition, the very idea of movement is also presupposed in this view. That is, no logical connection between the One and the Void is yet recognized. The profounder view is:

that the void constitutes the ground of movement. . . [I]n the negative as such there lies the ground of becoming, of the unrest of self-movement . . . (Science of Logic,166)

Democritus: atomic theory

The theory of Democritus and Leucippus held that everything is composed of "atoms", which are physically, but not geometrically, indivisible; that between atoms lies empty space; that atoms are indestructible; have always been, and always will be, in motion; that there are an infinite number of atoms, and kinds of atoms, which differ in shape, and size. Of the mass of atoms, Democritus said "The more any indivisible exceeds, the heavier it is." But his exact position on weight of atoms is disputed.[1]

Democritus, along with Leucippus and Epicurus, proposed the earliest views on the shapes and connectivity of atoms. They reasoned that the solidness of the material corresponded to the shape of the atoms involved. Thus, iron atoms are solid and strong with hooks that lock them into a solid; water atoms are smooth and slippery; salt atoms, because of their taste, are sharp and pointed; and air atoms are light and whirling, pervading all other materials.[28] Democritus was the main proponent of this view. Using analogies from our sense experiences, he gave a picture or an image of an atom that distinguished them from each other by their shape, their size, and the arrangement of their parts. Moreover, connections were explained by material links in which single atoms were supplied with attachments: some with hooks and eyes others with balls and sockets.[29] 

The Democritean atom is an inert solid (merely excluding other bodies from its volume) that interacts with other atoms mechanically. In contrast, modern, quantum-mechanical atoms interact via electric and magnetic force fields and are far from inert.

Lucretius, describing atomism in his De rerum natura gives very clear and compelling empirical arguments for the original atomist theory. He observes that any material is subject to irreversible decay. Through time, even hard rocks are slowly worn down by drops of water. Things have the tendency to get mixed up: mix water with soil and you get mud, that will usually not un-mix by itself. Wood decays. However, we see in nature and technology that there are mechanisms to recreate 'pure' materials like water, air, metals. The seed of an oak will grow out into an oak tree, made of similar wood as historical oak trees, the wood of which has already decayed.

The conclusion is that many properties of materials must derive from something inside, that will itself never decay, something that stores for eternity the same inherent, indivisible properties. The basic question is: why has everything in the world not yet decayed, and how can exactly the same materials, plants, animals be recreated again and again? One obvious solution to explain how indivisible properties can be conveyed in a way not easily visible to human senses, is to hypothesize the existence of 'atoms'. These classical 'atoms' are nearer to our modern concept of 'molecule' than to the atoms of modern science. The other big point of classical atomism is that there must be a lot of open space between these 'atoms': the void. Lucretius gives reasonable arguments that the void is absolutely necessary to explain how gasses and fluids can change shape, flow, while metals can be molded, without changing the basic material properties.

The atomistic void hypothesis was a response to the paradoxes of Parmenides and Zeno, the founders of metaphysical logic, who put forth difficult to answer arguments in favor of the idea that there can be no movement. They held that any movement would require a void—which is nothing—but a nothing cannot exist. The Parmenidean position was "You say there 'is' a void; therefore the void is not nothing; therefore there is not the void."

The atomists agreed that motion required a void, but simply ignored the argument of Parmenides on the grounds that motion was an observable fact. Therefore, they asserted, there must be a void.

