Wednesday, March 27, 2013

LTN, Plato’s Parmenides, Democritus

As we know the notion of the gap or crack in the world is central to Zizek’s philosophy, the sine qua non of its dialectical core or kernel. Between a passion for the Real and a passion for the Semblance humanity seems to be caught in the net of an illusionary drive toward opposing truths. Are either of these positions right? Zizek says there might just be a third way:
There is not just the interplay of appearances, there is a Real— this Real, however, is not the inaccessible Thing, but the gap which prevents our access to it, the “rock” of the antagonism which distorts our view of the perceived object through a partial perspective. The “truth” is thus not the “real” state of things, accessed by a “direct” view of the object without any perspectival distortion, but the very Real of the antagonism which causes the perspectival distortion itself. Again, the site of truth is not the way “things really are in themselves,” beyond perspectival distortion, but the very gap or passage which separates one perspective from another, the gap … which makes the two perspectives radically incommensurable. The “Real as impossible” is the cause of the impossibility of our ever attaining the “neutral” non-perspectival view of the object. There is a truth, and not everything is relative— but this truth is the truth of the perspectival distortion as such, not a truth distorted by the partial view from a one-sided perspective.1
This vacillation between the Real and the Semblance Zizek tells us is at the heart of Plato’s Parmenides: in the history of philosophy, the first exemplary case of “vacillating the semblances” occurs in the second part of Plato’s Parmenides, with the deployment of eight hypotheses on the relation between Being and One (ibid, KL 1210-1212). What is unique in all of Plato’s dialogues is that he leaves out the one philosopher that could have helped him: Democritus. And it is to Democritus that Zizek turns for his concept of the gap between Being and the One: in Democritus’s notion of the non-word, den:
Democritean atomism is thus the first materialist answer to Eleatic idealism: Eleatics argue from the logical impossibility of the void to the impossibility of motion; Democritean atomists seem to reason in reverse, deducing from the fact that motion exists the necessity that the void (empty space) exists. The ultimate divide between idealism and materialism does not concern the materiality of existence (“ only material things really exist”), but the “existence” of nothingness/ the void: the fundamental axiom of materialism is that the void/ nothingness is (the only ultimate) real, i.e., there is an indistinction of being and the void.(Kindle Locations 1539-1544).
“If, for Parmenides, only being is, for Democritus, nothing is as much as being,” says Zizek. In order to get from nothing to something, we do not have to add something to the void; on the contrary, we have to subtract, take away, something from nothing. Nothing and othing are thus not simply the same: “Nothing” is the generative void out of which othings, primordially contracted pre-ontological entities, emerge— at this level, nothing is more than othing, negative is more than positive. Once we enter the ontologically fully constituted reality, however, the relationship is reversed: something is more than nothing, in other words, nothing is purely negative, a privation of something.(Kindle Locations 1544-1548). He continues, stating:
This, perhaps, is how one can imagine the zero-level of creation: a red dividing line cuts through the thick darkness of the void, and on this line, a fuzzy something appears, the object-cause of desire— perhaps, for some, a woman’s naked body (as on the cover of this book). Does this image not supply the minimal coordinates of the subject-object axis, the truly primordial axis of evil: the red line which cuts through the darkness is the subject, and the body its object?(Kindle Locations 1549-1552).
Zizek tells us that most - so to speak, atomists have gotten it wrong from the beginning, that they have turned this den, this less than nothing into its opposite, a something.
The rise of den is thus strictly homologous to that of objet a which, according to Lacan, emerges when the two lacks (of the subject and of the Other) coincide, that is, when alienation is followed by separation: den is the “indivisible remainder” of the signifying process of double negation— something like Sygne de Coûfontaine’s tic, this minimal eppur si muove which survives her utter Versagung (renunciation). The later reception of Democritus, of course, immediately “renormalized” den by way of ontologizing it: den becomes a positive One, atoms are now entities in the empty space, no longer spectral “othings”( less-than-nothings).(Kindle Locations 1522-1527).
So that an anachronistic reference to Kant can nonetheless be of some help here: meden follows the logic of negative judgment, it negates being as a predicate, while den asserts non-being as a (positive) predicate— den is nothingness (the void) which somehow “is” in itself, not only as a negation of (another) being. In other words, den is the space of in distinction between being and non-being, “a thing of nothing,” as the “undead” are the living dead.(Kindle Locations 1531-1534)
Den is that gap between Being and the Real.
1. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 1201-1209). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Marx’s Revenge: How Class Struggle Is Shaping the World

