and i don’t care about the little u’s above zizek’s name.

“Resistance is Surrender”

zizek_moma_lrg.jpgzizek_moma_lrg.jpg

Yah, and War is Peace, etc. Douchebag!

It seems Kugelmass is the only libeleftral academic blogger thus far willing to call a spade a spade, though he’s still pretty nice about it. Everyone else seems to be caught in the colorful hypnotic pinwheel of the Slovenian Mad Dog’s rhetorical spasms.

In the LRB, Slavoj Zizek continues his ka-ray-zee phallic assault on ‘liberal piety,’ ‘multiculturalism,’ etc., though lately the reserve army of pussies has apparently migrated to The Left. The ‘Hollywood Left.’ The ‘Academic Left.’ The ‘Populist Left.’ The slogans have changed accordingly: instead of sampling 1968’s ‘be realistic! demand the impossible!’ in order to point poor meek liberal pragmatists toward the deliverance a of purely discursive ‘total revolt,’ the fantasy of state seizure he ‘ironically’ attributed to The Left, he has now dialectically realized that the The Left could use a few push-ups as well.

The really atrocious thing is the fact-free horrorification of Chavez, for which chabert reliably gives him a good spanking here.

This is of course not the first time Chavez has come up:

Many people sympathetic to the Hugo Chavez’ regime in Venezuela like to oppose Chavez’ flamboyant and sometimes clownish caudillo style to the vast popular movement of the self-organization of the poor and dispossessed that surprisingly brought him back to power after he was deposed in a US-backed coup; the error of this view is to think that one can have the second without the first: the popular movement needs the identificatory figure of a charismatic leader. The limitation of Chavez lies elsewhere, in the very factor which enables him to play his role: the oil money. It is as if oil is always a mixed blessing, if not an outright curse. Because of this supply, he can go on making populist gestures without “paying the full price for them,” without really inventing something new at the socio-economic level. Money makes him possible to practice inconsistent politics (populist anti-capitalist measures AND leaving the capitalist edifice basically untouched), of not acting but postponing the act, the radical change. (In spite of his anti-US rhetoric, Chavez takes great care that Venezuelan contracts with the US are regularly met – he effectively is a “Fidel with oil.”)

Against Populism

First Chavez isn’t REALLY doing anything because he’s not changing anything at the ‘socioeconomic level.’ He’s a cool villain, that’s all, sexy and charismatic but tragically driven to evil by an unfortunate excess of natural resources (this line is straight from the Economist), which is also the deciding factor in his inability to get it up (he’s just not capable of “the act,” you see, “the radical change”). Elsewhere he becomes a potestatic monster to be overcome by his own potentia, by spawning a formless sea of vagrants who will rise up and take over, the zombie apocalypse version of socialist revolution.

Now his big brown Phallus is announced as the measuring rod for The Left. And we’re all The Left, now, including Democrats. I guess it’s easier to deal with ‘us’ that way? Is it proletarianization? We’re all one class now? Anyway, now we have to stop making ‘impossible’ demands, instead we have to make……….possible demands! While still being badass revolutionaries! Genius!

The line that really does it for me though is this one: “And what would [Simon] Critchley do if he were facing an adversary like Hitler?” That this is almost word for word the *successful* propaganda offered by Bush about Saddam and now Ahmadinejad is part of the ‘joke.’ ‘Hilarious,’ isn’t it?

This piece by catmint is pretty helpful I think in understanding Zizek’s style, and why if you let him hypnotize you he can seem mysteriously (thus also deniably) convincing. Especially in this latest thing, in which he has the nerve to open with a list of the various Left types, setting them against that vampiric creature ‘capitalism.’ Reading Jung’s Man and His Symbols, catmint calls the aesthetic ‘creative taxonomy.’

Here’s Zizek’s list:

Today’s Left reacts in a wide variety of ways to the hegemony of global capitalism and its political supplement, liberal democracy. It might, for example, accept the hegemony, but continue to fight for reform within its rules (this is Third Way social democracy).

Or, it accepts that the hegemony is here to stay, but should nonetheless be resisted from its ‘interstices’.

