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The Two Zizeks

January 7, 2010

Slavoj Zizek spoke on Tragedy and Farce in Delhi on January 5, 2010. He spoke for about an hour and a half, then I responded for about 18 minutes, then he came back spiritedly for about forty-five minutes. This post is in two parts. The first part is the brief intervention I made at Stein Auditorium. In the second part of this post, I expand on my critique in the light of his response. I could not of course, speak after he had spoken the second time, so I’m doing it here.

I

A jinn appeared to a man and granted him three wishes. First, said the man excitedly, I want to be Slavoj Zizek. You idiot, said the jinn. You are Slavoj Zizek.

This is one of the many stories that the internet throws up on the eminent Slovenian Lacanian whom it has been our pleasure to listen to today. His own jokes and anecdotes are of course legendary, the medium through which he makes complex theoretical points. It thus becomes the burden of every unfortunate person writing about him or commenting on his work, to tell a few jokes themselves. Often Profesor Zizek’s own.

So. It struck me that the truth of the joke with which I began is that Slavoj Zizek longs to be Slavoj Zizek. He never quite makes it, though, because Zizek keeps escaping himself. In an interview to The Guardian a couple of years ago, he was asked – What do you most dislike about your appearance? And he replied – That it makes me appear the way I really am.

Having followed Professor Zizek’s work for a while now in growing bewilderment, I understand his predicament There are at least two Zizeks in there, and whichever one manifests himself, Slavoj is taken aback and rather dissatisfied. This is me? He seems to ask.

This evening in my brief intervention I will focus on First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, which Navayana has published. In the first part, there’s the Zizek whose analysis and critique of capitalism, free market logic, capitalist media, and American imperialism, are dazzling and exhilarating. Breathlessly you bowl along, encountering such insightful gems as: “It is indeed true that we live in a society of risky choices, but it is one in which only some do the choosing, while others do the risking.”

For his relentless exposure of capitalism’s exploitativeness and hypocrisies, his robust espousal of communism, for his sharp critique of America and his explicitly anti-Zionist critique of Israeli policy towards Palestine, conservative opinion has dubbed Zizek “the most dangerous philosopher in the West.” In October this year, when he spoke on this book in New York, there was a bomb threat, despite which, the hall remained packed until he concluded a characteristic bravura performance, only after which was it rather hurriedly evacuated. (The only way he showed he was rattled was in completing his talk in a record 60 minutes!)

But let’s say you’re not pro-capitalist, anti-communist, Zionist or an admirer of America’s war on terror. You’re in fact enthralled by Zizek’s analysis, by his promise that communism is to be reinvented in each era, his recognition that truth is partial, accessible only when one takes sides.

Through the idea of the “commons”, he reaches communism – “it enables us to see the progressive ‘enclosure’ of the commons as a process of proletarianization of those who are thereby excluded from their own substance.” However, he says, this idea of the proletariat is to be radicalized to a level beyond Marx’s imagination. The emancipatory subject is no longer “a particular social agent”, but “an explosive combination of different agents. What unites us is that, in contrast to the classic image of proletariat who have ‘nothing to lose but their chains’, we are in danger of losing everything… we are all potentially a homo sacer, and the ethico-political challenge is to recognize ourselves in this figure.”

The proper political act today would be to interrupt the present predominant movement, in short, “to pull the emergency cord on the train of Historical Progress.” The task is to castrate those in power (and thereby hangs a joke involving a raped woman and some testicles, which I will omit due to lack of time, you can find it on P 7), but the castration is not to be conducted in a direct climactic confrontation. Rather, the task is to “undermine those in power with patient ideologico-critical work, so that although they are still in power, one all of a sudden notices that the powers-that-be are afflicted with unnaturally high-pitched voices.”

So there you are, you know, willingly seduced by this Zizek, with his promises of a new, reinvented communism, a non-masculinist communism for the 21st century, democratic, fluid; a heterogeneous communism located in and arising from the experiences of different kinds of communities all over the world. Beguiled by this dazzling, androgynous figure, you don’t notice that you’re being led deeper and deeper into a dark alley, till you realize with a sudden shock, that waiting with a smug smile at the end of it, twirling his mustachios, casually tapping his bludgeon against a beefy palm, is that tough guy – 20th century Marxism.

This Other Zizek (not the Big Other, which he agrees does not exist, but the Big Self, as it turns out), proceeds to spell out a radical Left politics constituted explicitly by Eurocentrism (extolled as a virtue); Christianity (not merely religion in general); and a Universalism that necessarily then, is surreptitiously coded as European and Christian. The Other Zizek asserts the very specific European experience of modernity as the norm to be emulated; colonialism as the cleansing force that brought this modernity to benighted and backward societies, and Revolutionary Terror as sacred and unavoidable.

This communism holds in contempt all the lively, subversive political currents of today – queer politics, race politics and feminism – dismissed as political correctness and mere identity politics. So I don’t think Zizek’s reading of Ambedkar takes into account the fact that the architect of the Constitution and passionate advocate of modern citizenship, entered the space of citizenship not as someone who merely left Hinduism behind but as one who had entered Buddhism. He entered citizenship with an identity.

Ecological movements are rejected too – either because capitalism is seen to have appropriated the ecological vocabulary (Starbucks is the exemplar here); while political movements that invoke Mother Earth, such as that led by Morales, are reactionary because they reiterate the “sexualised cosmology of a ‘maternal’ order of nature”.  Professor Zizek himself of course, uses sexualized imagery freely, but it seems his problem is with a sexualized imagery that runs counter to dominant stereotypes (the raped woman, the emasculated man etc) and rather, extols the feminine as nurturing. “If there is one good thing about capitalism”, he says, it is precisely that “mother earth no longer exists.”

(Just as an aside – I don’t claim this is relevant, but once, when asked “What is your earliest memory?” he replied, “My mother naked. Disgusting.”)

He characterizes capitalism approvingly as the process that gave rise to a modern subjectivity in such societies, making it the historically progressive force. This marks as historically regressive, a world-view that does not see human and non-human nature in a dichotomous Self/Other relationship.

So much for pulling the chain on the train of Historical Progress.

In Zizek’s “we” who must be “resolutely modern” then, where is the room for the militant land struggles all over India, whether against land acquisition for capitalist industry as in Nandigram, or by landless Adivasis and Dalits squatting on a corporation’s land in Chengara?

This Other Zizek is suspicious of new family arrangements. Along with the shift from Fordism to flexible accumulation, he cites the fact of “multiple forms of variegated sexual arrangements replacing the traditional family” as typifying the defeat of the Left, both being forms of “even more direct capitalist domination.” Why does he think that traditional families are less susceptible to capitalist domination? He doesn’t explain, and frankly, I’m afraid to ask. Again, as an example of what he calls the “growing privatization of the social”, he says, “children are increasingly cared for not by parents but by paid nurseries or child-minders”. So child-care was a social responsibility and carried out by the people called “parents” till the late 20th C? That’s a nice little puzzle for women who have not found much sociality in the lonely grueling business of child-care which has been their singular responsibility, not of “parents”. If “society” and the “state” and “fathers” do not consider child-care to be their business, and the market does because it is business, then that’s how the patriarchal sexual division of labour will be by-passed, and a Left politics that is still insensitive to this is – as they quaintly say in the USA – toast.

In short, Professor Zizek is contemptuous of any political movement that is not a formal political party seeking to take state power. This is the one point on which he disagrees even with his friend Alain Badiou, who advocates “subtraction”, that is, politics at a distance from state power. Zizek holds that the state is to be taken over and made to act in a “non-statal” way. Surely this is an impossibility? Just as much as a capitalism that acts in a non-capitalist way? Such a project assumes the separation of the state from its social environment, the critique of which assumption surely, is the starting point of revolutionary politics. The state is fully integrated into the network of capitalist social relations, which is why every Marxist revolutionary take-over of the state in the 20th century eventually ended up building capitalism. I don’t mean capitalism is inevitable or omnipotent (although sometimes I think that is Zizek’s own view), but that the state’s raison d’etre  is to maintain that economic mode.

I think Zizek attributes omnipotence to capitalism because he sees every single political development as capitalism’s triumph – queer politics arose out of capitalism’s needs, ecological movements are co-opted by Starbucks, and helps it make more big bucks, and so on and on. There is no outside to capitalism. Foucault of course, has been accused of this kind of wall-to-wall view of power, but even he acknowledged that at the heart of the power relationship and constantly provoking it, are “recalcitrance of the will and the intransigence of freedom.” Foucault reads phenomena like Starbucks environmentalism like this in one of his interviews, “for each move by one adversary, there is an answering one by another…One has to recognize the indefiniteness of the struggle…”

For Zizek, on the other hand, as he wrote elsewhere, Resistance is Surrender.

The other piece of news is that God is back, and not just god in some general sense, but the Christian God reconciled with Judaism via St Paul and the Holy Ghost. Now this is a perfectly legitimate project, to bring religion back into an emancipatory politics of the Left, but this project has to be placed in the context of Professor Zizek’s insistence that “communism refers to singular universality” by-passing particular determinations. Add to this, his dismissal of Buddhism (just a fetish for corporate CEOs); of Islam (fatally limited internally by its resistance to “the universalist emancipatory project”); and – apart from something breezy about Kali “the famous bloodthirsty goddess”, as he put it in an interview last week to Time Out Delhi – his evident lack of knowledge of any other religion, it would seem that the singular universality of communism is necessarily Christian.

The Eurocentrism is quite explicit, including a resurrection of an earlier, Eurocentric Marx’s “British Rule in India” and “Future results of British Rule in India”. The recognition of colonialism’s positive effects, that it was the vehicle that transported these societies out of their age-old sleep and their repressive traditions, this recognition is the sign, says Zizek, of mature independence – it is in fact, the Left proudly claiming its emancipatory heritage.
Colonialism, the European Left’s proud emancipatory heritage?  Professor Zizek. Really?

The modernity that colonialism brought was in any case, by no means a clearing away of the old bad ways. As a large body of careful scholarship in Africa and South Asia has documented, it merely reconstituted something called tradition in new and equally, often more, oppressive ways. It seems to me that the only consistent way of claiming colonialism as emancipatory is that of some Dalit intellectuals who then see capitalism itself as emancipatory. Again, a political project one may not agree with, but at least one can understand.

Earlier, referring to the incident of the Haitian revolutionaries singing the Marseillaise, Zizek says the message of it was this: “we are more French than you, the Frenchmen. We stand for the innermost consequences of your revolutionary ideology.” He adds, first, that this would not be the message of those who today, might sing the Stars and Stripes when confronting the US Army, but then, within parentheses immediately afterwards – “Although as a thought experiment, if we imagine a situation in which this could be the message, there would be nothing a priori problematic in doing so.”

Do my eyes fail me, or are the up-turned moustachios of that tough guy lounging at the end of the alley transmogrifying into the suave moustache of Thomas Friedman?

Of course, the problem precisely is that those confronting the US Army today “refuse the universal emancipatory project”, refuse to claim ownership of the Stars and Stripes. The Haitian claim to the emancipatory French heritage was certainly a deeply unsettling message to send the colonizers. But historically, another response to colonialism has been the repudiation of the Western heritage as flawed; not just contingently flawed, but constitutively flawed. But Zizek’s Kant is forever the pure philosopher of universality, even as he draws Kant’s legacy directly from Christianity and St. Paul, while Kant the anthropologist, with his pseudo-scientific theory of hierarchically ordered racial difference, we will inevitably and always have to discover through African and Caribbean scholarship.

Of course, the elites of the global South are fully complicit today in corporate capitalist exploitation of their societies, and colonialism is not the reason for all the ills of the Third World. But there are solid Marxist traditions from the global South that offer a simultaneous critique of both. But then, the plain fact is that Professor Zizek relies almost entirely on European and American scholarship to make his arguments. Of course, that I would make this point is already suspect, because it’s identity politics to refer to this factor at all. While a Eurocentric, Christian perspective is by definition universalist.