By Michael Schuman March 25, 2013

Karl Marx was supposed to be dead and buried. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and China’s Great Leap Forward into capitalism, communism faded into the quaint backdrop of James Bond movies or the deviant mantra of Kim Jong Un. The class conflict that Marx believed determined the course of history seemed to melt away in a prosperous era of free trade and free enterprise. The far-reaching power of globalization, linking the most remote corners of the planet in lucrative bonds of finance, outsourcing and “borderless” manufacturing, offered everybody from Silicon Valley tech gurus to Chinese farm girls ample opportunities to get rich. Asia in the latter decades of the 20th century witnessed perhaps the most remarkable record of poverty alleviation in human history — all thanks to the very capitalist tools of trade, entrepreneurship and foreign investment. Capitalism appeared to be fulfilling its promise — to uplift everyone to new heights of wealth and welfare.
Or so we thought. With the global economy in a protracted crisis, and workers around the world burdened by joblessness, debt and stagnant incomes, Marx’s biting critique of capitalism — that the system is inherently unjust and self-destructive — cannot be so easily dismissed. Marx theorized that the capitalist system would inevitably impoverish the masses as the world’s wealth became concentrated in the hands of a greedy few, causing economic crises and heightened conflict between the rich and working classes. “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole,” Marx wrote.
A growing dossier of evidence suggests that he may have been right. It is sadly all too easy to find statistics that show the rich are getting richer while the middle class and poor are not. A September study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in Washington noted that the median annual earnings of a full-time, male worker in the U.S. in 2011, at $48,202, were smaller than in 1973. Between 1983 and 2010, 74% of the gains in wealth in the U.S. went to the richest 5%, while the bottom 60% suffered a decline, the EPI calculated. No wonder some have given the 19th century German philosopher a second look. In China, the Marxist country that turned its back on Marx, Yu Rongjun was inspired by world events to pen a musical based on Marx’s classic Das Kapital. “You can find reality matches what is described in the book,” says the playwright.
That’s not to say Marx was entirely correct. His “dictatorship of the proletariat” didn’t quite work out as planned. But the consequence of this widening inequality is just what Marx had predicted: class struggle is back. Workers of the world are growing angrier and demanding their fair share of the global economy. From the floor of the U.S. Congress to the streets of Athens to the assembly lines of southern China, political and economic events are being shaped by escalating tensions between capital and labor to a degree unseen since the communist revolutions of the 20th century. How this struggle plays out will influence the direction of global economic policy, the future of the welfare state, political stability in China, and who governs from Washington to Rome. What would Marx say today? “Some variation of: ‘I told you so,’” says Richard Wolff, a Marxist economist at the New School in New York. “The income gap is producing a level of tension that I have not seen in my lifetime.”
Tensions between economic classes in the U.S. are clearly on the rise. Society has been perceived as split between the “99%” (the regular folk, struggling to get by) and the “1%” (the connected and privileged superrich getting richer every day). In a Pew Research Center poll released last year, two-thirds of the respondents believed the U.S. suffered from “strong” or “very strong” conflict between rich and poor, a significant 19-percentage-point increase from 2009, ranking it as the No. 1 division in society.
The heightened conflict has dominated American politics. The partisan battle over how to fix the nation’s budget deficit has been, to a great degree, a class struggle. Whenever President Barack Obama talks of raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans to close the budget gap, conservatives scream he is launching a “class war” against the affluent. Yet the Republicans are engaged in some class struggle of their own. The GOP’s plan for fiscal health effectively hoists the burden of adjustment onto the middle and poorer economic classes through cuts to social services. Obama based a big part of his re-election campaign on characterizing the Republicans as insensitive to the working classes. GOP nominee Mitt Romney, the President charged, had only a “one-point plan” for the U.S. economy — “to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules.”
Amid the rhetoric, though, there are signs that this new American classism has shifted the debate over the nation’s economic policy. Trickle-down economics, which insists that the success of the 1% will benefit the 99%, has come under heavy scrutiny. David Madland, a director at the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank, believes that the 2012 presidential campaign has brought about a renewed focus on rebuilding the middle class, and a search for a different economic agenda to achieve that goal. “The whole way of thinking about the economy is being turned on its head,” he says. “I sense a fundamental shift taking place.”
The ferocity of the new class struggle is even more pronounced in France. Last May, as the pain of the financial crisis and budget cuts made the rich-poor divide starker to many ordinary citizens, they voted in the Socialist Party’s François Hollande, who had once proclaimed: “I don’t like the rich.” He has proved true to his word. Key to his victory was a campaign pledge to extract more from the wealthy to maintain France’s welfare state. To avoid the drastic spending cuts other policymakers in Europe have instituted to close yawning budget deficits, Hollande planned to hike the income tax rate to as high as 75%. Though that idea got shot down by the country’s Constitutional Council, Hollande is scheming ways to introduce a similar measure. At the same time, Hollande has tilted government back toward the common man. He reversed an unpopular decision by his predecessor to increase France’s retirement age by lowering it back down to the original 60 for some workers. Many in France want Hollande to go even further. “Hollande’s tax proposal has to be the first step in the government acknowledging capitalism in its current form has become so unfair and dysfunctional it risks imploding without deep reform,” says Charlotte Boulanger, a development official for NGOs.
His tactics, however, are sparking a backlash from the capitalist class. Mao Zedong might have insisted that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” but in a world where das kapital is more and more mobile, the weapons of class struggle have changed. Rather than paying out to Hollande, some of France’s wealthy are moving out — taking badly needed jobs and investment with them. Jean-Émile Rosenblum, founder of online retailer, is setting up both his life and new venture in the U.S., where he feels the climate is far more hospitable for businessmen. “Increased class conflict is a normal consequence of any economic crisis, but the political exploitation of that has been demagogic and discriminatory,” Rosenblum says. “Rather than relying on (entrepreneurs) to create the companies and jobs we need, France is hounding them away.”
The rich-poor divide is perhaps most volatile in China. Ironically, Obama and the newly installed President of Communist China, Xi Jinping, face the same challenge. Intensifying class struggle is not just a phenomenon of the slow-growth, debt-ridden industrialized world. Even in rapidly expanding emerging markets, tension between rich and poor is becoming a primary concern for policymakers. Contrary to what many disgruntled Americans and Europeans believe, China has not been a workers’ paradise. The “iron rice bowl” — the Mao-era practice of guaranteeing workers jobs for life — faded with Maoism, and during the reform era, workers have had few rights. Even though wage income in China’s cities is growing substantially, the rich-poor gap is extremely wide. Another Pew study revealed that nearly half of the Chinese surveyed consider the rich-poor divide a very big problem, while 8 out of 10 agreed with the proposition that the “rich just get richer while the poor get poorer” in China.
Resentment is reaching a boiling point in China’s factory towns. “People from the outside see our lives as very bountiful, but the real life in the factory is very different,” says factory worker Peng Ming in the southern industrial enclave of Shenzhen. Facing long hours, rising costs, indifferent managers and often late pay, workers are beginning to sound like true proletariat. “The way the rich get money is through exploiting the workers,” says Guan Guohau, another Shenzhen factory employee. “Communism is what we are looking forward to.” Unless the government takes greater action to improve their welfare, they say, the laborers will become more and more willing to take action themselves. “Workers will organize more,” Peng predicts. “All the workers should be united.”
That may already be happening. Tracking the level of labor unrest in China is difficult, but experts believe it has been on the rise. A new generation of factory workers — better informed than their parents, thanks to the Internet — has become more outspoken in its demands for better wages and working conditions. So far, the government’s response has been mixed. Policymakers have raised minimum wages to boost incomes, toughened up labor laws to give workers more protection, and in some cases, allowed them to strike. But the government still discourages independent worker activism, often with force. Such tactics have left China’s proletariat distrustful of their proletarian dictatorship. “The government thinks more about the companies than us,” says Guan. If Xi doesn’t reform the economy so the ordinary Chinese benefit more from the nation’s growth, he runs the risk of fueling social unrest.
Marx would have predicted just such an outcome. As the proletariat woke to their common class interests, they’d overthrow the unjust capitalist system and replace it with a new, socialist wonderland. Communists “openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions,” Marx wrote. “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.” There are signs that the world’s laborers are increasingly impatient with their feeble prospects. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets of cities like Madrid and Athens, protesting stratospheric unemployment and the austerity measures that are making matters even worse.
So far, though, Marx’s revolution has yet to materialize. Workers may have common problems, but they aren’t banding together to resolve them. Union membership in the U.S., for example, has continued to decline through the economic crisis, while the Occupy Wall Street movement fizzled. Protesters, says Jacques Rancière, an expert in Marxism at the University of Paris, aren’t aiming to replace capitalism, as Marx had forecast, but merely to reform it. “We’re not seeing protesting classes call for an overthrow or destruction of socioeconomic systems in place,” he explains. “What class conflict is producing today are calls to fix systems so they become more viable and sustainable for the long run by redistributing the wealth created.”
Despite such calls, however, current economic policy continues to fuel class tensions. In China, senior officials have paid lip service to narrowing the income gap but in practice have dodged the reforms (fighting corruption, liberalizing the finance sector) that could make that happen. Debt-burdened governments in Europe have slashed welfare programs even as joblessness has risen and growth sagged. In most cases, the solution chosen to repair capitalism has been more capitalism. Policymakers in Rome, Madrid and Athens are being pressured by bondholders to dismantle protection for workers and further deregulate domestic markets. Owen Jones, the British author of Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, calls this “a class war from above.”
There are few to stand in the way. The emergence of a global labor market has defanged unions throughout the developed world. The political left, dragged rightward since the free-market onslaught of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, has not devised a credible alternative course. “Virtually all progressive or leftist parties contributed at some point to the rise and reach of financial markets, and rolling back of welfare systems in order to prove they were capable of reform,” Rancière notes. “I’d say the prospects of Labor or Socialists parties or governments anywhere significantly reconfiguring — much less turning over — current economic systems to be pretty faint.”
That leaves open a scary possibility: that Marx not only diagnosed capitalism’s flaws but also the outcome of those flaws. If policymakers don’t discover new methods of ensuring fair economic opportunity, the workers of the world may just unite. Marx may yet have his revenge.
— With reporting by Bruce Crumley / Paris; Chengcheng Jiang / Beijing; Shan-shan Wang / Shenzhen