Epicurean Atomism

Democritus' atomism was revived in the early Hellenistic period, and an atomist school founded in Athens about 306, by Epicurus (341–270 BCE). The Epicureans formed more of a closed community than other schools, and promoted a philosophy of a simple, pleasant life lived with friends. The community included women, and some of its members raised children. The works of the founder were revered and some of them were memorized, a practice that may have discouraged philosophical innovation by later members of the school.
Epicurus seems to have learned of atomist doctrine through Democritus' follower Nausiphanes. Because Epicurus made some significant changes in atomist theory, it is often thought that his reformulation of the physical theory is an attempt to respond to Aristotle's criticisms of Democritus. Even more significant, however, is the increasing centrality of ethical concerns to Epicurus' atomism, and the importance of the view that belief in an atomist physical theory helps us live better lives.
Epicurus takes to heart a problem Democritus himself recognized (see 2. above), which is that atomist theory threatens to undermine itself if it removes any trust we can place in the evidence of the senses, by claiming that colors, etc. are unreal. He notoriously said that ‘all perception is true,’ apparently distinguishing between the causal processes which impact our senses, all of which originate with the films of atoms sloughed off by objects, and the judgments we make on the basis of them, which may be false. Reasoning to truths about things that are not apparent—like the existence of atoms—depends on the evidence of the senses, which is always true in that it consists of impacts from actually existing films. For particular phenomena, like meteorological events, Epicurus endorses the existence of multiple valid explanations, acknowledging that we may have no evidence for preferring one explanation over another.
It may be that Epicurus was less troubled by any such epistemological uncertainties because of his emphasis on the value of atomist theory for teaching us how to live the untroubled and tranquil life. Denying any divine sanction for morality, and holding that the experience of pleasure and pain are the source of all value, Epicurus thought we can learn from atomist philosophy that pursuing natural and necessary pleasures—rather than the misleading desires inculcated by society—will make pleasure readily attainable. At the same time, we will avoid the pains brought on by pursuing unnatural and unnecessary pleasures. Understanding, on the basis of the atomist theory, that our fears of the gods and of death are groundless will free us from our chief mental pains.
Epicurus made significant changes to atomist physical theory, and some of these have been traced to Aristotle's criticisms of Democritus. It seems that Democritus did not properly distinguish between the thesis of the physical uncuttability of atoms and that of their conceptual indivisibility: this raises a problem about how atoms can have parts, as evidenced by their variations in shape or their ability to compose a magnitude, touching one another in a series on different sides. Epicurus distinguished the two, holding that uncuttable atoms did have conceptually distinct parts, but that there was a lowest limit to these.
Epicurus' view of the motion of atoms also differs from Democritus'. Rather than talking of a motion towards the center of a given cosmos, possibly created by the cosmic vortex, Epicurus grants to atoms an innate tendency to downward motion through the infinite cosmos. The downward direction is simply the original direction of atomic fall . This may be in response to Aristotelian criticisms that Democritus does not show why atomic motion exists, merely saying that it is eternal and that it is perpetuated by collisions. Moreover, although this is not attested in the surviving writings of Epicurus, authoritative later sources attribute to him the idea that it belongs to the nature of atoms occasionally to exhibit a slight, otherwise uncaused swerve from their downward path. This is thought to explain why atoms have from infinite time entered into collisions instead of falling in parallel paths: it is also said, by Lucretius, to enter into the account of action and responsibility. 


Clinamen (pronounced /klaɪˈneɪmɛn/, plural clinamina, derived from clīnāre, to incline) is the Latin name Lucretius gave to the unpredictable swerve of atoms, in order to defend the atomistic doctrine of Epicurus.

According to Lucretius, the unpredictable swerve occurs "at no fixed place or time":
When atoms move straight down through the void by their own weight, they deflect a bit in space at a quite uncertain time and in uncertain places, just enough that you could say that their motion has changed. But if they were not in the habit of swerving, they would all fall straight down through the depths of the void, like drops of rain, and no collision would occur, nor would any blow be produced among the atoms. In that case, nature would never have produced anything.[1]

This indeterminacy, according to Lucretius, provides the "free will which living things throughout the world have."[2]

Modern usage

The OED continues to define clinamen as an inclination or a bias.

In Finnegans Wake, Joyce alludes to the term on the very first words of his work: riverrun, past Eve and Adams, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth, Castle and Environs. If "Eve and Adam's" refers to "even atoms" in the Epicurean sense, the word swerve has a special meaning.

In Difference and RepetitionGilles Deleuze employs the term in his description of multiplicities, pointing to the observation at the heart of the theory of clinamen that "it is indeed essential that atoms be related to other atoms."[3] Though atoms affected by clinamen engage each other in a relationship of reciprocal supposition, Deleuze rejects this version of multiplicity, both because the atoms are too independent, and because the multiplicity is "spatio-temporal" rather than internal.

Simone de Beauvoir,[4] Jacques Lacan,[5] Harold Bloom,[6] Jacques DerridaJean-Luc NancyAlain Badiou[7] as well as Michel Serres[8] have made extensive use of the idea of the clinamen, albeit with very different readings.

^ Lucretius, ii. 216-224. Translation from Brad Inwood, L. P. Gerson, (1994), The Epicurus Reader, page 66. Hackett
^ Lucretius, ii. 251
^ Gilles Deleuze, Paul Patton, (1994), Difference and repetition, page 184
^ in "The Ethics of Ambiguity" (1948), trans. Bernard Frechtman; Publisher: Citadel Press, ISBN 0-8065-0160-X
^ in "The four fundamental concepts of psycho-analysis" (1973), Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co. (April 17, 1998), ISBN 0-393-31775-7
^ in "The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry" (1973), Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; 2 edition (April 10, 1997) ISBN 0-19-511221-0
^ in "Theory of the Subject" (1982), trans. Bruno Bosteels; (New York: Continuum, 2009): ISBN 978-0-8264-9673-7 (hardcover)
^ Hanjo Berressem in Abbas, N. (2005), Mapping Michel Serres, page 53 University of Michigan Press

Žižek at Toronto City Hall

by Benjamin Bruneau, ARTINFO Canada

An island of enraptured silence floated amidst the sea of noise, crowds, and Scotiabank Nuit Blanche revelry at Toronto City Hall, Saturday night, as the Council Chambers played host to international superstar theorist Slavoj Žižek.

Nominally part of curators Janine Marchessault and Michael Prokopow’s "Museum for the End of the World," Žižek and co-presenters Arthur Kroker and Brenda Longfellow spoke about technology, biology, politics, and capital, as the world as we know it surely pushes towards some kind of termination.