Or, it accepts the futility of all struggle, since the hegemony is so all-encompassing that nothing can really be done except wait for an outburst of ‘divine violence’ – a revolutionary version of Heidegger’s ‘only God can save us.’

Or, it recognises the temporary futility of the struggle. In today’s triumph of global capitalism, the argument goes, true resistance is not possible, so all we can do till the revolutionary spirit of the global working class is renewed is defend what remains of the welfare state, confronting those in power with demands we know they cannot fulfil, and otherwise withdraw into cultural studies, where one can quietly pursue the work of criticism.

Or, it emphasises the fact that the problem is a more fundamental one, that global capitalism is ultimately an effect of the underlying principles of technology or ‘instrumental reason’.

Or, it posits that one can undermine global capitalism and state power, not by directly attacking them, but by refocusing the field of struggle on everyday practices, where one can ‘build a new world’; in this way, the foundations of the power of capital and the state will be gradually undermined, and, at some point, the state will collapse (the exemplar of this approach is the Zapatista movement).

Or, it takes the ‘postmodern’ route, shifting the accent from anti-capitalist struggle to the multiple forms of politico-ideological struggle for hegemony, emphasising the importance of discursive re-articulation.

Or, it wagers that one can repeat at the postmodern level the classical Marxist gesture of enacting the ‘determinate negation’ of capitalism: with today’s rise of ‘cognitive work’, the contradiction between social production and capitalist relations has become starker than ever, rendering possible for the first time ‘absolute democracy’ (this would be Hardt and Negri’s position).

These positions are not presented as a way of avoiding some ‘true’ radical Left politics – what they are trying to get around is, indeed, the lack of such a position.

And here’s catmint:

The taxonomy works this way: the auditor is invited to identify with one of the species established; to identify themself as a “thinking” or “feeling” type. Now, belonging to either species identifies one as possessing both the positive and negative attributes pertaining to that species (it’s necessary for these attributes to be both positive and negative). The system works where the auditor is seduced enough by the positive things said about them to accord some validity to the negative things. According to the heuristic approach necessary to make the mass media intelligible, negative characterisations of the auditor are always afforded a degree of absolute validity. Also the auditor is most likely ill equipped to theorise an alternative conceptual basis for system laid out.

So, the auditor is offered this role, the role of a “thinking” type, for instance. The auditor is both seduced and repulsed by this designation, but cannot make a judgement on its validity, only partially accept it. But this partial acceptance of the application of a concept in particular, implies the validity of the concept in general. It is accepted that there is a “thinking” type, and so correlatively, a “feeling” type.

(I know this sounds idealist and cruel, but you’ve got to bear in mind that I’m describing the psychology of the mousetrap not the psychology of the mouse)

The effect of this is to reproduce the field of psychology in a distorted way. The division of humanity into different species, each coherent only with respect to others has the effect of:

1. obfuscating genuinely scientific ideas about human consciousness

2. offering spurious justifications for the political application of division of labour

3. eternalising and mystifying historically conditioned states of human development

4. offering spurious justification for the idea that humanity is comprehended by its philosophers, and by implication that society is comprehended by its owners

“as if the world and the psyche were static and would remain so forever”

I think this accounts for virtually the entirety of Zizek’s political commentary at any given ‘moment.’ Every few months or so comes a dialectical shift, and the terms, most of them borrowed from other sources, are turned inside out, all Hegelian style. Then some other things happen, provoking another shift. And so on.

It’s only significant because of the sheer audacity and shamelessness of the performance. Political theory, however, is always at risk of becoming-Zizek in the course of any simple application of philosophy to politics. In achieving absolute immanence with his particular melange of Hegel and Lacan (a point I situate shortly after the publication of The Parallax View), Zizek can now serve for other intellectual commentators exactly as he intends Chavez to serve for The Left. The court jester. The fun house mirror. Bearer of our worst impulses. To his credit, I am almost ready to believe this is intentional.

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31 Responses to “and i don’t care about the little u’s above zizek’s name.”