Zizek rejects what he calls the politics of identity by inviting them – us – instead, into the universal. Refuse the pact with power, he says, refuse to be who power says you must be – woman, African-American, peasant. Yesterday he talked about Bertolucci’s film 1900 in which, in a gesture of defiance, a peasant cuts off one of his own ears and hands it over to the tyrannical plantation manager. Zizek said that this is the proper gesture of refusal to power, you refuse to be who it wants you to be.

The problem is that in his understanding, you have to refuse who it wants you to be by singing the Marseillaise, as it were. The banquet hall of the universal – elegant, spacious – awaits us. It’s filled with charming Europeans, there’s fine wine, the best cheese, they are smiling welcomingly, do come in they say. Just leave your ears outside.

As for revolutionary terror, Professor Zizek justifies it in the name of the deep-rooted structural violence that it must counter, but surely in this 21st century, we have enough reason to be suspicious of the vacuity of this understanding that defined 20th century Marxism? In any case, I get nervous about Zizek making a considered argument for revolutionary terror, when his response to a question, “What makes you depressed?” was this: “Seeing stupid people happy.”

Okay look, if there are no stupid people in the revolution, I want no part of it. That train of stupids speeding to Gulag, I might be on it.

Professor Zizek, if Stalinism was communism as farce in the 20th century, Stalinism’s return in a new guise in the 21st century can only be a tragedy. You frequently and vehemently deny that you are a Stalinist, but there you are in the film about yourself, with a poster of a resplendent Stalin on the wall of your home. You say, “This is just for people who come to be shocked, and hopefully, they get out.”

But don’t you always insist, good Lacanian that you are, that the idea of the “richness of inner life” is fundamentally fake? You say (P 40) – “…the story we tell ourselves about ourselves in order to account for what we are doing, is thus a lie – the truth lies rather outside, in what we do.”

Professor Zizek, I’m worried. Stalin is your poster boy. That’s what we see you do.

II

In his response, Zizek came back on my five main points of criticism:

a) Christianity

Zizek is an atheist of course, and his argument about the Christian roots of Marxism is not that of a believer. I’m aware of that, and I understand that when he refers to the Holy Ghost he refers to “an emancipatory collective, like the Communist Party”; that he is in short, drawing out the emancipatory potential in the “Christian roots of Marxism” even as he is devastatingly critical of Christianity itself (actually existing Christianity?).

That’s not the issue. Then what is? For one, that he does not concede that this project is legitimate for any other religions, especially Islam. He denies the possibility of   ” ‘progressive’ anti-imperialist potential in fundamentalist Islamist movements”. Using Hezbollah as an example, he says, “The ideological universe of organizations like Hezbollah is based on the blurring of distinctions between capitalist neo-imperialism and secular progressive emancipation: within the ideological space of the Hezbollah, women’s emancipation, gay rights and so on,  are nothing but ‘decadent’ moral aspects of Western imperialism…” That this critique is of Islam as such, and not of a particular organization is clear when he says, ” [T]he problem here is not religion as such, but its particularity – but is not this particularity right now a fatal limitation of these movements, whose ideology is directly anti-Enlightenment?”

Zizek himself believes that gay rights and women’s emancipation are functional for capitalism, as we saw earlier. So such an analysis is legitimate when you relate it to “capitalism” but not when you relate it to “the West”? I’m sorry, I need an argument here. It is not self-evident to me either that all non-class oriented political movements are an outcome of capitalism’s need, nor that an argument that holds this to be so is necessarily more emancipatory than one that sees these as the outcome of decadent Western values. In both cases, basically, any autonomy is being denied to these movements.

But whether Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism,  my real question is – what helps Christianity escape its particularity? Or is it by definition universal?

The fact that Zizek is critical of Christianity himself is all very well, but as Walter Mignolo points out, “the criticism of Christianity advanced by Nietzsche (a Christian) cannot satisfy the criticism of Christianity and colonialism advanced by Khatibi  (a Muslim and Maghrebian)” (in his essay in Coloniality at Large).

However self-critical a Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, to Zizek these religions are internally flawed and particularistic to the extent that they do not share the legacy of the (European) Enlightenment. That adjective in parentheses before “Enlightenment” is invisible to Zizek’s eyes – that is true Eurocentrism. That’s why he can say that “the Paulinian collective of believers is a proto-model of the Kantian world-civil society” and yet insist that this Kantian Enlightenment project is universal, free of the cultural markers that fatally afflict all other religions.

b) Universalism

There was a lovely little caricature of my position when he said that far from being racist to make everyone sing the Marseillaise, the real racism is to say “Oh, you people should sing your little local songs and stay in your little local cultures.”

The point of course is that both are equally racist – to insist that you cannot enter my drawing room at all and to insist that you are welcome to enter if you are civilized, wear a suit, know how to use a knife and fork.

Colonialism has functioned variously – while British colonial policy was based on maintaining differences, as was apartheid, which he cited triumphantly, French colonialism was assimilationist.  There have been complex studies of colonialism in Asia and Africa by a host of scholars, which Zizek might benefit from reading.

[Later addition: The different forms that colonial modernity took in different societies also accounts for the different constellations of modernity - to use Sudipta Kaviraj's phrase - that emerged in different parts of the globe. It was never just plain unvarnished  "modernity" anywhere, including in Europe.]

Eurocentrism is not my term of abuse for Zizek’s thought.  He defends Eurocentrism explicitly as the value to be emulated. There is no mutuality in the exchange of values. For instance, while trashing my argument which he named “multiculturalism” (and immediately subsumed under American cultural studies) in which I supposedly want people to stay in their little local cultures singing their local songs, he gave as an example, a cultural experiment in Israel-Palestine, in which a friend of his took a group of lesbians (“really, you know…” he gestured to his upper lip, marking out a moustache, “tough…sorry for the stereotype”) to meet women in hijab, and lo and behold, the women in hijab could see that the tough lesbians were not so scary and so on, and could respond to them.

Where to start…

Maybe some of the women in hijab were lesbians? In other words, the two groups were not necessarily mutually exclusive to start with. Is the reverse possibility accounted for that “the lesbians” saw that the women in hijab were not just passive cows, why is it okay to caricature “lesbians” as “manly” and still claim to be the exemplar that we should all aspire to be, and why is that caricature more emancipatory than Islamist movements that see lesbians as agents of Western imperialism?

The point is, as Partha Chatterjee has said many a time and oft, mapping the various formations of modernity in the world enables us to see both Europe and “us” as particular cases of a general history. Zizek has a critique of a particular kind of American multi-culturalism. That’s his burden to bear, not mine.

And I do want to record here that referring to Dipesh Chakrabarty, he said – “One of yours has made this argument, one of yours.” (Understandably, I have forgotten the point, because a little electric shock was going through me.)

Dipesh C is one of ours whatever he does and wherever he lives.  Zizek is of the world. That is Eurocentrism.

c) Feminism

How can I say he is anti-feminist, he has had well-known debates with Judith Butler etc. Then he proceeded to clarify – but it is certainly the case with American feminism that it is elitist, white, does not take class into account etc etc. So is that the only American feminism he knows? That particular white upper class feminism has come under severe attack from other feminisms that are equally American – from women of colour, from Left feminists etc. There are feminisms of different tendencies everywhere in the world, and the internal debates are more sharp than Zizek can even imagine.  When it comes to feminism, even its Eurocentrism can’t save it, it seems!

Anyway, he can be pleased. When he said this about American feminism there was a smattering of applause from our very own lefty anti-feminists in the audience with whom he wouldn’t (or at least, the First Zizek wouldn’t) like to be caught dead with.

(Aside: In an email to me after the event, a friend Geetika Bapna said,”What struck me in Zizek’s mode and method of using sexual jokes compulsively was in fact a parallel discovery that feminists have often employed sarcasm as an equally veritable and playful method that is integrated in the language of political thought itself”. I thought that was quite insightful)

d) Colonialism

Zizek: “It has been progressive, I don’t say this, Ambedkar has said it.”

Now, regardless of S Anand of Navayana’s repeated assertions at both lectures in Delhi during his introduction, that nobody in India has read Ambedkar, in fact, wherever Indian thinking is taken seriously, Ambedkar is considered to be central. Many have read Ambedkar, and he is taught as part of university courses. Zizek was quite taken with this narrative though, and before he came to India he was sent Annihilation of Caste by Anand, so now he was in a position to tell us gently that perhaps we should read Ambedkar too, and that perhaps he, as a foreigner, could play a small role in making us see our own society better. (He has also promised that he is writing a piece on  Manu, Ambedkar and Buddhism. Can’t wait.)

Zizek may need to know that the other eminent Indian  who said that colonialism is progressive when he went to Cambridge or Oxford was Manmohan Singh, the neo-liberal. Does this belief in colonialism’s positive qualities make him an Ambedkarite?

There has been an intense, complex debate in India on colonialism, with many voices, and even those pointing to its emancipatory character have done so from different kinds of positions. It has never been “emancipatory” in any simple sense, or Ambedkar would not also have been a nationalist. But for Zizek it is emancipatory, period.

e) The state

“It is dishonest not to take on the state, to stay away from power etc.”

Here at least there is a genuine disagreement, and I will not reiterate my anti-state power position. I will only say that this faith in the state, that it can be used as you want to use it, is precisely a feature of 20th century Marxist ideology, and the whole experience of 20th C Marxism, at the very least, puts a big question mark over such a project.

Anyway, it was fun, Zizek was vigorous and sporting in his response, and ended by saying, “maybe that other Zizek can be your friend.”

Maybe. We’ll see.

Other posts on Zizek on Kafila

Re-booting Communism or Slavoj Zizek and the End of Philosophy I

Evangelist Zizek and the End of Philosophy II

60 Comments leave one →
  1. Geetha permalink
    January 7, 2010 10:54 PM

    Nivi, thanks for this.

    The implausibility of Zizek – I can’t think of any other word but this – is all the more striking in the light of the very rich debates we’ve heard on this site on left politics, terror, counter-terror and so on. I read Nandini Sundar’s post this afternoon and yours a few hours later, and in interesting ways your critique of Zizek appeared all the more acute because of Nandini’s description of her visit to Dantewada – I am not sure if any of us is waiting to howl in revolutionary delight when the state’s voice in Chattisgarh gets a trifle highpitched. It appears rather pathetic that after all that civilizational pitch this is all the man can muster – unless of course he means us to wait until we achieve revolutionary terror, for then we don’t have to worry about who’s shouting the loudest –

    Also, I do wish that Eurocentrism does not also mean an exit from history, from specificity, detail, context… even that reference to Haiti: it is becoming increasingly clear that if anything, it is the fact that Haiti too responded that renders the French revolution universal! And that universality appeared flawed even to those who accepted it – witness Olympe de Gouges issuing her Declaration of the Rights of Women. Even simple, often repeated historical truisms deconstruct this notion of the universal that never was, and not even in its own time.

    Colonialism as emancipatory: again, we have debated this over and over that it seems churlish to insist on something that is merely tedious to listen to – and so with feminism: boring if not puerile, to make American white feminism the measure of what the rest of the world does…

    On Islam: his understanding of the Hezbollah is so flawed as to be laughable. Lara Deeb’s Enchanted Modern which looks closely at women in Hezbollah-controlled Beirut, suggests that perhaps the issue is not that they do not assent to the universal project of modernity, but that even when implicated in it, they are troubled by other older histories, memory, by ways of remembering that are particular to the Shii… Deeb looks at women’s lives, work and the manner in which they help re-build shattered communities to articulate her sense of the ‘enchanted modern’.

