Slavoj Zizek recently gave a public lecture to address his critics at the Birbeck Institute of Humanities on the Feb. 28, 2013. You can listen to the whole thing here via Backdoor Broadcasting.
Here are some highlights:
Zizek is Lazy
“I’m sorry to tell you, but I wouldn’t like to live in a state of permanent participation and engagement is going on and so on. I would much prefer to be a passive citizen.”
In the lecture, Zizek criticizes the current emancipatory movements such as Occupy and Tahrir Square and claims that they buy into the anti-hierarchical nature of capital through their celebration of rhizomatic structures. These mechanisms of diffused control are just as oppressive, but are spread within the discourse of post-modernism and its fragmentation of the universality of capitalism. Zizek goes on to bemoan that the revolution will take way too much effort.
“The large majority of people, I am not here presenting the version of 99% of people are idiots, I am including myself in this majority, wants to be passive and just rely on an efficient state apparatus. I’m sorry to tell you, but I wouldn’t like to live in a state of permanent participation and engagement is going on and so on. I would much prefer to be a passive citizen, there is a machinery of State or social services which smoothly does its work, and the less I know about it, all the better. I don’t despise ordinary people for it.”
Rather, our project should be the creation of a proper State apparatus over this extended rhizomatic political engagement. This, he claims, is proven by the fact that this ecstatic moment is always followed by a state recuperation where the political actors become satisfied with a political machine which functions efficiently enough to survive. After this short statement of his views at the time, he then addresses other models.
Alain Badiou: Frenemy
“He published a short book, and for this I will never forgive him.”
He then proceeds to address Badiou’s response, which is to call for a new master. This, for Badiou, is the way to break the spell of capitalism. Zizek specifically says,
“I admire my friend/enemy Alain Badiou that he made this step, but I am not ready to follow him here. Namely, there is something nonetheless wrong in what he did. This is my first reply to critics; my first critic here is my best friend Alain Badiou. …He published a short book, and for this I will never forgive him, together with Elizabeth Roudinesco. A dialogue where, it’s quite shocking, the idea is that this Deleuzian horizontal networking is the way…the only way to break the spell of bourgeois ideology is with a new master. The left should reinvent the master.”
This is not a return to a previous era, but rather a current path of the subject’s fidelity to truth. This truth-seeking subject is, of course, differentiated from the animal desires of the base. The authority of the new master is necessary to continue this path. Zizek maintains that this is an attempt to articulate a challenge to the post-modern subject, but fails as it attempts to return to a symbolic authority which simply cannot be returned to. Rather, he maintains, we can only talk serious about emancipatory politics once we have renounced the master.
Gandhi Was More Violent Than Stalin, Sort Of
“What was wrong in the Communist project, in the way it was formulated in the 20th Century, what went wrong that it had to take recourse to violence?”
Next, he addresses the protestations of those such as Simon Critchley, who accuses him of glorifying violence. The accusations, as he articulates them, are that he uses bombastic language to argue obvious points. He uses the example of criticisms of his passage on violence, particularly, that Hitler was not too violent, but rather not violent enough and that Ghandi was more violent. This, he says, is simply the idea that violence is radical social upheaval. He continues by refuting the leftist response to the Soviet Union’s policies, which is that they forgot about democracy. Rather, he responds, the violence of the Soviet Union was flawed because it implied its own impotence. This is particularly proven with the recent upheavals of post-Marxism on the French scene:
“One should reject claims that 20th century Communism used too much excessive, murderous violence, and that we should find ways not to fall into this trap once again. In a way this is true, I claim it’s not the right way to approach what went wrong with 20th Century communism…. It is not to say as some naïve Marxists say… some of these showed to me a book with the quote by Tariq Ali, the book published 1 year after the conference on Communism…. The tragedy of communism was that they forgot about democracy. Of course, it was terrifying, the recourse to violence, to resolve it is not to directly say is that we, what, should prohibit such violence? No! What was wrong in the Communist project, in the way it was formulated in the 20th Century, what went wrong that it had to take recourse to violence?”
Its purges showed it’s impossibility as a means of rule. This, he believes, is demonstrated by the Cultural Revolution in China, and the actions of the Red Guard, which demonstrated their impotence against the weight of tradition by their violent destruction.
Fuck You Walter Mignolo*
“Okay, fuck you, who are these bloody much more interesting intellectuals…? Let’s say I was not overly impressed.”
*The trolling of Slavoj Zizek is not representative of our views here at Critical-Theory.
He proceeds to go on an extended spiel about his debate with Walter Mignolo, who he respectfully characterized with the quote “Does he sound this stupid in real life?” Mignolo responded to an article on Zizek in Al Jazeera by Santiago Zabala with the challenge that not only was Zizek Eurocentric, but that non-European thought was more valuable in response to the decolonial struggles which are the center of today’s discussion, in Mignolo’s opinion. While he acknowledges the value of Zizek’s Communism, he argues that his philosophical perspective is not relevant to these struggles. Rather, what we should embrace is a multiplicity of local solutions to capitalism rather than treating the communist struggle as an abstract and universal one, which tends to recreate oppression.