Monday, March 25, 2013

Faith - Slavoj Žižek and Paul Holdengräber
LOVE FAITH CHOICE – Kierkegaard in three international conversations
Monday 6 May 2013 at 20:00

Kierkegaard belongs to the world! The Royal Library celebrates him as a living voice amongst us, reaching far beyond the borders of Denmark.
Paul Holdengräber from the New York Public Library’s series ‘Live from the NYPL’ has been asked to select international names for conversations starting from three basic Kierkegaardian concepts: LOVE, FAITH and CHOICE.
Siri Hustvedt (US), Pascal Bruckner (F), Slavoj Žižek (SVN) and René Redzepi (DK/MK) will engage in live conversations on their craft.

140 kr.
100 kr.
Diamond Club
110 kr.
Tickets available from 25th of march

The event is held in english.

The event is produced in cooperation with The Programme Council for KIERKEGAARD 2013

The Day That TV News Died

Posted on Mar 24, 2013

By Chris Hedges

I am not sure exactly when the death of television news took place. The descent was gradual—a slide into the tawdry, the trivial and the inane, into the charade on cable news channels such as Fox and MSNBC in which hosts hold up corporate political puppets to laud or ridicule, and treat celebrity foibles as legitimate news. But if I had to pick a date when commercial television decided amassing corporate money and providing entertainment were its central mission, when it consciously chose to become a carnival act, it would probably be Feb. 25, 2003, when MSNBC took Phil Donahue off the air because of his opposition to the calls for war in Iraq.
Donahue and Bill Moyers, the last honest men on national television, were the only two major TV news personalities who presented the viewpoints of those of us who challenged the rush to war in Iraq. General Electric and Microsoft—MSNBC’s founders and defense contractors that went on to make tremendous profits from the war—were not about to tolerate a dissenting voice. Donahue was fired, and at PBS Moyers was subjected to tremendous pressure. An internal MSNBC memo leaked to the press stated that Donahue was hurting the image of the network. He would be a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war,” the memo read. Donahue never returned to the airwaves.