    Will stop with this, though there is more that one can say on any or all the things you’ve so ably underlined…

  2. Kartik Nair permalink
    January 9, 2010 3:11 PM

    The Decline of Seriousness

    Discussing the presently extending conversation between Slavoj Zizek and Nivedita Menon, the latest leg of which you can follow here, a friend of mine suggested to me that there was really no point responding to anything Zizek had to say, because, don’t you see, it’s all a big joke? Don’t take it so seriously, ya.

    It is just me, or is seriousness becoming taboo? We live in a time when a bland and thoughtless “popular culture” sensibility has attained maximum saturation. It’s a total victory for the most pernicious kind of postmodern position, and I fear it’s taking the edge off our faculties. Things today are too sacred for seriousness. One can’t really touch a topic of conversation – Bollywood, the News, our lives – without being told to check our seriousness in at the door.

    Zizek had obviously gotten the memo. At the Stein Auditorium earlier this week, Zizek said a few interesting things, but mostly he said uninteresting things that sounded like he was reading off his Twitter account – “I hate Mother Teresa”, “I love Kant”, “I hate Antigone”. His one-liners had about as much grace and finish as large footballs kicked in the audience’s face. Zizek can be an entertainer, but that Zizek (yes, the Other One) had taken the day off, and on Tuesday night at Stein he had the presence of a drunk uncle at a large family dinner, not of an intellectual superstar at a public lecture. Because if you think about it, why does he hate Jaws? He never really told us, but we can take solace in knowing that he doesn’t think the shark represents Socialism. I was subjected to ninety minutes (I can assure you it felt longer) of extempore without a moment of illumination, but to say “What the Fuck?” is to be asked in return “Why so serious?”. Smokes and mirrors aplenty, I can
    report, but sense and meaning, I fear, had all but vaporized.

    The decline of seriousness is a global calamity. Priyanka Chopra, who otherwise strikes me as a woman of not mean intelligence, was on the radio this evening promoting her new film (and I apologize for the title) Pyaar Impossible. “Why should people watch this film?” she was asked. “Well,” she replied, “It’s just a light, sweet film that you can take your girlfriend to with popcorn and without thinking too much. You’ll come out feeling really good about yourself”. For a second I felt enraged at the treasonous abandonment of sentences for non-sequiturs (and when actors describe their films as “light” or “sweet”, you can be sure you’re in for a world of pain). But Piggy Chops, I must admit, makes a frighteningly accurate prediction. Not being forced to think is one of the great concessions movies are making for us today, and of course that helps us feel good about ourselves. Because if you did think about it, you’d realize you’d paid a 150 bucks for tripe, and then you wouldn’t feel
    so good about yourself, would you?

    The movies are being sustained as a popular establishment now by jettisoning seriousness. The real catastrophe in all of this is that ‘seriousness’ has become an Ahab to ‘entertainment’, a middle-aged bore who doesn’t just sulk in a corner but kills the party for everyone. What if I were to get serious about, say, 3 Idiots? I would see a terribly bloated vanity project with a thoroughly unexciting and uncontroversial moral center (“Suicide is bad”). But no one wants to get serious about it, because that’s unsportsmanlike. I suppose it’s our misfortune that when someone does decide to blow the whistle, that someone has to be Sagarika Ghose. Her blog-post serves to discredit the thoughtful as, well, idiots, who cannot only not write on cinema or culture without sounding like royal bores, but also as inarticulate and incompetent fools. With friends like her, seriousness needs no enemies.

    It has long been standard practice for snobs to dismiss the popular as an inhospitable environment for seriousness, but must the popular so readily comply?

  3. January 10, 2010 9:18 AM

    you cant counterzizek with your skill.two reasons,,first his missionary zeal and second-his unabashed partisanship.. Ther is only one zizek..now you may be aware of this ,,after his fitting reply..fitting in the sense./.your well-lnourished response had one serious flaw..only one,,perhaps! You took zizekian themes to’falsify him. Zizek’s strong point is his universalism ! Our own sree narayana guru mused,,” my sanyasa was given to me buy the white man”/ another position iam interested in zizek is his enimity against”endorsement politics.. Frm europe! Grand gestures cant eversubstitute real actions.. His freedom in talking’ his deceptively simple jokes and aphorisms- allthese ..unsettling to academea?? Poor slovenean ? Sexist. Pig?.. He is one of us..confused anti stalinists.. kudos for your respone @ delhi.. Here@ kochi..itmust have been a bad shenario,, iam sure.. Meek ? Half baked..theoriticians..reacting to his celeberity status..eh? Now?… I conclude with a mis quote .. Norman bethune in his early fast life( the same doctor who was the friend of chairman . Mao) rendered his ball room indecencylike this” . I was so bored with that woman(,,read it zizek) i made luv to her”’/tnjoyi frm musiris stiil sweating under suffron

    • Gautama permalink
      January 10, 2010 11:58 AM

      Both reasons you mention tnjoyi, why people can’t counter Zizek, actually go against him – and you. You do realize that both ‘missionary zeal’ and ‘unabashed partisanship’ are closed to argument of any sort. Similarly, when you say that Zizek’s strong point is his universalism, neither you (nor Zizek) make any argument about it: it is a bit like saying you like coffee and not tea. How can there be an argument for or against your preference? Universalism is your coffee and it is interesting how much lies hidden under this phrase when some (Pl Note, only some) dalit intellectuals want to claim the universal and at the same time assert that only they can speak for the dalits. Surely these two positions cannot go together. If you are a universalist, then you must agree that anybody can speak for anybody. Some of these dalit intellectuals want to eat their cake and have it too! It is time to think hard instead of just posturing.
      And by the way, Anand of Navayana, Zizek’s chief sponsor repreatedly made it a point to say that ‘Indian intellectuals do not read Ambedkar’ and when they do, these very intellectuals will argue (I have seen this happen to many non-dalits) that they should not write on Ambedkar or on the dalits. That is another way of eating your cake and having it too.
      Time now that we went beyond mere slogans about universal and particular and did some serious work.

    • Nagarajuna permalink
      January 11, 2010 4:17 PM

      tn joyi asserts that the strong point of zizek is his universalism. The conceptual hazard in using this term arises from the singularization of the idea of universal. An idea of universalism cherished by the right wing is the uniform civil code, which intends to erase the difference of particularities. Isn’t it also well premised in a universalistic secular understanding of human exchanges? Notably, the attributes of the universal civil code can be seen in the swiss government’s position on Minarets as well as sarkozhy government insistence to illegalize the wearing of non-western dress. Joyfully as a democratic technician, one can alternatively argue for another universalism half or fully baked in Leninist bacon, which nonetheless will only be as exclusive and particular as the uniform civil code. To parody Zizek, by way of putting politics under the obligation to the term universalism it becomes an anti-oxidant to tame anti-status-quoist social movements.

  4. Sunalini permalink
    January 10, 2010 11:09 AM

    I totally agree with you, Kartik. The problem is in the midst of all this “Arre dont take him so seriously yaar” business is that I suspect Zizek takes himself very seriously after all. And there’s a question of power and privilege involved, when your casual, tweet-like statements can be elevated to a ‘position’. Zizek’s talk was, to put it mildly, full of holes. It left me feeling that he had used his incredibly fertile mind and his great talent for jokes and anecdotes to make some pretty breathless and indefensible generalisations. I suspect he has become enamoured of himself, and especially of his public impact. There clearly are two Zizeks, the one on display that day at the stein auditorium in Delhi was a macho European Marxist. I didn’t understand for instance, how he could bypass extremely important debates and theoretical interventions before him, and speak like a messiah. I find it disingenuous as an academic if you make absolutely no reference to people who have lain the path for you to tread on…hello? no acknowledgment of Nietzsche, Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, Deleuze, even some counter-currents of Marx himself…i am not saying include footnotes in a talk. But don’t sound like these ideas came sui generis out of your own mouth. He also seems to want to have his cake and eat it too, continuously. By his argument, nothing can escape the logic of capital – ecological movements, the organic farming movement, sexual liberation, identity politics – you name it. So how does he defend the state by saying “Oh I don’t agree with all those people who criticise a system without participating in it.” Would he say the same for capital? At the very least, he would need to explain how the state is conceptually and politically a different creature from capital. and how despite its unholy alliance with capital, somehow we can still reclaim it for radical politics. Same for religion, and Christianity. If all religions are particularistic, how can you without any irony undertake a delicate exercise in reconstructing the Paulian Christian tradition, which is according to Z, reclaimable for revolutionary politics? And not extend that exercise to any other tradition in the world?

    No doubt, Zizek has taken public intellectual existence to a new level, and I thoroughly approve of his style, his use of humour and his passionate engagement with the world, which shines through. And I also approve of being contrarian and inconsistent at times, because some of the best insights are created through dialectics, contradiction and polemic. But then you must be brutally honest about your many selves, and not take yourself so seriously.

    His targets were all caricatures and straw figures – he picks on Western Buddhism. Arre yaar, its the easiest thing to criticise. Go ahead and rip apart the Hollywood Buddhists which like Kartik says, a good old uncle in your living room may do. But is that it? Don’t you feel at least a little compelled to read outside your European tradition – I was amazed that Zizek felt he could say something new on Buddhism to that audience – what kind of misrepresentation of Indian academics has S.Anand indulged in?

    I thought Nivedita really got to the core of it. If I have one critique of her interjection, it is that she didn’t use direct, in- your-face humour. Human beings are very susceptible to affect, and it takes a lot to counter the incredible range of Z’s locker room jokes. Despite ourselves, we hold our sides and laugh at those jokes, relieved that we can be unashamedly sexist, racist, eurocentric, old marxist, masculinist, anti-native-ist, whatever Lord Z gives us permission for. Hallelujah!

  5. January 10, 2010 10:04 PM

    I come to this unprepared, being neither a student of Marxism and its critique, nor of colonialism’s cultural consequences. However, Kartik Nair’s comment expresses my sense of discouragement about the way would be participants in discourse about ideas are actually expending their mental energies and occupying their time that I want to express my appreciation of it.

    The idea of “the West”, I think, is useless as a basis for critique of social ideas and organization; I refuse to use it. It seems to me to be a conflation of a number of cultural, religious and intellectual traditions which are distinct enough in content and history that we will make more progress in discussion and analytic disclosure if we do not pretend they are one thing. I use the term “North Atlantic civilization” to describe the form of European civilization which dominates current colonialism and has since the reduction of Iberian colonialism in the 1800’s.

    I would treat other parts of Europe separately, and think that the integration of Europe now being attempted is itself an extension into intra-European affairs of somewhat tempered relationships and strategies typical of earlier stages of colonialism – the North Atlantic phase of the enterprise is colonialising and integrating the rest of Europe. I might, if I got into a serious study of this possibility, distinguish a Mediterranean civilization, a Central (Eastern?) European & Balkan civilization, and a Cyrillic European Civilization. I believe such distinctions could be justified by the distinct post Roman, pre 1848 histories of these areas. The Iberian colonial experience may be sufficiently distinctive to set it apart, as well.

    Surely, from the point of view of the rest of the world, the ways in which disparate regions of Europe participated, or not, in colonization and domination of other regions warrants treating them and their effects on the colonized separately.

    Slavoj Zizek, if I may speak out of turn, seems to me to be suffering a kind of Stockholm syndrome. That is, he is a member of a cryto-colonized Balkan civilization which is caught up in a process of being absorbed and digested by North Atlantic civilization (a process of uncertain outcome). This seems to put him in a fram of mind that looks to me like cognitive dissonance induced over enthusiasm about his captor’s qualities and motivations.

    All of us are products of particular cultural backgrounds and captive to the narrow perspectives and blind spots resulting from early childhood education and experience. We can only strive to liberate ourselves from this narrowing by cultivation of our faculties for empathy and commitment to study and the achievement of a broader understanding of ourselves, as well as of our fellows and their cultures. This is a lifelong task, never fully achievable.