He uses his invocation of Franz Fanon as the launching point for continuing his discussion of this topic, particularly Mignolo’s paragraph:
“When one says Eurocentrism, every self-respecting decolonial intellectual has not as violent a reaction as Joseph Goebbels had to culture – to reach for a gun, hurling accusations of proto-fascist Eurocentrist cultural imperialism.
A self-respecting decolonial intellectual will reach instead to Frantz Fanon: “Now, comrades, now is the time to decide to change sides. We must shake off the great mantle of night, which has enveloped us, and reach, for the light. The new day, which is dawning, must find us determined, enlightened and resolute. So, my brothers, how could we fail to understand that we have better things to do than follow that Europe’s footstep?”
Zizek then responds to the valorization of these new thinkers.
“Okay, fuck you, who are these bloody much more interesting intellectuals…? Let’s say I was not overly impressed. [Mignolo references] “My good friend Wang Hui”, I wouldn’t exactly quote him as a model of non-European authentic tradition because he, I’m on very good terms with him, he recently sent me a text on China and Modernization where he does an operation I find deeply problematic. He tries to be, I am not kidding, what I would have called, who was the bad guy who did free-market economy, Milton Freidman…left Friedman. What he tries to do is oppose real just market exchange and its capitalist distortion through monopoly and so on. There is a true honest market exchange. He explicitly positively quotes Friedman. And then there are distortions which he, in a typical non-Marxist way, he sees the causes of these distortions not in economic relations themselves but in social pathologies.”
Wang Hui, one of the decolonial intellectuals Mignolo specifically valorizes, responds to modernization in China in a way which betrays a social focus which belies the systemic problems of capitalism. Hui defines the problem of capitalism not as a fundamentally exploitative system, but rather a good system perverted by monopolistic activities. This, for Zizek, exemplifies the problematic approach of Mignolo, which, in fragmenting the solution, fragments the problem. Rather, what we require, for Zizek, to respond to Capitalism is an understanding of its universality. He then brings in his own reading of Fanon to demonstrate this point, which is that Fanon embraced the necessary, material violence to engage in the practice of decolonization, using a Lacanian and Hegelian basis for thought, which goes a long way to endear him to Zizek.
“Now let’s go back to Mignolo, what Mignolo proposes is thus a version of Baudrillard’s battle cry…”Forget Foucault”….Forget Europe we have better things to do than deal with European philosophy, better things than endlessly deconstructing. He explicitly includes deconstruction. This is endless narcissistic self-probing, [and] we should simply step out. The irony here is that this battle cry did not hold for Fanon himself, who dealt intensively [with European philosophy] and was proud of it. The first obscenity seems to me how dare he to quote Fanon! Fanon is my hero, that’s why I defend him against soft guys like Homi Bhabha, who wrote long texts trying to neutralize, normalize Fanon. No, he didn’t really mean it, with killing and violence; he meant some sublime gesture where there is no blood and nobody is really hurt and so on. Let’s face it, Fanon dealt extensively with Hegel, psychoanalysis, Sartre, even Lacan. My third reaction would have been: When I read lines like Mignolo’s, I reach not for the gun but for Fanon.”
He proceeds to then quote Fanon as concluding in favor of reaching towards a European-based philosophical perspective as the basis for universalized action, and leaving behind a specifically African (or decolonial) obligation.
“I am a man and what I have to recapture is the whole past of the world, I am not responsible only for the slavery involved in Santo Domingo, every time man has contributed to the victory of the dignity of the spirit, every time a man has said no to an attempt to subjugate his fellows, I have felt solidarity with his act. In no way does my basic vocation have to be drawn from the past of peoples of color. In no way do I have to dedicate myself to reviving some black civilization unjustly ignored. I will not make myself the man of any past. My black skin is not a repository for specific values. Haven’t I got better things to do on this earth than avenge the blacks of the 17th century?
I as a man of color do not have the right to hope that in the white man there will be a crystallization of guilt towards the past of my race. I as a man of color do not have the right of stamping down the pride of my former master. I have neither the right nor the duty to demand reparations for my subjugated ancestors. There is no black mission. There is no white burden. I do not want to be victim to the rules of a black world. Am I going to ask this white man to answer for the slave traders of the 17th century? Am I going to try by every means available to cause guilt to burgeon in their souls? I am not a slave to slavery that dehumanized my ancestors. It would be of enormous interest to discover a black literature or architecture from the 3rd century B.C, we would be overjoyed to learn of the existence of a correspondence between some black philosopher and Plato, but we can absolutely not see how this fact would change the lives of 8 year old kids working the cane fields of Martinique or Guadeloupe. I find myself in the world and I recognize I have one right alone: of demanding human behavior from the other.”
Rather, he responds finally, all possible solutions are grounded in the problem being fundamentally caused by capitalism and not fragmented colonial practices. He demonstrates this point in his response to a South Asian critic who argued that Zizek’s privileging of English was a mode of oppression. Zizek then brings in Lacan and his theory of the symbolic to show that any use of language is itself a form of oppression, and the constant use of whatever language the speaker would prefer would in fact be just as or even more oppressive. He concludes this section with a reference to Malcolm X, whose X at the end of his name not only represented the fundamental wound of chattel slavery, but the universalizing possibility of Islam. He spends the rest of the time making dirty Jesus jokes and concluding the presentation.
Author: Sir Giggleton