The celebrity trolls who currently reign on commercial television, who bill themselves as liberal or conservative, read from the same corporate script. They spin the same court gossip. They ignore what the corporate state wants ignored. They champion what the corporate state wants championed. They do not challenge or acknowledge the structures of corporate power. Their role is to funnel viewer energy back into our dead political system—to make us believe that Democrats or Republicans are not corporate pawns. The cable shows, whose hyperbolic hosts work to make us afraid self-identified liberals or self-identified conservatives, are part of a rigged political system, one in which it is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, General Electric or ExxonMobil. These corporations, in return for the fear-based propaganda, pay the lavish salaries of celebrity news people, usually in the millions of dollars. They make their shows profitable. And when there is war these news personalities assume their “patriotic” roles as cheerleaders, as Chris Matthews—who makes an estimated $5 million a year—did, along with the other MSNBC and Fox hosts.

It does not matter that these celebrities and their guests, usually retired generals or government officials, got the war terribly wrong. Just as it does not matter that Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman were wrong on the wonders of unfettered corporate capitalism and globalization. What mattered then and what matters now is likability—known in television and advertising as the Q score—not honesty and truth. Television news celebrities are in the business of sales, not journalism. They peddle the ideology of the corporate state. And too many of us are buying.

The lie of omission is still a lie. It is what these news celebrities do not mention that exposes their complicity with corporate power. They do not speak about Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, a provision that allows the government to use the military to hold U.S. citizens and strip them of due process. They do not decry the trashing of our most basic civil liberties, allowing acts such as warrantless wiretapping and executive orders for the assassination of U.S. citizens. They do not devote significant time to climate scientists to explain the crisis that is enveloping our planet. They do not confront the reckless assault of the fossil fuel industry on the ecosystem. They very rarely produce long-form documentaries or news reports on our urban and rural poor, who have been rendered invisible, or on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or on corporate corruption on Wall Street. That is not why they are paid. They are paid to stymie meaningful debate. They are paid to discredit or ignore the nation’s most astute critics of corporatism, among them Cornel West, Medea Benjamin, Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky. They are paid to chatter mindlessly, hour after hour, filling our heads with the theater of the absurd. They play clips of their television rivals ridiculing them and ridicule their rivals in return. Television news looks as if it was lifted from Rudyard Kipling’s portrait of the Bandar-log monkeys in “The Jungle Book.” The Bandar-log, considered insane by the other animals in the jungle because of their complete self-absorption, lack of discipline and outsized vanity, chant in unison: “We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true.”

When I reached him by phone recently in New York, Donahue said of the pressure the network put on him near the end, “It evolved into an absurdity.” He continued: “We were told we had to have two conservatives for every liberal on the show. I was considered a liberal. I could have Richard Perle on alone but not Dennis Kucinich. You felt the tremendous fear corporate media had for being on an unpopular side during the ramp-up for a war. And let’s not forget that General Electric’s biggest customer at the time was Donald Rumsfeld [then the secretary of defense]. Elite media features elite power. No other voices are heard.”

Donahue spent four years after leaving MSNBC making the movie documentary “Body of War” with fellow director/producer Ellen Spiro, about the paralyzed Iraq War veteran Tomas Young. The film, which Donahue funded himself, began when he accompanied Nader to visit Young in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

“Here is this kid lying there whacked on morphine,” Donahue said. “His mother, as we are standing by the bed looking down, explained his injuries. ‘He is a T-4. The bullet came through the collarbone and exited between the shoulder blades. He is paralyzed from the nipples down.’ He was emaciated. His cheekbones were sticking out. He was as white as the sheets he was lying on. He was 24 years old. … I thought, ‘People should see this. This is awful.’ ”

Donahue noted that only a very small percentage of Americans have a close relative who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan and an even smaller number make the personal sacrifice of a Tomas Young. “Nobody sees the pain,” he said. “The war is sanitized.”

“I said, ‘Tomas, I want to make a movie that shows the pain, I want to make a movie that shows up close what war really means, but I can’t do it without your permission,’ ” Donahue remembered. “Tomas said, ‘I do too.’ ”

But once again Donahue ran into the corporate monolith: Commercial distributors proved reluctant to pick up the film. Donahue was told that the film, although it had received great critical acclaim, was too depressing and not uplifting. Distributors asked him who would go to see a film about someone in a wheelchair. Donahue managed to get openings in Chicago, Seattle, Palm Springs, New York, Washington and Boston, but the runs were painfully brief.

“I didn’t have the money to run full-page ads,” he said. “Hollywood often spends more on promotion than it does on the movie. And so we died. What happens now is that peace groups are showing it. We opened the Veterans for Peace convention in Miami. Failure is not unfamiliar to me. And yet, I am stunned at how many Americans stand mute.”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lacan Miami Symposium

We are proud to announce that:
Jacques Alain Miller
confirmed his presence at the Miami symposium.
He agreed to give the closing conference and will be part of the ongoing debates.


Monday, March 18, 2013

decaffeinated communism and honest Buddhism

“an effective economic and political alternative to framed democracies”?