  1. This is fantastic, particularly since personality tests (most of them derived from Jung) have been favorite antagonists of mine, going a long way back — last year in a post on astrology, this year in a post on pick-up artists and American sexuality. Apparently I should be reading both you and catmint.

    One of the phenomena that serves Zizek so well is the willingness of his readers to come up with some serviceable example. Can I think of some ineffective protests? Sure. Can I think of people doing cultural studies who seem immune to more pressing questions of aesthetics and politics? Absolutely. But a bunch of one-off examples does not make Zizek diagnostician to the world.

  2. traxus4420 Says:

    thanks! and hello.

    this is another good one i just dug up from catmint’s site:

    http://therabbiteater.blogspot.com/2007/07/sympt.html

    i read the pickup artists post — you had some things about ‘twee’ culture in it right? i find the arguments around that subject really fascinating.

  3. traxus4420 Says:

    and astrology and tarot and all that stuff is hugely seductive and addictive to a suggestible type like me. hence my sensitivity to it when practiced by respectable intellectuals like Slavoj Zizek.

  4. To his credit, I am almost ready to believe this is intentional.

    Yes it is, he is quite consequentially repulsive; as I told dr. Fossey, he held all these things he admires about Chavez’s Stalinism against Milosevic – most importantly, Milosevic’s early attempt to crack down on secessionism by the use of the power of the Communist state and as a flagrant defiance of neoliberal expansion. Now that he’s got his ass parked in neoliberalism, across the backs of all non-Slovenes on the territory of Yugoslavia, he pulls the revolutionary rabbit from the dusty old hat of tricks.

  5. traxus4420 Says:

    The really insidious thing about all of this is that we can trash him like this and maybe feel good about ourselves doing it, but then it becomes easy to just abstractly reject whatever it is his claims pretend to refer to.

    Like you could shoot this LRB thing down and then say “no, Zizek is incoherent, we can’t settle for merely making precise, finite demands on the state (his recommendation at the end)!” And then if, before a zizek-reading audience, you do propose to do something that could be interpreted as making ‘precise, finite demands on the state’ you run the risk of being a ‘zizekian.’

    It just provides another excuse-machine through which one avoids dealing with anything political in a substantive way. Which I guess is the point.

  6. “Which I guess is the point”

    The point is that there is a vote coming up in Venezuela in one month; the US backed opposition is starting to move to escalated violence and cunning; Zizek is preparing the LRB audience to believe the propaganda to come should the US clients succeed in creating a serious crisis; he is preparing the liberals with the taxonomy and the sitcom types, as he did in advance of the Yugoslavia propaganda, so that the framework is in place – Chavez is a ruthless clown trying to “grab power” which could either end with a rerun of Peron or the rule of “slum committees”; the opposition now escalating their violence again is positioned as opposed to this, as liberals, as civil society, reacting. The piece is a task; the timing is undeniably telling; just as was his hit piece on George Soros just after his book came out and he told wolf blitzer on television he considered the Bush regime nazi-like enemies of “the open society”. As always he ridicules all opposition to Bush policy (you are only playing into his hands by expressing your opposition, because he can say you are!)

    anyway great post; and rabbiteater’s observations are perfectly to the point.

  7. “you run the risk of being a ‘zizekian.’”

    yeah exactly: the “mousetrap taxonomy” operates in this branding fashion, bolstered by the ideology if intellectual property. Zizek is this monstrous operation of enclosures, vitiation and bundling for resale of the intellectual and discursive commons, an extreme case, the Murdoch of this cultural process in his niche, but not the only one by any means. Benefitting from being the latecomer also.

  8. Zizek is a mole! He’s propagandizing on behalf of Bush! But secretly and indirectly! Awesome!

  9. the idea in this post and comments is to psychoanalyze zizek’s piece–not an unworthy goal, to locate zizek’s unconscious and conscious designs. but I think it’s a misreading to say that this essay is a conscious task that prepares the LRB audience to accept a demonizing portrait of Chavez should a crisis come to a head.