    In evaluating the Enlightenment and its consequences for European and non-European civilizations I consider that even during Voltaire’s lifetime it was riven by dissension and that many of Voltaire’s closest associates were destroyed, even murdered, by political movements and actors who considered themselves a part of the Enlightenment. Intellectual traditions are not devoid of emotional content or motive, This one suffered struggles parallel to those of Christianity, Islam, and I gather other religious traditions I am less familiar with. Certainly, even Llamaist Bhuddism is not void of history.

    The Enlightenment saved Europe from itself by offering a way out of perpetual, debilitating, religion based civil strfe and national wars. It also established an experience based understanting of the natural world, coupled with a respect for rigorous, logic based reason as a basis for the conduct of human affairs and education, as a social ideal supported by the state and by growing mercantile classes. This shift in social psychology and direction of cultural energies and infrastructure enabled an explosion in technical capabitlities that supported colonization of the rest of the world.

    Unfortunately, the fruits of the Enlightenment remained unavailable to the colonized peoples. It had been siezed by the merchants and missionaries, stripped of its history as a way to avoid cultural suicide through religiously based communal strife, and converted into a tool for exploitation of other cultures. It and its fruits were coopted by the powers of Europe into a tool for the exploitation of the resources and peoples of the rest of the world.

    The way out of the conundrum implied by my understanding of this discussion – the character of the Enlightenment as a liberating and beneficient basis for social relations and organization, contrasted with the devastation of existing cultures by the Europeans, especially those of North Atlantic origin, who carried it – cannot be resolved by a critique of the version of the Enlightement at odds with its essential charactger.

    When the core ideas of the Enlightenment are confused with the deracinated, corrupted, culturally chauvinist version exported for consumption in the schools of colonized nations, it becomes a target, a suspect agent of domination by North Atlantic civilization of the rest of the world. I sorrow that Edward Said, who had begun to address the character of the Enlightenment and its relationship to colonialism, was unable to do more before his death. He would have been a far more appropriate bearer of analytic insight about that relationship to the South and formerly colonized nations than I regard Slovoj Zizek to be.

    It seems wrong, to me, to attempt to disparage Kant for the imperfections in his social and anthropological views early in his careet, when the implications of his mature work seem so clearly to contradict such narrowness. Kant grew in understanding as he worked through his life. We might wish that he had returned to his anthropological work, reexamined it in the light of his later work, and corrected it, but the fact that he did not does not invalidate that later work, or suggest that his ultimate disposition was accurately represented by the early work.

    I apologize for being so lengthy, despite my own admission that I am speaking out of turn in a room to which I am new and quite unfamiliar. With utmost respect, I hope I have showed no great discourtesy by doing so.

  6. Ponni permalink
    January 11, 2010 3:20 AM

    It was a fascinating evening that day at IHC. There aren’t that many of those often. And that is thanks to Zizek and Nivedita. I took one thing from zizek, among others, when i read him a few years ago (read everything thrice to make sense of it of course)- and that was this basic idea that protest or transgression of any system is often coloured by or partially structured by that very system. Early on in my reading career this was a revolutionary thought and has stayed with me since. I think that basic thought which has much potential is beginning to be explored, here in india, although i trust there is a history of that which needs further tracing, by many within those modes of transgression. zizek equivocally denies these ‘transgressions’ as being transgressive at all (as they are tools of capitalism and such like). The basic thought then is lost a little.

    His first statement in response to Nivedita that there is very little readings of stalin that are rigorouos made me think. Wonder about that. Maybe we could explore that here. Don’t think I have read enough. So please shed some light.

    But at the end of the day, this was one of the many possible thoughts with potential that had to put aside while contextualized in sweeping declarations that ironically also lacked rigour.

    Besides, what I found fascinating was the power dynamics that was so apparent. He reacts for 45 minutes for a 18 minute commentary based entirely, it seemed on those 18 minutes. many of his reactions were perplexing and as if he had no idea of the existance of a theoritician called Nivedita Menon before this. Yet again, lack of rigour, in this particular context as Nivedita made it clear that she was reacting to his body of work, unlilke his comments on her thoughts.

    His manner of presenting his thoughts was the most interesting and much appreciated. But then again the tropes of power within were apparent. as Geetika pointed out to nivedita vis-a-vis his sexual and fart-shit jokes is one example, as was the unabashed time consumption! But then again, must admit, am still thinking about the nature of the jokes to articulate what exactly Ithink about that.

    Ambedkar- for all those with the zeal to spread the ‘message’ of Ambedkar as a counter to Gandhi and the rest of the oxford-harvard educated clan- or any one else- well there were others who sppoke of caste. Periyar. Jyotiba Phule. etc. Sorry to point out the obvious but then again it is not surprising given that one believes in the state yoou would only quote those who were or are within the state and not others who worked in different contexts. Maybe?

    Anyways! fascinating evening nevertheless!

    Agree with Sunalini- He seems to take himself way too seriously! He should relax a bit more and laugh at himself in that endearing way he seems to laugh at so many others! This flippant comment is of course not entirely flippant at all as we know laughing at ourselves is at the centre of self-criticism which in turn is at the centre of vibrant and self-reflexive thought! Also agree with Sunalini- wish Nivedita had been funnier, as many of us know she can be! maybe next time?! :)

  7. Upal Chakraborty permalink
    January 11, 2010 5:10 PM

    Agree with Ponni that the evening was truly fascinating.
    Both Nivedita and Zizek supplied food for thought in their own distinctive ways . I just have the following points to add:
    1. Nivedita has not dwelt on Zizek’s contention that we need to understand what Stalinism stood for before criticizing . This debate ,he felt ,was inadequate which he had attempted to provoke by displaying a photograph of Stalin on his wall.
    Stalinism is , in my opinion, a far more complex phenomenon than made out to be, especially in posts appearing in Kafila. For example, there has been no discussion on the results of a recent opinion poll which indicate that 54 % of Russians still adore Stalin with the score a couple of notches higher among those who have actually lived under Stalin. The killing of millions and purging of Party members is something all of us abhor , but is that all to it ?
    2. While the opinion that the State under USSR / China have continued to develop Capitalism may be an oversimplification, it does stand out that it ceased to represent the People . Hence the purges and Gulag . But how do we alter the relations of productions without capturing State power ? Simultaneously, how do we also ensure that the State is replaced within a few years after revolutionary capture of power by decentralized institutions representing the will of the people?
    3. While class cannot be considered as the only contradiction in today’s world , how do other movements – caste, gender, environment etc. be synergized with Class-based struggles ? To refer to the point made by Zizak – how do we ensure that racist and ruling class feminist movements do not usurp the entire space of feminism?
    These are issues glossed over by both Nivedita and Zizek.

    Upal

  8. janaki permalink
    January 11, 2010 5:42 PM

    one of the reactions i heard after the lecture was about how the questions nivedita raised about zizek’s work were not ‘the’ questions to raise to zizek, they are not important or nuanced enough. now i may have got this particular comment completely wrong, but i have sensed a general discomfort about raising race, gender, sexuality especially before people considered theorists. not because these are discomforting (which they are, like S Anand makes us see the discomforting side of our everyday existence in his writing) but because they have come to be the academic version of ‘uncool’. the idea seems to be that there is a core to important work like zizek’s which is untarnished by any such reservations one might have about the ‘other’ things he says. and that is very disturbing, because the rich body of work which has painstakingly made these connections being the core and the peripheral, if one may put it that way, seems to have had no impact. like nivedita says, where to start?

    zizek’s point about how the radical currents of ecology, sexuality, gender can be put to the service of capital is definitely valid, but the conclusion he draws from it- that they can never lead to revolutionary transformation is so vacuous. by that logic- factory workers and trade unions can never lead to revolution, they have been the first to get incorporated into the capitalist system. and informal sector workers anyways will always be trapped in ‘identity politics’. the trouble is, as others have said, such sweeping generalisations cannot enhance understanding.

    it was a fascinating evening, yes. mainly, because here was this eminent person addressing an auditorium spilling over with people while being completely unprepared. and continuing his talk of the previous day, without even the central theme of hollywood which he could keep coming back to.

    and Karthik, i agree with your point about seriousness, but just to add it seems we need brainless stuff which still incorporate a message. look at the biggest successes in recent years and they all have a ‘serious’ mission, but of a digestible dosage.

  9. Geetha permalink
    January 11, 2010 7:41 PM

    I am sorry to be coming in twice – but Zizek is not saying anything revolutionary when he says we’ve got to work through Stalin, Stalinism. Since the late 1980s, there’s been an enormous amount of historical writing on the Stalin years, which has done exactly this: account for Stalin, in diverse terms. Terry Martin’s The Affirmative Action Empire for instance looks at his and more generally the Bolsheviks’ nationalities policy and action in very interesting ways – and for anyone interested in making sense of Stalin’s horrendous folly or violence, depending on how much we wish to understand him, with respect to the Ukraine there is much food for thought here.

    There have been other studies, too, including his action against the kulaks, the changing nature of surveillance in the Soviet Union and so on. The historiography of the Soviet Union since the late 1980s has taken interesting turns, and not only do we have a picture of Stalin that is not in the monster mould, but we also have a richer and more nuanced picture of the dilemmas the Bolsheviks set out to address – so that we can actually go beyond the earlier Lenin-lead-to-Stalin line which was so central to post-structuralist Marxist writing…

    Besides these studies in history, in the immediate post-perestroika years, Soviet Literature did a very interesting issue on Stalin – I remember this very moving as well as thoughtful long essay by the celebrated Russian journalist, Konstantin Simonov on what the Stalin years were all about… And for those who have been following the adventures of the Fourth International, Victor Serge’s marvellous novel, The Strange Case of Comrade Tulayev has long ago accounted for Stalinism in rich complex ways.

    I did not hear Zizek, but I am surprised that he gets away with so much – even by the polemical terms of debate that has characterised so much of popular and fashionable western Marxist thinking, and which sought to constantly displace questions of history onto the terrain of epistemology, this appears a bit excessive.

  10. January 11, 2010 8:25 PM

    the slippery plane of the” comment format” seduced me into brevity’! But now i think.it hassome positive element..some ‘contextual’ interventions and some” use ful oversimplification” cant do much damage..comrades.. Especially If you are too immersed in cartesian argumantative..descriptive.lengthy discourse. Even after argueing out..loud and clear,, ther will be always.problems still to be…/ against ‘ localism…against endorsement politics..against flirting with novel ideas../ this is not a bad situation in itself/ but beware.. Even after winning an argument ..” you wont retire int to a ‘heavenly void” sorry for this unwanted ”meta..ruminations..and i am a bit shy..in developing an arguement intersecting other’s positions. It is rather easy…but . Again asserting my stand without any ‘connectionist’ over doze?? Not now..later.. Next time? Next mever comes. So let me restate.:zizek’s socalled colonial eurocentrism ishis weak point..we dont have to bite such thrownway bones..” in melody certain themes arrive @ resolution ..in the most simple”deceptively simple’ i repeat. Way. So the slippery ‘ comment format.. serve well.. Wasi it chairman . Mao himself warned against” 8 legged essays? But it was stalin who exhorted,,”clarity the fore most thing” and lakhs suffered in gulags! Slogan…know yourself ? Know the world you win the arguement until next time..this mis quote frm great helmsman/ tnjoyi frm musiris still sweating under suffron

  11. Aarti Sethi permalink*
    January 11, 2010 8:25 PM

    dear jim and geeta, please do not apologize for coming in with a long comment or for coming in twise!:) Kafila was set up precisely to generate intense discussion and its great to have such considered thoughtful responses. Do keep coming in again and again…

  12. atreyee permalink
    January 12, 2010 4:23 AM

    This is indeed very rich, I am particularly struck by Upal’s intervention, had not thought of Zizek’s unpacking of Stalinism in that way. I agree with Sunalini’s critique that the Marxist interventions the all-encompassing logic of capital is not new and goes right back to Adorno/Horkheimer, or Gramsci. Zizek’s laughing at leftist do-gooder polemics as essentially manufactured by the processes of capital that it claims to resist, is at best, an Anu Malik re-make of an S.D. Burman score. I am still tempted to venture the thought that in our Zizek-diss, we are missing out on the historicity of creation of philosophical messiahs. Is it impossible to imagine that Marx may have been the Zizek of his time? And the nature of the philosopher is to provide a seductive of our existence, in an essentially narcissistic way?