Excerpt titled “Chávez: A Model for Obama?”
[…] one of the concluding sections of Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala’s book Hermeneutic Commnuism: From Heidegger to Marx, an interesting (though not flawless) book […]

As we have seen, the problem for U.S. neoliberalism is that South America’s weak communism, guided by Chavez, has become an “emergency,” that is, an effective economic and political alternative to framed democracies. The Venezuelan president has managed to help the region elect other politicians who enacted communist models in favor of the weak, and he has also attracted Western social movements unsatisfied with their left-wing reformist politicians. Fukuyama must have noticed all of this, because he recently felt compelled to express that the idea that contemporary Venezuela represents a social model superior to liberal democracy is absurd. Contrary to Fukuyama, Greg Grandin, in a recent article for The Nation (which covered the increasing U.S. militarization of South America under Obama’s administration), instead emphasizes how throughout Latin America

“a new generation of community activists continues to advance the global democracy movement that was largely derailed in the United States by 9/ 11. They provide important leadership to US environmental, indigenous, religious and human rights organizations, working to develop a comprehensive and sustainable social justice agenda. Latin America does not present a serious military danger. No country is trying to acquire a nuclear weapon or cut off access to vital resources…. Obama is popular in Latin America, and most governments, including those on the left, would have welcomed a demilitarized diplomacy that downplays terrorism and prioritizes reducing poverty and inequality-exactly the kind of “new multilateralism” Obama called for in his presidential campaign…. Unable or unwilling to make concessions on these and other issues important to Latin America-normalizing relations with Cuba, for instance, or advancing immigration reform-the White House is adopting an increasingly antagonistic posture.”

The reasons for concluding this book by directing our attention to the recent South American revolutionary examples, in particular that of Chavez, should be quite evident to anyone who is unsatisfied with framed democracies. Chavez, together with his allies, provides an alternative and a model we could follow. However, our attention has been drawn not only by South American social politics but also by the excessive interest that the Obama administration (from which we are all still waiting for innovative changes)’° is putting into improving, consolidating, and establishing the U.S. military presence in South America. The recent U.S.-supported coup in Honduras, together with the new and powerful bases being opened in Colombia, are alarming, considering that none of these states, as Grandin explains, represents any military danger to the United States. This brings to mind “Operation Condor,” that is, of those politics that in the 19708 sustained the worst South American military dictatorships.” It is clear that the U.S. obsession with this region is motivated not only by strategic interest, that is, fear of extra capitalist political and economic formations, but also by a fear of the democratic example that these communist states provide.

If “hermeneutic communism” must be proven practically we are convinced that it can be found in these Latin American democracies that have constructed themselves along the lines of the Cuban resistance. This explains the particular tenacity that characterizes U.S. foreign policy toward Venezuela, which has become the guiding force in Latin America. Although Venezuela’s exemplary social and democratic model is presented only here, at the end of our book, it constitutes the key of our thesis.

Hermeneutic communism is not a theoretical discourse aiming merely to offer philosophical perspectives on those ideas of revolution or radical transformation of society that still manage to survive in our imaginary and imaginations. Rather, it is a theory capable of both updating classical Marxism and again rendering believable the effective possibility of communism. While at a theoretical level we have argued that a revolution may be correctly thought about only outside the scientific and metaphysical horizons that still dominate classical Marxism, at the practical level such a theoretical possibility can be linked to the effective examples of “new” communism in Latin America. In sum, this theory is nothing other than a reevaluation of our Marxist inheritance, stimulated and inspired by those realities that have been outlined in the “real America” of Chavez, Morales, and Lula; it must be pointed out that although Lula had to deal with Brazil’s vast and complex history which forced him to apply the same communist ideals in a much more circumscribed way he still became an alternative voice in international affairs.

Although we are not certain, it is quite possible that Cuban resistance, after fifty years of U.S. terrorist attacks and embargos, made possible the birth of Chavez’s Bolivarian socialism and the other political transformations in Latin America. As Noam Chomsky explained:

“Cuba has become a symbol of courageous resistance to attack. Since 1959 Cuba has been under attack from the hemispheric superpower. It has been invaded, subjected to more terror than maybe the rest of the world combined-certainly any other country that I can think of-and it’s under an economic stranglehold that has been ruled completely illegal by every relevant international body It has been at the receiving end of terrorism, repression and denunciation, but it survives.”

The Cuban revolution represents a small country’s triumphant resistance to moral exploitation, through which U.S. imperialism and the Batista regime forced it to become the “brothel for American businessmen.” Just like Cuba, our weak or ghost-like communism is capable of resisting the dominant capitalist world. Belief in these effective alternative Latin American politics renders hermeneutic communism a seed of philosophical resistance to the impositions of conservative realist philosophies (and not the other way around); philosophical positions still convinced that the only possible order of the world is the capitalistic one are always prepared to exploit and dominate with a “human face,” as Žižek often emphasizes. And it is just through this human face that the excessive manipulation of the media (dependent and compromised by European pseudo-leftist parties) has rendered unthinkable the idea of political transformations through communism. Such a possibility can only be thought about in those regions where European colonial dominance is resisted by original communities, in other words, where it is possible to construct true alternatives upon the ruins of Western industrial capitalism.

Many might object that indicating this communicative spirit, which is still alive in so many regions of South America, is simply “mythologizing” the third world. But such a claim forgets that the origins of our financial crisis are also rooted in Western modernity that is, in the spirit that dominated European colonialism. This spirit involves the exploitative capitalist relation with natural resources and also a wider issue that concerns general culture and the way we relate to others. Although Chinese or Indian societies could also function as a model for the West, what we see in them now are not new forms of capitalism, socialism, or communism but rather the incarnation of Max Weber’s “iron cage of capitalism.” If these societies have assimilated and rendered neoliberal practices more effectively than the West, it is not because they have applied a better method but because they function within much more rigid frames. Without venturing into a comparative anthropological analysis of different cultural models, South American socialism appears to be the realm in which a possible alternative to the dominant capitalist vision of the world can take place, because it is not framed within a disciplinary or, as we have called it throughout this book, metaphysical vision of the world.

