Saturday 21 June 2008

Zizek for EU President!

Brother T took some time out from the class struggle in milton keynes on friday to listen intellectual superstar, terrorist and provocateur Slavoj Zizek speak at Birkbeck. The advertised meeting was on 'the materialist reversal of Marx in Hegel', but according to the report, Zizek instead had a muse about the European Union and the Lisbon Treaty. See, I told you he was a terrorist. Zizek is a complex figure and I don't know his work particularly well, so I defer to T and others who may wish to add their observations in the comments box.

Slavoj Zizek is alive! His oeuvre is all encompassing of philosophy, literary and cultural studies, scattered with references to pop-culture (The Matrix, The Sound of Music, Mel Gibson's conspiranoia, etc. and cannot fail to evoke one's imagination. How many other contemporary intellectuals generate such a vast interest that they've spawned a peer-reviewed journal in their honour? He reads, steals and borrows from a whole array of scholars but it is his intimate relationship with Lacan that is of most interest to me. 

Lacan's own perverse technique for allowing the limping of the truth is to engage with "midspeak": a technique that realises the truth can only ever be half-spoken. Marcuse in One-Dimensional Man asserts that ours is the language of sales and marketing and perhaps this is best encapsulated by Zizek in his introduction to Welcome to the Desert of the Real.

In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic, a German worker gets a job in Siberia; aware of how all mail will be read by the censors, he tells his friends: 'Let's establish a code: if a letter you get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it's true; if it's written in red ink, it's false.' After a month, his friends get the first letter, written in blue ink: 'Everything is wonderful here: the shops are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, cinemas show films from the West, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair — the only thing you can't get is red ink. In our liberal democracy have (or at least we are told we have) all the freedoms we could ever wish for and are free to raise our voice at the ballot box. Zizek contests this fallacy by advancing that the only thing we are missing is the red ink: we feel free because we lack the very freedom to articulate our unfreedom.

So what is to be done? Mikhail Bakhtin points out the most apt way of restructuring prevailing values is to make them the topic of the discourse. i.e. To discuss them. But no one but a few (allegedly) archaic Marxists refer to capitalism any more. Zizek's recent offerings go some way to redressing this, such as his Violence and In Defence of Lost Causes.

Zizek commenced with an overview of the recent Irish "no" vote to the Lisbon treaty and how the EU is likely to grapple with this. I expected Zizek, who ran for president in Slovenia's first election in 1990, to damn the EU bureaucracy for its democratic deficit and attempt to push the treaty through but instead he offered to throw his hat in the ring. His lack of resistance surprised me. He advised that what was to follow was going to present a serious philosophical paper and that he would leave out the crude jokes and pop-culture references. I would contest that he was only partially right: the paper was more theologically as opposed to philosophically informed. Zizek's recent co-conspirator, the passionate Christian, Alain Badiou has a lot to answer to. What would Lacan say?

Does the Lacanian Left exist? Perhaps it was in a moment of Revolutionary Becoming. Now it seems to be influenced by bourgeois values and adopting an ethico-religious stance. Zizek seems to be grappling with his own demons: is he a representation of the commodification of a space formerly reserved for intellectual endeavours or a "serious" theologian? If this trend is to continue it might be slightly more difficult for Verso, his "regular publishers", to tempt me with his next offering.


anon said...

I find Zizek very interesting.

I heard that he was invited to speak at the SWP summer school Marxism this year (like he did in 2007) then was dis-invited after he described Hamas as 'fascists'.

Phil said...

I would find that surprising tbh. The SWP routinely invites people to their right onto platforms to debate their ideas. Some of these are bound to sharply disagree about Middle Eastern politics and use turns of phrase most socialists would avoid. So if Zizek was disinvited, I'd doubt this was the reason why - unless someone has evidence to the contrary?

Anonymous said...

I find Zizek massively entertaining. Although I don't understand the Lacanian stuff, and doubt if I ever will... but he's pretty good on Hitchcock.

Will said...

"The SWP routinely invites people to their right onto platforms to debate their ideas."

And describing Hamas as fascist counts as being right wing does it!

Fuck me. You are deranged.

Phil said...

Two points, Will.

First, Zizek is to the SWP's right because of his politics, not because of his opinion of Hamas. I thought anyone with a tenuous grasp on reality could understand this.

Second, you're an idiot. And a joke to boot. Edited someone else's blog posts recently?

Naadir Jeewa said...

Zizek has previously called the SWP out for having "no positive political programme" (in the 2005 masterclasses).

Thought that Zizek's rehabilitation of representation was weak here, and Costas Douzinas didn't seem too impressed.

Prefer Latour's simple conception of dingpolitik as involving two different representations - the representation of humans, and the representation of non-humans (or, matters of concern). Any attempt to argue that politics can do away with representation immediately fails.