  13. atreyee permalink
    January 12, 2010 4:31 AM

    – And here is Zizek laughing at himself. This is seriously radical critique of capitalist modernity.

  14. Sunalini permalink
    January 12, 2010 11:25 AM

    I really like the way Geetha put it – Zizek keeps displacing questions of history on to epistemology. That’s precisely it I think, what I meant by acknowledging your legacy as an academic/Marxist/intellectual. The “Zizek phenomenon” holds a very revealing mirror to our world in many ways –

    One, the question of intellectual life. Here the question Atreyee raised really made me think. Is Zizek the 21st century Marx, or the other way round? Certainly there are similarities, and I don’t just mean the beard and the intense eyes, although I am again and again struck by the power of affect on us all-too human humans…there is also the razor-sharp mind, the ability to connect the popular with the abstract, with being able to see contradiction, falsehoods, irony in the most pious spaces…by all accounts, Marx was a mole, a self-exiled recluse who spent most of his waking life inside libraries…a friend who has worked with Zizek tells me Z too is painfully shy in personal interactions, almost to a neurotic degree. strange! But I think the conditions of intellectual life in the early twenty first century are quite different…and this is what makes those who are academics react to him differently from a general audience. Zizek’s reputation has been built not through his books, which are undoubtedly widely-read. Rather, he owes his cult status to two performative theatres thronged by the young especially – classrooms, and the internet. I can’t remember the last academic in Delhi that had a poster blow-up behind his head while at the podium. And there has been a galaxy of stars in the past few years…Zizek is a post-rock-and-pop intellectual, who works through different channels (of technology, of the mind) from his colleagues. To paraphrase the saying on God, if the late twentieth century didn’t have a Zizek, we would had to invent one. That’s why questions of originality and acknowledgement slide off his persona like water off duck’s back. The commonly-found description of Z on the internet “The Elvis of cultural theory/philosophy” may contain more truth than we think. Even after it was established that Elvis blatantly ripped off from older musical traditions in the U.S and failed singularly to acknowledge them, people ‘affectively’ thought to themselves, like a guilty secret, “But he really makes our hips swinnggggg; plus Elvis records/CDs are available in every store – you don’t have to be a rare items collector or a musicologist to enjoy them”!

    Two, the point Janaki raised about cool-ness is crucial I think. Its really like she said – finally there is somebody who can take good old fashioned Marxism and make it hip, and sock it in the western academy’s face (while I am sympathetic to the general point Jim makes about many wests and many enlightenments, I still think the West as homogenising political and material force exists). Please don’t ruin it by bringing in the marginal, untranslatable native into the picture, or We’ll Lose The Battle!!

    Three, the fantasy that you can speak in absolute truths, even after such intellectual upheavals as Foucault, Lacan, Deleuze and Nietzsche. You do this, as Aditya has written in his post on Kafila, by absorbing and digesting post structuralism and post-everything, having their subtlest insights infect and colour your language and ideas, but returning with double ideological force to old Marxism whenever the splits start to reveal themselves. And returning in a way that makes it clear that any other way is a cop out, a rapid slide into the enemy’s camp. And by caricaturing anybody who tries to say for example, that politically correct multiculturalism routed through dilute and dishonest liberal toleration may not be the only form of cultural exchange/diversity that exists/is conceivable. Or that not all organic farming is useful to big capitalist monoculture. Or simply that the world is vast and complicated, keep your eyes and ears open for political currents that don’t fit your large truths.

    The Zizek phenomenon it is. Useful purely for what it tells us about ourselves really.

    • January 14, 2010 2:10 PM

      I did not expect to see such an overt treatment of a specific example of the homogenizing force of the US culture as this article from the New York Times:
      “The Americanization of Mental Illness” January 10, 2010; URL http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/10/magazine/10psyche-t.html

      “We have for many years been busily engaged in a grand project of Americanizing the world’s understanding of mental health and illness. We may indeed be far along in homogenizing the way the world goes mad.”

      Dramatic stuff, at least to me.

    • January 18, 2010 10:31 PM

      Here is another item, narrowly focused on Sunalini’s point about the homogenizing power of the putative “West” which once again turns out to originate specifically in the United States. (I have, and will post if I can find it, a reference to a study of how US commercial culture successfully set about “Americanizing” Europe after WW II.)

      This article “International Students and U.S. Global Power in the Long 20th Century” by Paul A. Kramer in “The Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus” describes – with the aid of an example from a mid-sized community only a 90 minute drive from my home in Kansas – how “historians of U. S. foreign relations might profitably study international students and, in the process, bring to the fore intersections between “student exchange” and geopolitics.”

      The author describes existing literature on this topic and acknowledges indebtedness to “Liping Bu’s deeply-researched monograph ‘Making the World Like Us’, ”

      One paragraph which I suspect Sunalini and others here will find instructive is this:
      “To date, one of the chief obstacles in attempting to intertwine histories of student migration and U. S. foreign relations has been historians’ reliance on the analytic categories and frameworks of program architects themselves. Many of the earliest accounts of these programs were produced in-house by practitioners (foreign student advisors and program officers, especially) which combined historical sketches with normative, technocratic assessments of program “effectiveness.”12 Thus, foreign students have often found a place in histories of “cultural diplomacy” alongside radio, television, artistic and musical propaganda, and approach which inadvertently reproduces a (somewhat sinister) aspiration from the period that “ideas” might be projected successfully by “wrapping them in people.”13 Most seductive, perhaps, is the category of “exchange” itself. Exchange—as in “educational exchange” or “cultural exchange”—is, after all, the peg around which both international student programs and of much of the scholarly literature that attempts to make sense of them quietly pivots. As a generality and organizing concept, it does successfully convey the fact of a multidirectional traffic, that is, foreign students entering the United States and U. S. students going abroad. But it fails cartographically: student migrations to and from the United States were scarcely “exchanges” in the pedestrian sense that most foreign students came from countries to which U. S. students by and large did not go; Europe proved a key exception in this regard. U. S.-centered student migrations resolve themselves into “exchanges,” in other words, only if one either generalizes from a European-American axis or flattens the rest of world into a unitary, non-American space.”

      Other sentences (quoted out of context here) which attracted my attention include:
      “At most, Americans were to gain from these encounters a less “provincial” approach to the world; foreign students were, by contrast, expected to take away core lessons about the way their own societies’ politics, economics and culture should be organized. ”

      “The principle of diffusion involved the assumption that foreign students would return home and, both consciously or not, spread U. S. practices and institutions, values and goods. To the extent that this diffusion was anticipated to travel not only outward from the United States but downward across the social scale of students’ home societies, it presumed and encouraged a vertical, top-down and authoritarian model of society. ”

      “In this respect, the role played by the U. S. government in the development of international student migration represents a variant of what Michael Hogan has called a corporatist configuration of state and private agencies in the United States’ relations with the global environment.17″

      “American educational institutions came to be understood, both descriptively and prescriptively, as nodes and relays in global, U. S.-centered networks of power.18″

      These quotes are from the early, introductory part of Paul Kramer’s analytical article; he describes failures, limits, and detaied history of “student exchanges” much more fully in the main body of the paper. For me the article is a significant aid on expanding my understanding of the OSS – CIA – State Department overally strategy of building thoroughly integrated or coopted “local elites” based systems of control throughout the world; and in understanding how this approach was in place and serving long before the “breakout” period of US global hegemony after WWII.

  15. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    January 12, 2010 11:30 AM

    Geetha,
    Both your interventions seem to me to raise very important points that go beyond the specificities of the current Z-event and its immediate aftermath. And thanks for the references to the more recent historical and other scholarship that has emerged in recent years that has taken the Stalin phenomenon much more seriously. However, I do want to introduce one more element in your take on this matter of stalinism: critiques of stalinism have not all been of the genre you mention – viz. the Lenin-leads-to-Stalin genre, and most of these have not been simple outright denunciations of Stalin. In fact, a large part of these critical reflections emerge from within the Marxist universe and should not be dismissed as poststructuralist or whatever. For instance, one thinks of range of writings from Isaac Deutscher’s masterful (Trotskyite) biography of Stalin to the work of French Communist Party historian Jean Ellenstein (The Stalin Phenomenon), from Roy Medvedev’s Let History Judge, (in the Soviet Union), to a range of writings by western marxists, in this category. More recently, interesting Foucauldian perspectives have been employed to study the forms of power (Stephen Kotkin) and modes of self-fashioning (of the victims) in the days of terror (Igal Halfin) among many many others. These studies focus not on the ‘repressive’ instance of stalinism but on the common pact that bound stalin and his victims together: power as productive, in the Foucauldian sense. And one need not even mention that the deep reflections on totalitarianism by theorists as diverse as Hannah Arendt and Claude Lefort are nothing if not an indirect meditation on the power of stalinism, however much one may disagree with the individual perspectives of these different scholars.
    So what does Zizek mean that there has not been any coming to terms with Stalinism? In my view, it was a mere rhetorical way of answering an uncomfortable question and he was right in assuming that there will be enough people to nod their heads in agreement as if he is uttering a truth no one has as yet.
    And finally, if what Z claims is true, then who is better placed than him to analyze this phenomenon – having lived in the world of actually existing socialism? Maybe that is what he should do, rather than hang a portrait of Stalin at the entrance of his house!

  16. Upal Chakraborty permalink
    January 12, 2010 12:55 PM

    Am not denying that a wide range of literature exists on Stalin and Revolutionary Russia .
    What was bothering me was the tendency , in this space, to denounce Stalinism without a holistic approach.There have even been unsubstantiated references to him as a worse tyrant than Hitler . The question is – do Russians actually consider him so ? Evidences do not point to this.
    I presume that most contributors in this space believe in a revitalized Communism – free of the mistakes undergone in the twentieth century. If so, a balanced critique of the same without ignoring the positives is the need of the hour .
    I am not stating that an enormous wealth of literature does not exist outside the space of this blog. But I always thought that the purpose of a blog is to distil the essentials and provoke a worthwhile debate. Am sorry to state that am missing the same.

  17. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    January 12, 2010 1:13 PM

    We have also not spoken (and have this ‘maintained silence’!) on cucumbers as well (as Rajni Kothari once said in a famous repartee), vegetables, a holistic balanced diet…and Nazism. I suppose that makes us closet vegetarians and nazis. At least it may speak of our un-nuanced understanding of vegetables and nazism. And by the way it is the Zizek you so admire who said in his interview published in the Times of India two days ago, that 20th century communism was a greater ethical-political disaster than fascism. No one on this blog has yet said this to the best of my knowledge. you might like to do some homework before jumping to making accusations…

  18. Upal Chakraborty permalink
    January 12, 2010 2:02 PM

    I gueess we were discussing Stalinism and not vegetarianism or the sexual habits of elephants.. Either do not raise the topic or discuss holistically is what I wanted to convey. Need I be so explicit ?
    Rearding 20th century Communism being a ethical-political disaster, I do not hold this view .
    At least that should have been amply clear from my 2 posts above. I had spoken of just 3 points rised by Zizek at Habitat which I agreed with – that does not make me a Zizekist .