The idea that has guided us throughout this text is rigorously materialistic: the structural changes we ascertain in South American societies are inseparable from a collective culture and structure that are very different from the one that characterizes the West. But thinking that this difference is only an expression of underdevelopment or the incomplete assimilation of modernity would be a prejudiced result of colonial beliefs. Regardless of its actuality today; it is the postmodern thinking of Lyotard, Derrida, and others that liberated us from those modem dogmas that imposed the Western form of development on “underdeveloped” populations. If international institutions such as the IMF continue to conceive of their aid to the third world as following just this idea of development, the South American alternative shakes up this modern, Eurocentric frame.

The democratically elected governments of South America are also an indication of how Western democracies have submitted to those private interests without which politicians could not finance their political campaigns. The intention of our book, though it explores the status of communism, is also to provoke a reflection on the value of democracy as it is practiced in the West. We should stop considering as scandalous the idea that a revolution can occur without a previous authorization by the citizens as expressed in a referendum; after all, no modem constitution was ever born “democratically” starting with that of the United States, whose constitution was drafted by a group of progressive intellectuals.  Although it is a tricky argument, one should ask oneself whether, today U.S. citizens are actually freer than Cubans. After all, the freedoms that Cubans have missed in these recent years are not constitutional but rather depend on the limitations imposed on their economy by years of U.S. embargo. This is why progressive American public figures such as Michael Moore, Oliver Stone, and Noam Chomsky have repeatedly emphasized how the effective possibilities of a fair life are all in favor of Cubans today. Although these South American governments have not yet betrayed parliamentary democracy we are convinced that they ought to be defended even if eventually they do have to violate these rules. As Mao said: “A revolution is not a dinner party or writing an essay or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another?”

We do not know how the relationship between the armed capitalism of framed democracies and Latin American governments will develop, but we must all hope it will not become a violent conflict, even though the United States seems to countenance this option. The problem we must ask ourselves at the end of this book, which tries to regain faith in a radical transformation of our current order, is well summarized in Mao’s affirmation: “a revolution is not a dinner party.” Regardless of our admiration for a vision of history that progressively excludes violence, we are not very hopeful, as the recent social, economic, and military levels of inequality caused by capitalism continue to increase, threatening any project of social transformation.

History as the dialectical conflict of authorities, classes, or entire populations, has not ended. Neither has the universal proletarianization (upon which Marx made the communist revolution depend) been exorcised by the well-being spread by globalization, because globalization has not spread wealth. With the pretext of possible terrorist attacks, the intensification of control will end by forcing us to live in the “imprisoned” world that Nietzsche called “accomplished nihilism”: a world where in order to survive as human beings we must become übermensch, that is, individuals capable of constructing our own alternative interpretation of the world instead of submitting to the official truths. This is also why the bisheriger Mensch, “the man so far,” is the man of modernity who needs to emerge from his enslavement to metaphysics in order to encounter other cultures of the world and propose alternative ways of life.

Contrary to metaphysical conservative realism, hermeneutic communism allows other cultures to suggest different visions of the world, visions not yet framed within the logic of production, profit, and dominion. Although the revolt of colonial populations is still largely dominated by Western capitalism, these revolts are increasingly aware of the possibility of becoming a cultural revolt rather than a method for an equal redistribution of wealth. While European modernity claimed to be the bearer of universal values and therefore viewed with suspicion any demand from individual communities or identity populations, today we cannot believe anymore in the necessity of say international proletarianism, that is, of a universal value. The world will not cease to be alienated by finding its identity but rather by being open to the multiplicity of identities. Nevertheless, if in order to construct such a world we must “unite all the proletarians of all the world,” then it will eventually become necessary to plan the foundation of a Fifth International, as Chavez has recently suggested.” While we also endorse Chavez’s suggestion, the communist project must always bear in mind its hermeneutic inspiration against all those metaphysical temptations and the horrors of those universalisms that have shed blood throughout the world.

Unfortunately hermeneutic communism cannot assure peaceful existence, dialogue, or a tranquil life, because this “normal” realm already belongs to the winners within framed democracies. In these democracies, the weak have been discharged so that the winners may preserve a life without alterations; this, after all, must be why the word “stability” or “bipartisanship” is so often used by Obama and other presidents in international and domestic summits. But, as the recent economic crisis has demonstrated, the so-called stable world is not stable at all. As this instability increases, so do the possibilities of world revolution, a revolution that hermeneutic communism is not waiting for at the border of history but rather is trying (paradoxically) to avoid. If we prefer to circumvent such revolution, it is not because we do not believe in the necessity of an alternative but rather because the powers of armed capitalism are too powerful both within framed democracies and in its discharge. As we have seen above, these same territories at the margins of framed democracies are also part of the mechanism of armed capitalism and are therefore subjected to what Danilo Zolo calls “humanitarian wars” in order to guarantee stability.

As we indicated in chapter 3, hermeneutics is not an assessment of tradition but most of all an ontology of the event, a philosophy of instability. In this context, communism’s dialectical conception of history is not dominated, as in the metaphysical systems, by the moment of conciliation but rather by the awareness that Being as event continuously questions again the provisional conciliations already achieved. As a dialectic theory hermeneutic communism does not consider itself the bearer of metaphysical truths or a metaphysics of history as conflicts and clashes. Instead, it is convinced that in the current situation of increasing universalization, lack of emergency and the impossibility of revolution, philosophy has the task of intensifying the consciousness of conflict, even though everything (“stability” cultural “values,” and analytic philosophy’s “realism”) seems to prove it wrong.