    Zizek is doing the opposite: he spends 16 some paragraphs drawing a cartoon of the impotent “left” in GB and the US. in his third to last paragraph he does set up the stinging and insulting observation that even if you protested the war you played into Bush’s hands. The final 2 paragraphs, which y’all are focusing on so much, are then posited as the opposite of all this… Yes he uses many red-meat words such as clown and slums that head straight to the reinforcement of the LRB’s reader’s unconscious, but I would think Zizek is using this as a rhetorical tactic: He baits the reader, using his cartoon analogies and negative discourse (‘No, do not grab state power’), but Zizek’s point is clear: Support for Chavez’ consolidation of the 24 political parties at this moment is Right. Zizek writes: “This choice, however risky, should be fully endorsed.”

    I don’t see how this is the writing of a shill, unless you resort to psychoanalyzing Zizek’s rhetorical tactics, which is somewhat convincing, but fails to answer every question.

    If I marched against the war, am a Democrat in the US or a Labour supporter in the UK, and read this on a given Sunday, I would probably agree with some of Zizek’s points about the seeming impotence of the “Left”, but then maybe rethink my unease with Chavez, who I see gracing the front of the New York Post when I take the subway. I might rethink him as an example for the Left who I should support as he faces pressures from all sides in his worthy struggle.

    maybe you all see zizek as a waste of time as he is working in the comfortable middle bourgeois realm, but I think it would be a tactical mistake to discredit him at every opportunity when he is consciously, I think, attempting to force the “mainstream” left to reassess its position on the radical left.

  10. Adam, you poor thing; can you take something for these fits of beavisism? Zizek is not a mole; he is a retainer of the US client block in Slovenia and an apologist for US imperialism, which latter is actually a fairly ordinary thing for a “philosopher” and pundit who writes editorials in WAPO, the NYTimes and the LRB to be. No need to hyperventilate.

  11. He doesn’t own and control the London Review of Books by the way. He only wrote the piece; the paper printed it. Are the publisher and editors “moles”? Or might there be such a thing as a mainstream liberal press in Britain?

  12. Exclamation marks are sometimes the mark of sarcasm, rather than hyperventilation.

  13. Adamina, it was noted early on during the Holocaust that the capos, who were instructed to police their brothers, would ”identify with the aggressor” in psychoanalytic terms and become ten thousand times worse than their captors. Countries and PR service intellectuals like Slovenia and dr. Zizek have always screamed from the top of their lungs that their Master is always right, irrespective of the Master’s apparent discrepancies and lunacies. He’s like an ECHO this way. It doesn’t really matter WHAT he blathers as much as it matters what his structural position is, and his structural position never really shifts. This ”slave morality” you will always also find amongst the lackeys of the Viennese court, especially those employed in the stables, whose duty it is to hold the horse’s dick while he’s fucking the Mistress.

  14. In this context the Marxian Cobra is right, although she puts it in a different way than I would.

  15. traxus4420 Says:

    “The piece is a task; the timing is undeniably telling; just as was his hit piece on George Soros just after his book came out and he told wolf blitzer on television he considered the Bush regime nazi-like enemies of “the open society”.”

    yeah i think the timing could probably be understood in a way that doesn’t involve zizek being some kind of agent. all these events he writes after are major from the perspective of any editorializer, isn’t he just being opportunistic?

    hi owl,

    i don’t think analyzing zizek’s rhetorical strategy or how that strategy has been used in the past = psychoanalysis. he turns politics into a cartoon and i think this is much more important than the apparent content of his ‘argument.’ because you could just as easily laugh this off as ‘agree,’ there’s nothing behind it. it just implants/reinforces cliches. it sets a framework for future coffee break discussions. and as i pointed out in the post, he has had a number of different ‘positions’ on chavez, all of which employ the same tropes.

    because yes, there are statements in that essay that i could agree with in a different context. just like in a horoscope. try to imagine a discussion about this piece between people whose only exposure to the events he’s talking about is through CNN or NBC. he’s put the cliches in a different configuration, but they’re still unsupported cliches. there’s no argument, there’s nothing to engage with as a reader, just reorganizations of the headlines and stock footage floating around in your head; the ‘conclusions’ one might draw from this are purely optional.

    it is interesting how all of us have attributed wildly different underlying motives to zizek. this is i think the uncanny effect of contentless speech. you get trapped into wondering if he’s conscious or unconscious, if he’s ‘serious’ or not, as if this would give the words back their meaning.