  19. Geetha permalink
    January 12, 2010 2:56 PM

    I agree, Aditya – and yes, there have been sustained critiques of Stalinism from within the Marxist world even from the days of the terror. What struck me was that Zizek’s response mirrored the post-structuralist critique in some ways – replace one lazy formulation with another.
    About productive power: Konstantin Simonov’s essay is about this actually – and he muse eloquently on what it was all about, and dwells on the so-called Great Patriotic War as a very important mediating event…
    Interesting that his East bloc life and existence have not really meant much for Zizek in terms of coming to terms with Stalinism: I remember this stunning and horrific exhibit at the Buchenwald camp, in the former GDR: where you are shown an almost seamless passage from one kind of incarcerated labour to another, from the fascist to the socialist. However simplistic and flawed that logic, there is the physical evidence of the camp continuing to be used after the end of the War…
    I think it would be very important to dwell on the consent that one gives to totalitarianism – and here Serge’s ficitonal insights are uncanny.

  20. Aarti Sethi permalink*
    January 12, 2010 3:04 PM

    Thanks all for a great discussion :) One of the things I found interesting about Zizek’s method is his use of the joke. Certainly he deploys humour and jokes to enliven his talk and win over his audience, but he also uses the joke as a mode of doing philosophy, where he uses the structural contradiction within jokes to shift the terrain of discussion and use paradox in surprising and productive ways.

    Others here have raised the issue, and I agree, that his project of reviving a euro-centric universalism is deeply problematic. Its quite amazing that he would defend this project in a non-western context, and that people applauded. Of course he achieved this by an intentional misreading of nivi’s critique. So here’s a little joke as a response to the philosopher’s jests:

    Three horses are drinking at a bar and bragging about the races.
    The first horse looks around, clears his throat, and says, “You know, of the 9 races I’ve run this year, I’ve won 6″.
    The bar explodes. “6 out of 9??, That’s incredible.”
    The second horse puts down his drink, wipes his mouth and says, “That’s nothing! Out of the 9 I’ve run, I’ve won 7.”
    The bar goes wild. “7 out of 9?? That’s a new record!”
    The third horse slams down his beer glass, calls for silence and says, “The two of you are compete losers! i have only ever lost one race, and that was because it was rigged. I’ve won 8 out of my nine.”
    By now the bar is nearly hysterical, when a dog who has been listening to this exchange walks up and says,
    “You know I can’t say much for you horses, because out of the 9 races I’ve run this year, I’ve won all 9!”.
    There is stunned silence, and then the bar explodes. Everyone turns to the dog and says, “MY GOD! A Talking Dog!”

    It seems to me that for Zizek the non-west can only ever be like the dog in the bar. While the west brags about its accomplishments of reason, that the non-west can speak at all is a revelatory moment. And he explicitly said so, as nivi has pointed out, in his examples of the palestinian women meeting the lesbians and realising “the lesbians are not so bad” or of haitians singing the marseilles.

    For Zizek, this last is the perfect example of how the non-west must respond, namely by wresting from the universal its own language, rather than stewing in our little particularistic holes, singing our local songs, preserving our “cultures”. I don’t know why Zizek thinks this is such a revolutionary insight, the first generation of Indian nationalists, like nationalists in other parts of the colonial world, did precisely this. Use the language of constitutional governance to expose the duplicity of the colony’s rhetoric of reason and liberty, fashion themselves as true inheritors of the enlightenment legacy. in an odd way, I found Zizek, despite his frequent gestures to history (particularly the history of 20th century Marxism), almost radically a-historical in his refusal to actually engage the tremendous shifts that have occurred in the last thirty years, both in terms of discourse and the growth of new social movements around the world which demonstrate the massive fracturing of the ideological and political space…

  21. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    January 12, 2010 5:15 PM

    I turn my head away for a second, and when I come back, what do I find, an amazing debate. So much to think about, and such engaged, substantive comments.
    I’m just coming in on Jim Pivonka’s comment here. I love your idea of Zizek suffering from Stockhom Syndrome and the “crypto-colonized Balkan civilization” – very insightful indeed.
    But on Kant, I do want to point out that his anthropological work is far from being some youthful folly which he transcended. He developed courses in anthropology and geography that he taught for forty years from 1756 until the year before his retirement in 1797. (“What is Enlightenment” was written in 1784). Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View was published in 1797, and contained material he had been teaching for years.
    This is why I disagree with this formulation of yours, “Unfortunately, the fruits of the Enlightenment remained unavailable to the colonized peoples”. The point is that the Enlightenment was constitutively flawed, as I said in my post, because the anthropologist Kant who developed the first systematic theory of hierarchical racial differences, was not an aberration from the What is Enlightenment Kant, but the latter’s understanding was shaped and formed by the former.
    What is even more revealing (damning?) is the other fact that we only get to see the anthropologist Kant in “critical race theory”, never in “philosophy”.

    • January 13, 2010 2:11 PM

      Thank you for correcting my mistaken chronology of Kant’s anthropology vis a vis his philosophy. I was way off base on that, and have not been able to recover any memory of what might have led me so far astray.

      Your statement that the Enlightenment is constitutively flawed as a result of Kant’s anthropology warrants consideration and careful examination. Despite the possibility that the philosophy of the Enlightenment was not formally contaminated by these Euro and ethnocentric speculations, the importance of Kant to broader European intellectual history would presumably result in the bleeding over into the thinking of that era’s “public intellectuals” in a way that would severly contaminate philosophial discussion and opinion, including the universities.

      That effect would only be exacerbated by the convenience of these theories to the merchants and missionaries who surely welcomed them as justification for the explolitation and domination of colonized peoples.

      I have been familiar with Kant from the point of view of his signal contribuiton to the methods and philosophy of science. This excursion into speculative anthropology, heavily influenced by narrow culture and ethnicity bound ideas, seems incompatible with his philosophical temperament and work. The inferred contamination of the latter by the former, and the subsequent historical consequences, deserve wider recognition and study. I would be very interested in any serious work in this area you can refer me to.

      I am not sure what to make of this, in terms of my own, very personal as well as cultural (Scots-Bohemian 2nd generation US agriculturalist), relationship to the Enlightenment . I see the Enlightenment under siege in North Atlantic civilization, attacked both by ignorance of its character on the left and by religious and Platonist medievalist extremists on the right. We have a problem, in my view, that demands attention, and defense of Enlightement principles.

      But that is not your problem. From the point of view of the colonized, I am left with two glimmers of understanding and hope. One is by Geetha: “politically correct multiculturalism routed through dilute and dishonest liberal toleration may not be the only form of cultural exchange/diversity that exists/is conceivable.” This discussion has greatly expanded my understanding of that point. The second is by Aarti Sethi: “how the non-west must respond, namely by wresting from the universal its own language,”

      These parallel, in an expanded and vastly more challenging way, personal reexamination of the character of tolerance and its limits, and the need to clear my head, and discourse, of the dregs of definitions and points of view received from my cultural background and experience. My thanks to you and the other commenters for your assistance.

  22. Jody permalink
    January 13, 2010 4:05 AM

    Thanks for posting this blog — it’s a thorough riposte to a philosopher who has paradoxically made a career talking about the logic of disavowal! But, as nonwhite peoples, I don’t know why all the Jamesons and Zizeks of the world continue to surprise us. If Marx couldn’t get past his own myopia regarding the idea of capitalism as modernity and the strategy of turning the (Western) state’s monopoly of violence towards non-capitalist ends, how can we expect any more from Zizek, who regularly proclaims that Hegel is the most important thinker in the history of the world? Didn’t he read the second appendix to his lectures on the Philosophy of History?

    For the rest of us, we start from a basic set of premises that Zizek and co. never cease to find amazing:

    1) capitalism doesn’t exist — it’s an abstraction that’s always propped up by violence

    2) modernity doesn’t exist — it’s an abstraction that’s always propped up by European and US military intervention and war profiteers;

    3) the state doesn’t exist — it’s an abstraction of legitimacy that’s always propped up by an international class of bankers and financiers.

    If you think in and through the European tradition (Kant, Hegel, Marx), what else can you expect except Eurocentric answers to Eurocentric questions? For Zizek, poverty and genocide are academic questions that happen far away, across vast expanses of desert, mountains and oceans. You can’t expect too much from people like that….

  23. January 13, 2010 8:24 AM

    Thanks for this fascinating discussion.

    I hope to chime in soon, once I have had a chance to read all of it.

    In the meantime might I gesture over to another site where critical discussion of zizek has been occuring among and between those interested in building a fresh 21st century communist movement?

    The site is the Kasama Project
    http://www.kasamaproject.org

    And the most recent post on Zizek is to be found here:

    http://mikeely.wordpress.com/2010/01/11/after-slavoj-zizeks-talk-of-communist-catastrophe-an-alternate-script/

    I hope to see some of you over there on Kasama as well!

  24. Jeebesh Bagchi permalink
    January 13, 2010 8:52 PM

    Why is it that Zizek’s lecture at Stein auditorium has evoked so much response? Over the last few years many important thinkers / scholars have spoken in Delhi – Agamben, Scott, Ginsberg, Anderson, Ranciere among others – and none produced such animated discussion. My guess is (i) the condition of excess that was produced (crowds, time, words etc) and perhaps more importantly (ii) the format that allowed a public confrontation on stage. Nivedita broke through conventions of celebrity formal talks with her non-cautious and combative mode. The other crucial vector is Zizek’s unashamed celebration and display of freedom of his self-claimed particularity. This has brought in a discomfort and also drawn the lines of conversation between disparate people.

    Zizek reads through jokes, cinema, anecdotes, encounters and tries to practice his cultural and political reading through them. This brings in laughter and creates a kind of bond and affinity with him when you are hearing him. This explains his popularity.

    Interestingly, his jokes, anecdotes etc from east europe are from a particular era and all of them are jokes that illuminate how to read power. State-power, heroes, forms of banishment, display of power etc. All these jokes provide a reading of a system. Here, daily life is capable of providing critical analysis. Theoretically, this remains unvisited.

    But, his jokes from the last two decades are about individuals and most of the time they are caricatures. Classic is his “hamster” anecdote. Here the system is supposedly unmasked by banalizing the individual. This is a deep current within critical thought that developed during cold war period in the west. No conflict, no generative possibility in humans – only perpetual loop of consent and recuperation. The system is transparent to the critic, only individuals needs to brought out of their stupor. Zizek just follows that same current but in a more accessible and humorous way.

  25. real underdog permalink
    January 13, 2010 9:25 PM

    I am sure that one would witness a similar debate in Kafila next year almost on same lines.Instead of zizek it could be some other then fashionable intellectual.

  26. Aarti Sethi permalink*
    January 14, 2010 10:22 AM

    @underdog
    Thank you, we pride ourselves on being fashionable.

  27. real underdog permalink
    January 14, 2010 10:37 AM

    ‘Thank you, we pride ourselves on being fashionable’
    @ Aarti Sethi
    There are times when it is fashionable to be unfashionable :). Dont call zizek all the way
    to Delhi to explain this, a cheaper substitute
    is there i.e. me :)

  28. tn joy permalink
    January 14, 2010 10:52 AM

    Incidentally i am a beauty consultant. and not averse to fashionable ideas Kudos Arti! But I still assert-there is only once zizek

    TN Joyi from Muziris sweating under sufron

  29. rajesh permalink
    January 14, 2010 2:35 PM

    hello but did anyone notice that zizek towards the end of his presentation at habitat centre approvingly pointed out the approach of the maoists in nepal towards as the state – as an example of what he has in mind. is it possible that the maoists are deluded – that they are the victim of the western notion of universalism. in fact in an earlier interview to (was it the indian express?) put up on navayana’s site, zizek positively mentions the maoists. i think there is a nexus here. the only problem then is zizek seems to be with the tribal resistance as appropriated by the maoists. with ambedkar and the dalits on his side now he has the adivasis too!! help help! maoists too are averse to questions of identity, like zizek.