Žižek was in absolute top form, rhapsodizing at length -- nearly two-and-a-half hours -- to a rapturous, mostly young audience, which nearly rioted when city officials tried to oust members from the aisles and stairways. Bemusedly, Žižek admonished their squeaky-wheel tactics: “If I were you, I’d have agreed and said, ‘Yes, it’s terrible, people shouldn’t make themselves a fire hazard’. And then I’d have stayed put.”

His wide-ranging talk moved from prohibited activities to ethnic cleansing, the cynicism of authority, Facebook and the invasion of the public by the private, internet hard-core pornography, and Casablanca, all in his trademark blend of candor, pop culture, and critical theory.

In keeping with the apocalyptic thematic, he concluded that we are entering a new epoch in humanity, and that, “effectively, the very basic dimension of what it is to be human is changing. In this sense, it’s the end of the world as we know it.” Not one to give-in to despair -- but not one to be overly optimistic, either -- Zizek said that the new human is “radically open to possibility,” but that “if we let things change the way they are, automatically, we are approaching a new, perverse, permissively authoritarian society, which will be authoritarian but in a new way.”

Slavoj Žižek at The Creative Time Summit

October 12, 2012
NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts

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. 

Romney’s Sick Joke

Paul Krugman

OK, so Obama did a terrible job in the debate, and Romney did well. But in the end, this isn’t or shouldn’t be about theater criticism, it should be about substance. And the fact is that everything Obama said was basically true, while much of what Romney said was either outright false or so misleading as to be the moral equivalent of a lie.

Above all, there’s this:

MR. ROMNEY: Let — well, actually — actually it’s — it’s — it’s a lengthy description, but number one, pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan.

No, they aren’t. Romney’s advisers have conceded as much in the past; last night they did it again.

I guess you could say that Romney’s claim wasn’t exactly a lie, since some people with preexisting conditions would retain coverage. But as I said, it’s the moral equivalent of a lie; if you think he promised something real, you’re the butt of a sick joke.

And we’re talking about a lot of people left out in the cold — 89 million, to be precise.

Furthermore, all of this should be taken in the context of Romney’s plan not just to repeal Obamacare but to drastically cut Medicaid.

So enough with the theater criticism; Romney needs to be held accountable for dishonesty on a huge scale.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Human Rights and Trade Union Activist Yacine Zaïd Abducted in Algeria: Act Now!

Human Rights Activist, IUF representative in Algeria abducted
October 1, 2012

On 1 October, Algerian IUF [International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations] representative and human rights activist Yacine Zaïd was picked up off the street in Hassi Messaoud in the Ouargla province by unidentified men in a white Nissan 4×4 vehicle and has not been seen since. His location at this time is unknown. Zaïd had earlier been beaten upon being  taken into custody by Algerian police prior to his release and subsequent abduction.

The IUF believes that Yacine Zaïd’s well-being and perhaps even his life is at risk because of his outspoken work in defence of human rights in Algeria and his long-standing defence of workers’ rights, now as an IUF representative in that country.

The IUF calls on the Algerian authorities to act immediately to secure the release of Yacine Zaïd, guarantee his security and restore his full rights. We also call on authorities to investigate the matter fully and bring those responsible to justice.

chto delat

Chto delat. What is to be done?

Publisher: Chto delat

Chto delat/What is to be done? was founded in early 2003 in Petersburg by a
workgroup of artists, critics, philosophers, and writers from Petersburg,
Moscow, and Nizhny Novgorod.

Since then, Chto delat has been publishing an English-Russian newspaper on
issues central to engaged culture, with a special focus on the relationship
between a repoliticization of Russian intellectual culture and its broader
international context. These newspapers are usually produced in the context
of collective initiatives such as art projects or conferences.

Beginning with the first issue of 2009, Chto delat No. 01-25 "On the Use of
Art," we have decided to parallel our work on the newspaper with a thematic
webjournal that collects a selection of texts that were important in
articulating the issue's conception. We will also be using this space to
publish expanded versions of texts too long to be published in the newspaper
in full, as well as texts did not fit in the paper.

This web-magazine will contain texts in English and Russian mostly, and of
course, we will be making an effort to translate everything in the course of
time. We also plan to expand each issue of this journal to expand
constantly, as new texts and translations are added.

Email: chtodelatnews [at] googlemail [dot] com

Content freely accessible online.

Current Issue: #02-26 2009

Date: 22 September 2009

Monday, October 1, 2012

Without you

I'm going to go into the fir trees
There where I last saw her
But the evening is throwing a cloth upon the land
and upon the ways behind the edge of the forest
And the forest it is so black and empty
Woe is me, oh woe
And the birds sing no more

Without you I cannot be
Without you
With you I am alone too
Without you
Without you I count the hours without you
With you the seconds stand still
They aren't worth it

On the branches in the ditches
it's now silent and without life
And breathing becomes oh so hard for me
Woe is me, oh woe
And the birds sing no more

Without you I cannot be
Without you
With you I am alone too
Without you
Without you I count the hours without you
With you the seconds stand still
They aren't worth it without you

Without you

Without you

Without you

Without you