    Hi, Adam. So nice to finally meet you.

  16. traxus4420 Says:

    ok, nix that last comment, chabert. apparently i misread.

  17. traxus4420 Says:

    “It doesn’t really matter WHAT he blathers as much as it matters what his structural position is, and his structural position never really shifts. This ‘’slave morality” you will always also find amongst the lackeys of the Viennese court, especially those employed in the stables, whose duty it is to hold the horse’s dick while he’s fucking the Mistress.”

    LOL

  18. “understood in a way that doesn’t involve zizek being some kind of agent. all these events he writes after are major from the perspective of any editorializer, isn’t he just being opportunistic?”

    Yes, he is being opportunistic. That is what I am saying. And how could he be opportunistic if he was unable to recognise an opportunity and react in a way certain to please those who can reward him? Don’t you have to actually have an opportunity and actually take it to be called “opportunistic”? Or do you mean he is not opportunistic, just amazingly lucky that his sincere opinions and earnest performances of them happen to be those most likely to be rewarded by those most able to give rewards for reasons unknown to himself and against his intentions?

    Shill: “‘Shill’ can also be used pejoratively to describe a critic who appears either all-too-eager to heap glowing praise upon mediocre offerings, or who acts as an apologist for glaring flaws.”

    Not agent.

  19. oh sorry, nix my comment now.

  20. “it is interesting how all of us have attributed wildly different underlying motives to zizek. this is i think the uncanny effect of contentless speech. you get trapped into wondering if he’s conscious or unconscious, if he’s ’serious’ or not, as if this would give the words back their meaning.”

    A bit of projection perhaps:

    Even a superficial reading of Mein Kampf leaves us perplexed when we try to answer the simple question; does Hitler believe himself or not? The only consistent answer is: both yes and no. On the one hand, it is clear that Hitler consciously ‘manipulates’: sometimes – say when he emphasises how, in order to dominate the crowds and arouse their passions, one should present them with a simplified image of the one great Enemy, on whom all the blame is put. He even directly shows his cards. On the other hand, it is no less clear that he gets passionately immersed in his own deception. – Zizek, Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?

  21. “Exclamation marks are sometimes the mark of sarcasm, rather than hyperventilation.”

    oh, i do beg your pardon, here you go:

    No need to hyperventilate!!!!

  22. I agree that this piece veers towards maddening confusion, “on the one hand, on the other…”, that this leads towards a grab-bag of conclusions. As a Lacanian he does seem to be saying something simple, but doing so by emphasizing its opposite, or saying it in a tone of voice that contradicts the superficial meaning of the piece: I Love Chavez.

    Clearly Zizek is a thinker who has to be dealt with right now in a smart way. I think his writings are so popular because they mirror the tortured contours of the mind and that sets your average reader at ease. They are hardly manifestos, or agitations. This essay we’re talking about has the unmistakeable tone of his unsure ego, navigating choppy waters. then there’s the buried, but “correct” superego that urges the reader to endorse Chavez. But most of all there is zizek’s primal Id that enjoys crapping on everything and making a joke no matter how solemn the occasion. it is this dark, shitty, crap, joking, nihilistic, reactionary, drunken, self-hating, “colbert/john stewart” attitude that gets him published in fancy pants publications and forces his more serious readers to get angry. But this tone can be found many places in US society these days in pop-culture and society and is a function of our wishing to believe in our seeming impotence (willing our own impotence).

    it is no mistake that this man has been elevated to the position where he is because he can say something, but not mean it. he wouldn’t be published in these magazines and op-ed pages without the unsure jokey tone.

    this said, I wouldn’t assign any conspiracy theories to him. he is, if not an opportunist, then “the man of the hour”, the incarnation of the zeitgeist. this all makes me want to write a mock-zizekian 1857 hand-wringingly clever editorial coming to terms with slavery and the vanity/impossible goals of abolitionists.