  30. rohan permalink
    January 15, 2010 12:48 AM

    the problem with the zizeks and their critics is the same – lack of contact with the rigorous grassroot politics. therefore they are left to pontificate while the world passes by. while the visit, the intervention, the response, the analyses etc etc are keeping this section of blogsphere on fire, there is real fire burning on the ground. can the radicals reach out ? the answer is no !

  31. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    January 15, 2010 10:21 AM

    Rohan, “rigorous grassroots politics” that is allergic to “rigorous thinking” will continue to be overwhelmed by endless fire-fighting while nothing fundamental changes. Remember how many years Marx spent in the library…

    • Upal Chakraborty permalink
      January 15, 2010 3:09 PM

      Without discounting the importance of theory, one should not forget that participation in mass actions enriches theory while theory in turn provides a guidance to mass action. Theory does not emerge in a vacuum – it is the distilled essence of practical observations as well as existing theoretical paradigms. Mass Movement is just one of the vehicles to understand practical situations.
      We cannot compare Kafila with Marx because of 2 reasons :
      1. Marx provided a theory which was path-breaking, discontinuous , funadmentally different from the theories existng during his time . Such breakthroughs are very few in the history of mankind.
      2. There was no mass movement occurring in his surroundings. However, he remained a keen student of movments like the Paris commune, for example.
      Can we say the same of India today ?

      Upal

    • rohan permalink
      January 15, 2010 7:46 PM

      i echo what rohan has written. politics is not string theory. practice intertwined with theory is the need of the hour. to say that there is no rigorous thinking among those involved in grassroot politics amounts to elitism. should the real people involved in daily struggles wait till the rigorous thinkers spend their academic lifetime to fix the theory ? of course merchants of capital are not waiting. it is not to demean the thinkers. but they should acknowledge their limitations while having their share of the sun while the zizeks come and go.

  32. chandrakumar permalink
    January 16, 2010 5:08 PM

    i would like to ask a question to Slavoj zizek
    ie
    How would you analyze Ambedkar”s political positions within the theorization of identity politics?
    or wasnt identity politics?

  33. Manash Bhattacharjee permalink
    January 19, 2010 6:28 PM

    I disagree with Nivedita’s response to Zizek. Let me put my central problem regarding two issues first –

    One,

    the accusation of Zizek having stains of universalism in his argument which is, in turn, perceived to be Euro-centric, is fallacious. In his talk at IHC, Zizek clearly said that he affirms universalism only on a single ground: regarding people who suffer power anywhere in the world. Without this sensibility, is it possible to raise one’s fist against the USA and Israel? The idea of universalism which is simply based on our sense of solidarity with people who are outside our cultural/social/national boundaries presents us with an ‘other’ in whose struggle we can participate even by remaining outside the context of that struggle. The political ethics of our concern derives itself from a universal sense of solidarity rather than from our immediacy to the context. I think Zizek simply hinted at this and nothing more, and this is surely not Euro-centric and un-ethical.

    Two,

    this whole, unnecessary accusation of the Stalinist shadow around Zizek. Again, Zizek quite interestingly pointed out that he keeps that photograph of Stalin in his living room to provoke both communists and others alike. He said, the question of Stalin still remains; it hasn’t been fully answered. Zizek suggests, I think, a haunting reminder that Stalin might well be part of our ‘repressed’ consciousness. (He cautioned S. Anand, the crude anti-Gandhian, to not fall prey to “our own, personal Stalins”). The point is, even though our disgust of Stalin is in place, it doesn’t solve two important questions: Have we rendered ourselves impervious to the addictions of the small Stalins around us and in us? I don’t think so. Secondly, is the ‘excess’ of Stalin, an excess whose possibility is impossible to “manage” in politics, a question which needs to be solved within all ideas of revolutionary politics or does it un-problematically escape into a “universalist” idea of a tyrannical leader even in democracies, etc?

    I think two or three Zizeks isn’t the point. That would be creating mirror-images of Zizek – a trap he won’t mind at all. In fact, Zizek would love to put such a view to pyscho-sexual analysis!

    To create two Zizeks is to divide the complexity of Zizek’s ideas into a problem of antagonistic subjectivities. That won’t help us understand Zizek’s politics. It would merely throw the whole issue back into Zizek himself. There are multiple intellectual sources in Zizek’s oeuvre. He uses these sources/directions to analyse the various concerns of his time. The overarching concern is indeed Marxism and Communist politics. But in a post-Soviet era, being an East Suropean, he deals with the problem deliberately outside the ideological rubric of Marxism alone. That is enough proof of his intellectual openness.

  34. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    January 19, 2010 9:22 PM

    Manash, your entire response to Zizek seems to be via how you heard his talk. A couple of simple clarifications:
    a) “Eurocentrism” is not my term of abuse for Zizek, it is explicitly his self-definition, and his project – “A leftist plea for Eurocentrism” is the title of his article in Critical Inquiry, and he makes the whole argument again quite clearly in the book released that evening. It is a project rejected by many scholars, European and non-Europeans alike.
    b) Re Stalinism – Zizek often says and writes, that like the good Lacanian he is, he rejects “stories about what we do” – the lines in my response to him above are quoted from “First as Tragedy then as Farce”. The point he makes is that there is nothing like “the real humanity inside everybody” etc., all there is what we do. And what he “does” is put up Stalin his wall (that particular point was meant to be a joke, but perhaps I should have added some anatomical and sexual references – and maybe canned laughter! – to establish it as such ) and defend Revolutionary Terror at length, and unapologetically.
    c) The reason I used the device of two Zizeks is precisely because he says everything and nothing simultaneously – when confronted with the portrait of Stalin, he will say but I did it to piss off everybody, but when faced with Starbucks using the language of environmentalism, he uses it, not to dismiss Starbucks, but the environmentalist movement, because what it “does” is help Starbucks make profits!
    d) It seems to me that at least some of you are defending Zizek purely on on the basis of the talk at IHC (“But he never said that” etc), while my condensed response to him is based on reading not only that book but much else he has been writing over the years. So you think you hear him say the good solid Marxist stuff against what you hear as piddly pomo objections. Very comforting to hear old items of faith being reiterated and re-established by a bearded white man – by god, you must have been right all along!!
    Finally – I find Zizek utterly patriarchal and crypto-sexist, but more importantly, most uninteresting and irrelevant to understand anything about the world I live in, and I don’t mean “India”. The only reason I ended up doing this is because Anand (of Navayana) asked me to, and Anand is a friend whom it is difficult to say no to. I have spent enough time and energy that I could have fruitfully spent reading (and doing) many other things. Really, I’m done with Zizek!

  35. northernsong permalink
    January 26, 2010 9:54 AM

    “Why does he think that traditional families are less susceptible to capitalist domination? ”

    Except he does. See the opposition of the old authoritarian father to the new post-modernist father – the violence is much more horrific in the new one because you have to like going to see your grand mother. Similarly, in the new capitalism, you express your dislike of capitalism in our own capitalist activity (eco-bucks, etc..) In the traditional family, you retain yourself as something that can be expressed against the authoritarian norm – you have not given into the authoritarian father when you go see your grand mother because he threatens to beat you otherwise – your conscience remains your own.

    • January 27, 2010 12:51 AM

      If your point is that simple physical constraint, without psychological abuse or control, is preferable to the kinds of indoctrination and subtle shaping of the frames of reference and experience available in the social and personal space available to us, I can agree. I use that argument in a family context on occasion, arguing that a short, sharp, physical correction of a child, which is directly associated in meaning and time with the dangerous or grossly inappropriate behavior being corrected, is less abusive than protracted non physical deprivations which are delayed and do not relate to the behavior – “grounding” and other privilege restrictions can – in some cases – be more damaging to the developing personality, and less effective than a slap on the butt, in my view.

      Unfortunately, extension of this limited case to a generalizaton about styles of family organization, or the historical character of “capitalism” as the primary method for organization of humanity’s capital endowment is unwarrented; in my view it can be demonstrated to be a false generalization.

      In the family, as well as in broader social organizaton, power grows, figuratively, from the barrel of the gun of physical discipline. So psychological abuse is, and has always been “wrapped” in the physical abuse; as psychological controls become more subtle and less visible that wrapping only seems to disappear.

      There is no inherent superiority of traditional physical discipline over a suggested modern style, if such actually exists. The real character of familial physical abuse and constraint is at least as psychologically damaging and limiting to development of self respect, self efficacy, and autonomous action and responsibility, or more so, than “modern” indirect methods. Neither is more or less apt to result in “susceptibility to capitalist domination” than the other – both can be experienced in ways which are, or are not, crippling to the autonomous, critical, and responsible personality. That’s my observation, anyway.

    • January 27, 2010 4:24 PM

      I though Nivedita Menon’s response completed the cycle on family, but the last paragraph in Sunalini Kumar’s post “The Suicide of Sense”, is too perfect in its synchronicity with this exchange not to quote it:

      “… that the greatest hoax of the twentieth century is indeed the category of the hermetically sealed category of family, along with the attendant universal categories of parenting, childhood and teenage. By taking the focus away from the complexity of social processes and real historical-geographic constellations of power, exclusion, privilege, desire, fantasy and loss that a person would experience from the day she was born, we have the idea of the normative, adequately adjusted, moderately psycho-analysed individual whose deepest fears and possibilities emanate from childhood and parenting experiences.

      Never was an idea more conveniently apolitical for the capitalist imaginary.

      So invested are we in the idea of the universally functional well-adjusted family rearing (hopefully) non-suicidal adults that the Government of the province of Victoria in Australia recently started sending super-nannies to disturbed families, to teach them parenting skills. I say send the bloody nannies back to the government, to fix them. And to the companies, the media houses, the war-mongering, death-worshipping world. Who will fix their insanity?”

  36. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    January 27, 2010 9:07 AM

    Northernsong, this way of posing the traditional family’s “violence” against the post-modern family’s “ideology” is precisely the kind of simplistic sound-byte that I find most annoying about Zizek. As Jim points out above, the traditional family’s control stems as much out of mind-control as the postmodern family’s out of physical coercion. They form a continuum, not mutually exclusive poles. Long intellectual traditions from Gramsci to Foucault and generations of feminists (not to mention psychoanalysis!) have enabled us to think about this continuum in more complex ways than Z seems capable of.
    In his view in any case, everything, all social transformation, reworked subjectivities, resistance, whatever – all is functional for capitalism/funded by capitalism/produced by capitalism. It remains only (if one had the interest and time) to make the argument that Zizek’s relentless moronification of Marxist/communist ideas is extremely well-suited to capitalist caricatures of these.

  37. Sunalini permalink*
    January 28, 2010 12:35 PM

    Jim, thanks. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this debate, and have read your excerpt from Lipin Bu’s monograph with interest. It is clear to me that Zizek enjoys setting up straw enemies and false dichotomies, which he then demolishes with his characteristic flair. For instance, the earlier point I made about politically correct liberalism routed through dilute multiculturalism – Z’s position at times would seem to oppose that to the rough beauty of a lateralising capitalism – all that is solid melts into air, all that is sacred is profaned etc. Sounds terribly revolutionary when you put it like that, all decoded flows (in Deleuze-ian lingo) just waiting to be fashioned into something brand new, into a brave new utopian order. Of course Z wouldn’t put it like that, and of course capitalism doesn’t function like that. Sure, it exports a slavish managerial-proletariat misery equally to all corners of the planet, and there is a peculiar democracy in that! But capitalism must fall back on itself whenever its flows become too fluid, continuously erecting barriers, roadblocks and walls in order to squeeze surplus value from the disempowered, and siphon it back to the centre. That’s why it needs the State more than anybody else in history perhaps. The State is the Wall par excellence.

    Where does that leave Z’s defence of the State? Its just disingenuous, Z’s style of polemics – simplistic sound-byte, as Nivedita says.