In sum, hermeneutic communism proposes an effective conception of existence for those who do not wish to be enslaved in and by a world of total organization. Although we are not thinking about the professional revolutionary figure as the only possibility for authentic existence, we are not going to exclude that such an idea is interesting. Heidegger’s thesis, according to which existence is a thrown project, is the only one we manage to suggest as an alternative to the pure static discipline of the politics of descriptions, founded on dominion in all its forms. That the transformation of the world cannot be projected in the form of a violent engagement, which would only provoke increased repression, makes much more difficult the goal of resistance and opposition and therefore communism. After all, great revolutions of the past, such as the Russian and Chinese revolutions, seem today like events that had to adopt the arms of their enemies, leading to regimes as violent and repressive as the ones that they had set out to destroy But we do not accept the desperate vision of Sartre in his Critique of Dialectical Reason, according to whom any form of renovation, after the great experience of “groups in fusion,” must fall again into the routine of dominion, in a triumph that he regarded as “practico-inert.”

Today the global integration of the world offers different forms of resistance than the armed revolts of the past. Examples of nonviolent methods, from Gandhi to the “pressure” exerted by the simple existence of the communist democracies of Chavez and Lula, may operate to limit the current dominion of the great empire of capitalism. These are the most productive alternatives at our disposal today Other forms of passive resistance, such as boycotts, strikes, and other manifestations against oppressive institutions, may be effective, but only if actual masses of citizens take part, as in Latin America.” These mass movements might avoid falling back again into the practico-inert, which is the natural consequence of those revolutions entrusted to small and inevitably violent avant-garde intellectuals, that is, those who have only described the world in various ways. The moment now has arrived to interpret the world.

government of, for, and by the people


We all know that, in today’s global capitalism with its spectacular but deeply uneven development, there are more and more people who are systematically excluded from active participation in social and political life. The explosive growth of slums in the last decades, especially in the Third World megalopolises from favelas in Mexico City and other Latin American capitals through Africa (Lagos, Chad) to India, China, Philippines and Indonesia, is perhaps the crucial geopolitical event of our times. Since, sometime very soon (or maybe, given the imprecision of the Third World censuses, it already happened), the urban population of the earth will outnumber the rural population, and since slum inhabitants will compose the majority of the urban population, we are in no way dealing with a marginal phenomenon.

These large groups  are of course one of the favored objects of humanitarian care and charity for the liberal elites – recall emblematic images like the one of Bill Gates embracing a crippled Indian child. We are constantly solicited to forget our ideological divisions and do something about it – even when we go to Starbucks for a cup of coffee, we learn that we already are doing something, that a part of the price we pay goes for Guatemala children or whatever.

But Chávez saw that this is not enough. He saw the contours of a new apartheid on the horizon. He saw what was once class struggle re-emerging in the guise of new and  even stronger divisions. And he did something here. He was the first who not only “took care of the poor” in the old populist Peronist style, to speak for them, but seriously put all his energy into awakening them and effectively mobilizing them as active and autonomous political agents. He saw clearly that, without their inclusion, our societies will gradually approach a state of permanent civil war. Remember the immortal line from Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, when Kane, accused of speaking for the underprivileged against his own class, answers: “If I don’t defend the interests of the underprivileged, somebody else will – maybe somebody without any money or any property and that would be too bad.” This “somebody else” was Chávez.

So while we hear the prattle about Chávez’s “ambiguous legacy,” about how he “divided his nation,” when we expose him to an often deserved criticism, let us not forget what it all was about. It was simply about the people, about the government of, for, and by the people. All the mess was the mess created by the difficulty of realizing such a government. With all his theatrical rhetoric, in this Chávez was sincere, he really meant it. His failures were ours.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Porto Alegre


World War G

Does it live in a garden?

Is it really fast?

Does it live on the great plains of Africa?

What is goin' on?

How do we know they're coming?
They're coming.

You're asking me to leave my family.
Don't pretend you're not well-suited for the job...

There weren't enough bullets to kill all of them...

Tell the kids I'm coming back...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Seminário "Debates Capitais" - Filósofo Slavoj Zizek from Lumiere on Vimeo.

World-renowned philosopher Zizek to teach at Seoul's Kyunghee Univ.

SEOUL, March 11 (Yonhap) -- Slavoj Zizek, a world-renowned philosopher and cultural critic, will teach students and conduct research activities at Seoul's Kyunghee University, school officials said Monday.

   The philosopher from Slovenia will become a professor for the School of Global Communication at Kyunghee's College of Foreign Language and Literature on July 1, according to the school's personnel committee.

   Zizek will make a one-year contract under the school's Eminent Scholar program where the university invites outstanding researchers to support their research activities while staying abroad, it added.

Visiting South Korea in July, he will meet students through special lectures during the school's international summer school. He then plans to conduct a joint research with Kyunghee's English literature professor Lee Taek-kwang, according to the school.
In September, the social theorist will also meet with the public here via an open lecture about capitalism and ideology, while planning to hold an annual symposium on the communist ideology in South Korea.

   "We expect his diverse activities engaging in not only our students and faculty members, but the general public. After all, he is well known not only for his academic achievements but also for his active communication with the people," said a school official. "We are actively reviewing an option to renew his contract."

   Zizek, influenced by Jacques Lacan, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx in terms of his critical-intellectual perspective, earned global recognition after his first book in English titled "The Sublime Object of Ideology" published in 1989. As one of the world's most confrontational intellectuals of the time, he now serves as a senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and a professor at the European Graduate School.