  23. traxus4420 Says:

    owl,

    “Clearly Zizek is a thinker who has to be dealt with right now in a smart way.”

    but clearly this is what we are trying to do. i feel like you are not really dealing with the arguments that have been raised here. your psycho-analysis of why zizek is so big these days is interesting, but if you are just going to react to the anger on this blog and not the reasons for that anger, there’s not much i can say to you.

  24. Traxus I wanted to say that dr. Zizek only shifts his structural position when the Mistress tells him to move the horse dick a bit to the left, or to the right.

    I don’t know why Adamina is having such a hard time disavowing her objet d’academic jouissance; perhaps because Christians always need their truths delivered by a Messianic figure? Or is it because of Dr. Zizek’s essentially conservative, patriarchal, Wagnerian outlook on life, which also seems to inform Adamina’s views?

  25. owl: he is, if not an opportunist, then “the man of the hour”, the incarnation of the zeitgeist

    and this is good for what exactly? you are saying things which seem to be basically solely about defending zizek personally. however what we have here is an article in LRB, not a tattoo on some minor celebrity’s arm which tells us about him and nothing else. Assume another byline for this piece and explain how that portrait of the President of Venezuela could be imagined to be at this moment useful either to LRB readers’ understanding of the situation in Venezuela or suitable for the attempts of a supporter of the Chavez administration to win LRB’s posh readers over to the side of the administration in the current clash. Forget Zizek’s personality for a minute if you can and mount a defence of this specific text and explain what it’s good for as if it were anonymous. Zizek’s rep is not important; this is not a political issue; it could not be more trivial. What is printed in the mainstream liberal press about Venezuela, the actions of the US client opposition there, and the image of what they are attacking, however is important. The most distressing thing about all this knee jerk zizek tuchalekking like adam’s is the assumption that what is of moment here is how this article reflects on zizek personally and his “work”, and not how the LRB and the rest of the mainstream liberal press portrays the Empire’s demons, tyrants, terrorists and “enemies of democracy”. If you can tell me how portraying the Venezuelan president as a populist power hungry caudillo clown who grabbed power and intends to “rule” Venezuela ruthlessly indefinitely in pursuit of his own personal power and agenda could possibly be a benefit to the active US opposition to the current white house’s agressive, criminal and escalating Venezuela policy – people like eva golinger and greg wilpert working tirelessly to dispell these myths the LRB repeats unquestioned and vividly – then please do. Nothing else about this article is of the slightest interest.

  26. Predictably, the academic bonfire of vanities is flaring up over at Kugelmass’s (this is from Adamina):

    But I mean, thank God we have Joseph Kugelmass to keep Zizek in line and ultimately to save him from himself! Because apparently if I make the exact same rhetorical moves—arguing that certain parts of Zizek’s work are to be taken more seriously than others, etc.—I’m just doing apologetics. When Kugelmass does it, though, he’s taking a needed stand.

  27. Compare Z’s piece to this. It’s identical rhetoric, except Z is dressed up as a representative or type of “wild and wacky extreme left european intellectual stalin notalgia crackpot” who says WhoeeeYeah! You go girl! Grab Power! So now the press can write “even stanch Chavez supporters like influential marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek admit the clownish caudillo’s aim is indefinite dictatorship and the abolition of private property enforced by militarised slum dwellers.”

  28. Chabert’s clever defamations of like anyone she disagrees with amuse primarly because of her/his/its skills in “transference”. Chavez is no longer on trial, or subject to scrutiny, assessment (nor is his homie Fidel). Instead LCC’s subjects Zizek the intellectual to her, eh, Tisiphone-like dissection, while allowing Chavez to go about his business.

  29. “Call a spade a spade”? Are you trying to tell me that you don’t know how racist the origins of this phrase are? I thought people who used this were generally open racists, but hey. Next time, slip it somewhere in your article besides the incipit.

  30. […] around, it seems to me that if Zizek’s regular public displays and the regular reactions of blogviators offer any lasting ‘theoretical’ insight it is that nothing is entirely frivolous […]

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