  38. Sunalini permalink
    February 18, 2010 8:34 PM

    Especially for Jim and Nivedita, a delightful excerpt from Kant’s much-ignored and little-known Geography (for which no reliable English translation exists, apparently):

    In hot countries men mature more quickly in every respect but they do not attain the perfection of the temperate zones. Humanity achieves its greatest perfection with the white race. The yellow Indians have somewhat less
    talent. The negroes are much inferior and some of the peoples of the Americas are well below them. (Kant 1999: 223)

    All inhabitants of hot lands are exceptionally lazy; they are also timid and the same two traits characterize also folk living in the far north. Timidity engenders superstition and in lands ruled by Kings leads to slavery. Ostoyaks, Samoyeds, Lapps, Greenlanders, etc. resemble people of hot lands in their timidity, laziness, superstition and desire for strong drink, but lack the jealousy characteristic of the latter since their climate does not stimulate their passion greatly.

    Too little and also too much perspiration makes the blood thick and viscous. . . . In mountain lands men are persevering, merry, brave, lovers of freedom and of their country. Animals and men which migrate to another
    country are gradually changed by their environment. . . . The northern folk who moved southward to Spain have left progeny neither so big nor so strong as they, and which is also dissimilar to Norwegians and Danes in temperament.”

    Kant also drops some more gems along the way – Burmese women wear indecent clothing and take pride in getting pregnant by Europeans, the Javanese are by turns, thieving, fearful and rageful…and so on. Before we quickly dismiss these remarks as not representative of the ‘real’ Kant, we would do well to listen to the critical Marxist geographer David Harvey, who shows masterfully how Kant’s cosmopolitanism depends intimately and entirely on his view of the “inferior races”. Kant himself in fact took his geographical learning and teaching very seriously apparently, going as far as to hold that geographical knowledge formed the basis of all social science.

    Harvey’s argument is that indeed all cosmopolitanism bears the mark of the ‘embedded geographies’ of its advocates. As late as the mid twentieth century, the respected scholar of nationalism Edward Shils was explaining non-European nationalism by what he termed the natives’ excessive and perverse obsession with authority. As opposed to the immanent love of freedom in the white man, we suppose?

  39. Jody permalink
    February 19, 2010 11:17 PM

    Sunalini, can you give me the full citation of the David Harvey essay you mention in your last post? There’s an article I use of his often, “Hegel, Von Thunen, Marx,” about how none of these thinkers could “purge” the historical necessity of colonial conquest and primitive accumulation in the evolution of the modern world (as “spirit” or as capitalism), however hard they tried. I think the underlying implication is that Western philosophy cannot ultimately abandon the atrocities that Western nations have visited on the colonial world; that, ultimately, Western philosophy has to defend and promote those atrocities in the name of “historical necessity.” This implication leads straight to Zizek’s “leftist plea for Eurocentrism.” It’s like Zizek saying, yes, we can’t disavow the colonial past, let’s embrace and celebrate it instead. Of course, it all looks good on paper…that is, IN THEORY.

  40. Sunalini permalink
    February 20, 2010 12:28 PM

    Sure, Jody, the reference is Harvey, David. 2000. “Cosmpolitanism and The Banality of Geographical Evils.” Public Culture 12(2): 529–564.
    I really liked your earlier point too, by the way. And could you send me the reference of the article you mentioned? The one on Marx?

  41. Jody permalink
    February 21, 2010 12:09 PM

    Here’s the citation for the other Harvey essay:
    Harvey, David. “The Spatial Fix: Hegel, Von Thünen, and Marx.” In Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography, 284-311. New York: Routledge, 2001. I’m developing a real admiration for David Harvey’s work. It’s just a shame that instead of spending time on the productive and thought-provoking scholarship of scholars like Harvey, we get bogged down in the polemics and pedantry of a provocateur who revels in the grandiosity of his stupidity, beginning his speeches with statements like: “Hegel is the most important philosopher in the modern history of this world!” It’s as if he’s constantly auditioning for a virtual reality show.

  42. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    February 22, 2010 10:50 AM

    Sunalini, Jody: on Kant, it is revealing to realise that the early accounts of Kant as anthroplogist emerge from the work of African scholars. I came across this aspect of Kant (entirely consistent with the What is Enlightenment Kant, and not an aberration, as I have pointed out in my exchange above with Jim), while reading Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, Nigerian born philosopher, who published an article “The Color of Reason: The Idea of ‘race’ in Kant’s Anthropology”, in Bucknell Review 1995. In it you can find many a gem of the sort that you have quoted, Sunalini!
    This article is reproduced with other significant essays on race and reason in “Postcolonial African Philosophy. A critical reader” edited by Eze (Blackwell, 1997).

  43. Sunalini permalink
    February 22, 2010 11:29 AM

    Oh wow, thanks Nivedita. And Jody, for the reference. On a slightly tangential note, what would you say to the suggestion that the Blackwell collection with Eze’s work in it should be simply called ‘Philosophy: A Critical reader’?

  44. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    February 22, 2010 9:49 PM

    I would say – and thereby hangs the tale of the (Never-marked) (But secretly coded) Universal and the (Always marked) Particular…

    • Joe permalink
      February 23, 2010 10:28 PM

      Her is my response to the Zizek debate. I think the importance of Zizek is in the continuous espousal of Marxism as a ‘term’, shamelessly, to an academic world for which the very term is dictatorial and therfore an anathema, but the Marxism he thus poses is of any content is the moot question. Nathan Coombs in his article in the journal of Zizek (studieshttp://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2009/coombs101209.html), has substantiated his argument that Zizek and Badiou is finding philosophical solace in Christianity and St.Paul, and the concern it raises for Marxism as a secular practice. I think this fear is not unfounded, whatever be the apparently possible subversive element in the psalms of St.Paul. Such moves may result in unexpected consequences as regards the struggles of third world were the clergy may take this as an endorsement for their exploitation based on scriptural authority. Imagine its impact in a country like India where the only religion is Brahmancal caste based hierarchical segregation, appropriated by even Syrian Christians and upper caste Muslims. I think the substantiations of such an apprehension is evident from acts of grassroot movement of Poykayil Appachan a Christian-Hindu religious reformer, in Kerala in early 20th century, , who along with the greats like Sahodaran Ayyappan, did not fall in trap of the liberal hoodwinking in sankritisation, and burned both bible and Bhagavat gita publically, as they both are opposed to the real liberation f dalits. It was a glorious move to denounce the scriptural sanction of exploitation by two ‘great’ world religions, by a subaltern in the third world. Remember that even Kosambi scolded the Bengali bhadralok who dug into Bhagavat gita to findout Marxist dialectics.

      . On the question of Stalin I had some discomfort able doubts when I read the polemics. It is true that he could be a beast as he is portrayed to be. Or saint as ‘believers’ say. But the historical question is whether any one else would have done any other thing in his predicament. But there is one great difference in his ‘cruelty’ .Unlike other dictators ,who aimed at amassing personal wealth, he was more of a socialist fanatic, who went berserk. It could even the be the problem of a militaristic, war based, suspicious- communism and budding problem of it’s state project . If the excesses written in his account is to be believed completely, it may prove counterproductive,since it generates sympathy for him, as killings of such vast numbers can only be conceived by a person troubled mentally or genetically. But my doubt is what about Nehrus ,Indiras and Bushes, the great liberals working with in the pretence of democracy, who were absolved the dictatorial status despite innumerable excesses they authored, written only in the account of an imaginary state. Is it because of Stalin’s subaltern origin(a cobbler’s son), unintellectual bully like nature of his visage when judged from the standpoint of mainstream culture , unlike that of a romantic Marx and Che, thereby easily making himself vulnerable to stories of excesses by the genocide industry. Take the case of Cabral, despite all the makings of a romantic revolutionary, he was never bestowed the status of Che by the revolutionary industry. My take is that he may be cruel, but we don’t know anything for sure. And shouldn’t we discount the capitalist’s nefarious motives too from such accounts produced at maligning him. Except for the non- practicing academic schools of Marxism, and Trotskysts for their own factional reasons, remember that practically every current of practicing schools of Marxism still pay obeisance to Stalin. Ok. They are always born fools! Since they are practicing non-academics they are ordained, destined and bound to err in all their judgements by divinity!. Or since they practice, are they genetically handicapped to be produce theoretical stuff worth academic recognition. Unlike the academic Gurus in their worship of neutrality as a religion, ever infallible.These are only my vituperative doubts/confusion. I am open ended .But one thing, all blacks Marxists like Hary Haywood and Paul Robeson had great regard for him. For those who want a different take on Stalin-as we are blared day in and day out with anti-Stalin retreats- just go through Ludov Martin, the Belgian expert on Congolese economy. Believe him or not that is up to you!

      And on the issue of Kant- enlightenment, this is my take. Of course it is fact that the whole project of enlightenment smacked of considerable racism. But the rational critique transposed in to the project has been successful in generating libertarian movement in the countries under the colonial subjugation. A case in point is the radical rupture from predominant strand of indigenous culture, which was exploitative, in the practice of Ambedkar and Periyar,inspired by enlightenment.It is a project, which, if infused with theoretical rigour can be extrapolated backwards to trace the indigenous roots of materialism in the practice of Charvakas and Lokayatas.Even the non spiritual streams in ancient materialism of the Greeks like Epicurus is related to this current, which can be absorbed for progressive actions.
      Again , if we criticise the whole spectrum of enlightenment project as racist because of its European ‘origin, what about the role played by progressive stream of rationality within the Islamic culture in the generation of modernity in Europe. So is there any point in abandoning the rationalist-libertarian strands imbibed by the enlightenment project because of its association with racism. And we shouldn’t be ,oblivious to dangers of such an effort as it would result in a void , filled only by theoretical excesses of the pin-up boy of all fashionable movements(thereby, easily malleable to be even a fountain head of energy for the soft-wing hindutva), Mr.M.KGandhi , who deserves crude denunciation.(Seethe engagement of Periyar,Ambedkar and Narayan guru in a blashphemous,non-reverntial way to Gandhi)

      Joe.M.S.

  45. November 4, 2010 12:29 AM

    Greetings from Verso Books NYC! Please help us promote this great event by posting it to your blog or adding it to your organization’s calendar of events.

    Thanks for your time and support!

    Best,
    Verso Books
    Brooklyn, NY

    HIDE YOUR TULIPS, ŽIŽEK IS COMING!
    Slavoj Žižek reveals the signs of the coming apocalypse…

    November 08, 2010. 7PM
    The Great Hall at Cooper Union
    7 East 7th Street, New York

    Now Žižek will make a major New York City appearance at Cooper Union on November 8 to discuss the “End Times”—in which he identifies the terminal crisis of global capitalism. As Slavoj’s events always sell out, buy your tickets in advance. Regular admission includes a FREE copy of Living in the End Times, worth $29.95. (Already have one? Then give your new copy to a friend who’s in ideological denial …)

    Special Note: There is now a $10 student discount available!

    Slavoj Žižek is today’s most controversial public intellectual. His work traverses the fields of philosophy, psychoanalysis, theology, history and political theory, taking in film, popular culture, and literature to provide acute analyses of the complexities of contemporary ideology as well as a serious and sophisticated philosophy. The author of over 30 books, Slavoj Žižek’s provocative prose has challenged a generation of activists and intellectuals. His latest work is Living in the End Times.

    More information about this event can be found on the Verso Website: http://www.versobooks.com/events/49-slavoj-iek-on-living-in-the-end-times

    For press inquiries contact Julie McCarroll: julie@versobooks.com

  46. Amrit Kaur permalink
    January 10, 2010 11:40 AM

    Hi i wish to explore possibilities of working with Slavoi Zizek during his stay in India. Would you be able to tell me how to go about reaching him?

    Thanks.

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