   He visited South Korea last June to give a lecture to students, traveled to the demilitarized zone and Imjingak pavilion near the border with North Korea, and met with members of the labor union at the country's smallest carmaker Ssangyong Motor Co. while they were on strike.

the name of a problem

“Communism is today not the name of a solution but the name of a problem: the problem of the commons in all its dimensions – the commons of nature as the substance of our life, the problem of our biogenetic commons, the problem of our cultural commons (‘intellectual property’), and, last but not least, the problem of the commons as that universal space of humanity from which no one should be excluded. Whatever the solution might be, it will have to solve this problem.”
– Žižek, “Why the Idea and Why Communism?”

“And in the Marxian perspective, utopian socialism consists in the very belief that a society is possible in which the relations of exchange are universalized and production for the market predominates, but workers themselves none the less remain proprietors of their means of production and are therefore not exploited – in short, ‘utopian’ conveys a belief in the possibility of a universality without its symptom, without the point of exception functioning as its internal negation.”
– Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, p. 23

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

By Liz Ferguson
On the web site, Yosef Brody writes:  “(Zizek’s) main thesis is that ideology in its most powerful form is hidden from the view of the person who submits to it. Once it can be clearly perceived it effectively loses its power of social control; obversely, to believe oneself to be non-ideological is actually equivalent to being driven primarily by ideology.”
“No matter which orthodoxy we may live under, Zizek explains, we usually enjoy our ideology, and that is part of its function. Paradoxically, it hurts to step outside of it and examine it critically; by default we tend to resist seeing the world from any angle other than the one fed to us.”
(Hence the presentation of the scene from John Carpenter’s film They Live, in which the hero and his best friend have a knock-down-drag-out fight because the friend is unwilling to try on the truth-revealing sunglasses for even a moment.)
James Wilson, producer of The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, told Screen Daily: “The film is undercut by a witty and obscene sense of humour which is his alchemy. He isn’t a mad professor, he is compelling. When he does his analysis he is thinking as he does it. Sophie has an idea of what she wants him to talk about but it is quite ad hoc. He was inspired by things on set sometimes.”
“He is constructing ideas as he talks. He builds to incredible observations which become like a dramatic performance. It’s not pre-planned but has intellectual drama which he ties together in a brilliant way. From the Bible, to Donald Rumsfeld, to the London riots, to A Clockwork Orange, it all comes together like a speech in a great play.”
“This is a film about thinking. The film essay is a really exciting and underexplored form. This should be like a workout for your brain, a mind-gym. This is a film about the excitement of thinking, like the best lecture you ever went to.”
In a Skype interview with Scott Macaulay of Filmmaker Magazine, director Sophie Fiennes said: “Cinema is a great tool to explore ideology, because what [Zizek] calls ideology goes much further than the assumption of ideology as being some sort of explicit text, like a religious or political text that you’re meant to follow. It’s more, as Zizek says in the Taxi Driver sequence, that ideology is how we fill in the gaps where things can’t be explained, where we’re trying to make something feel like it has meaning in our lives. Fantasy obviously connects to dream, [and the film is about] how that holds together the ways in which we reason our place in society. . .”
“It’s all about belief, and so there are crossovers between [cultural theory] and cinema, which is also the art of suspending disbelief and believing in society. . .”
“Ideologies are kind of dreams, even at the most extreme, explicit, crude levels, like Nazism, which is a dream of a cohesive Germany without this disturbing element.”
BTW: Don’t be in a rush to leave before the credits are over, or you’ll miss something funny.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Saturday, March 9, 2013


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Žižek review: Going ‘beyond Marx’ - or regressing?

Callum Williamson reviews: Slavoj Žižek, 'The year of dreaming dangerously'. Verso, 2012, pp142, £7.99

2011 was a year in which numerous ‘horizontal’ movements, from Oakland to Madrid, entered the political stage. Žižek is, initially, frank about the weaknesses of these movements, pointing out that they have now died down and that their desire to be ‘apolitical’ means they risk becoming coopted into a reformist project or appropriated by forces of reaction. He points out that an “honest fascist” could agree with almost all of the demands of the ‘indignados’ (p79). For him “It is here that we encounter the fatal weakness of the current protests. They express an authentic rage that remains unable to transform itself into even a minimal positive programme for social change” (p78). Then there is, of course, the issue of the organisational forms of these protests - forms that are clearly inadequate for the tasks of social revolution. Žižek stresses the need for revolutionary movements to create new forms of organisation and discipline.

Bizarrely, he then proceeds to claim that nonetheless “what should be resisted at this stage is any hasty translation of the energy of the protests into a set of concrete demands”, which calls on the movements to advance a “minimal positive programme” (p78) - the lack of which was just a few pages earlier described as the biggest weakness of those movements. The author goes on to say that the key “insights” of Occupy are that it identifies that it is the economic system itself that needs to be addressed; and that a new kind of democracy is needed to cope with developments in global capitalism (p87). Whether these were really the insights of Occupy is highly debateable, but for Žižek they point towards radical conclusions: “Is there a name for this reinvented democracy beyond the multi-party representational system? There is indeed: the dictatorship of the proletariat” (p88). What is missing is any indication of how exactly we get from protest to power.

The book arrives at the point where the crucial question is raised: what must revolutionaries do now? The events of 2011 are meant to be “fragments of a utopian future that lies dormant in the present” (p128). He continues: “What is needed, then, is a delicate balance between reading the signs from the (hypothetical communist) future and maintaining the radical openness of that future” (pp128-29). There are comparisons then between a communist in our times analysing events and a Christian waiting for god to perform miracles. But, while communists are acting as political monks, Žižek adds that well placed, “moderate” demands can affect dramatic systemic change (p134). What he advocates in practical terms seems to be half economism and half withdrawal to a position of political spectator.