“First as Tragedy, Then as Farce,” Slavoj Zizek, 2009This is one of Zizek’s shorter books - he goes light on the Lacan/Freud and the Hegel/Kant. His books are sort of seminars, where the professor rambles around the stage for hours, riffing on various ideas, and you get your gold pan out and glean for nuggets. However, sometimes he goes back to Philosophy 5.0:
“Badiou’s ‘subtraction,” like Hegel’s Aufhbung, contains three different layers of meaning: (1) to withdraw, disconnect; (2) to reduce the complexity of the situation to its minimal difference; (3) to destroy the existing order. As in Hegel, the solution is not to differentiate the three meanings (eventually proposing a specific term for each of them), but to grasp subtraction as the unity of its three dimensions: one should withdraw from being immersed in a situation in such a way that the withdrawal renders visible the ‘minimal difference” sustaining the situation’s multiplicity, and thereby causes its disintegration, just as the withdrawal of a single card from a house of cards causes the collapse of the entire edifice.”
OK, you can stop laughing now. I think that could have been said in a simpler manner, but we are not philosophers.
This book actually builds to a somewhat unique proposition, which is not always normal for a Zizek book. That we act “As If” (Zizek always capitalizes the Important parts…) economic and environmental collapse were Actually going to happen, and not act ‘as if’ we had time to watch it happen. You know, the famous phrase, ‘Well, let’s wait and see." The paralysis of the will afflicting the Left in most parts of the advanced capitalist nations (and most impoverished ones, but not all) is a prime enemy. Zizek proposes what could be termed a communist / ‘voluntarist’ solution, or perhaps a far-seeing solution – to advocate, plan and propose as if these developing situations are NOT mirages. Communists are children of the future, not children of the present (as are the liberals) and not children of the past (as are the conservatives.) And as such, they have a unique ability to see forward. In other words, the people who understand that these events will occur, and actually understand they are already occurring, will be the ones who survive.As Michael Ruppert says in the film “Collapse” about the people on a ship like the Titanic: There are three kinds of people on this ship: 1, the deer-in-the-headlights crowd; 2, the let’s do something to save ourselves crowd; 3, and the ‘nothings going to happen, so lets have a Martini’ crowd. The bourgeoisie and the Right are in the last group. The helpless liberals, centrists and apoliticals are in the first group. Because liberals don’t actually believe that the economy or the environment ARE going to significantly change. Most rooted, proletarian people are in the middle group. And that is the group that will take action.
Zizek puts it this way, “Critical Leftists have hitherto only succeeded in soiling those in power; whereas the real point is to castrate them…” and “Liberal-democratic moralistic blackmail is over…our side no longer has to go on apologizing. The other side had better start.” Zizek instead advocates a ruthless undermining of bourgeois ideology, which is the majority of this book. He quotes Marx about the ‘historicism’ of bourgeois ideology, which posits all other social systems as limited and historical, while capital will last forever. Zizek points out that capitalism ‘de-totalizes meaning’ – meaning it renders critical thought useless, and instead celebrates ‘efficiency’ alone. Another Zizek: “Who needs direct repression when you can convince the chicken to walk right into the slaughter-house?” (Apologies to the meat-eaters.) The ‘self-propelling circulation of Capital is the ultimate REAL in human life,’ according to him, and ‘money’ now the fifth element, after fire, water, earth and air. Zizek: The ‘denial of ideology only provides the …proof that we are more than ever embedded in ideology.’
Of course, the key question is, what are the limits of ideology? And ultimately, there are no ‘limits’ - only a counter-ideology based on reality. Zizek believes that advocacy of Communism is on the agenda, not ‘socialism’ (which he now no longer believes reflects the ‘lower phase of communism’) or liberal democracy, which has failed. He discusses Berlusconi as the ultimate capitalist bourgeois-democratic fraud who yet retains power, and the parallel commodification of environmental or social concerns as safety valves.
Zizek also opposes Muslim movements that seem ‘anti-imperialist’ (and are seen that way by certain Leftists) because they ultimately oppose Enlightenment values, and celebrate obscurantism and repression. Yet at the same time, they can reflect class tensions, absent an active Left (which has been mostly killed…) such as in Afghanistan. In this context he highlights anti-religious Middle-Eastern movements, like the Qarmatians, a Bahraini secular, communist group that seized the Black Stone from Mecca, signaling the end of the “Law” many years ago. Their rise was precipitated by a slave rebellion in the Basra marshes by the Zanji – 500,000 slaves over 15 years - that preached the radical egalitarianism of the Kharijites in the face of Islamic slave ideology.
Zizek understands that Obama will become “Bush with a Human Face,” but nevertheless does not denigrate the excitement of millions upon his election, as if some kind of corner had been turned. He also refers to Kant’s excitement concerning the French Revolution, and compares the two. This excitement reflects the true liberationist feelings of the majority of people when tyrannies fall, as if a weight had fallen from the head of the human race. Zizek goes back to his concentration on the Haitian revolution, which took the slogans of the French Revolution at good coin, and freed that island from colonialism and slavery in one fell swoop. The Haitian rebel army sang the Marseilles upon the approach of Napoleon’s troops, thus flinging the revolutionary song into the face of the now counter-revolutionary force. However, because the Haitians could not continue the revolution, a black landed-aristocracy grew up to control the island – an aristocracy which eventually made peace with French and then U.S. imperialism.
Zizek ends by again repeating that, “We are the ones we have been waiting for” and “There is no big Other to rely on” and “We must begin from the beginning’ again.
And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, April 28, 2011