Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Slavoj Zizek in the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies

Slavoj Zizek has an article entitled "The Prospects of Radical Politics Today" in the January 2008 issue of the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies. This particular selection is merely a step along the way in Zizek's essay, but I picked it out because it felt supportive of my stengthening belief that philosophy is really a strange and powerful genre of fiction -- one of my favorite genres, actually.

"The very question "Is it true?" apropos of some statement is supplanted by another question: "Under what power con­ditions can this statement be uttered?" What we get instead of the universal truth is a multitude of perspectives, or, as it is fashionable to put it today, of "narratives" – not only of literature, but also of politics, religion, science, they are all different narratives, stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and the ultimate goal of ethics is to guarantee the neutral space in which this multitude of narratives can peacefully coexist . . ."

The essay itself is interesting as well, talking about power structures in the DNA of language, or at least our understanding of it, and how even those who are swinging their pick-axes feverishly to demolish the well-cured foundations must stand on those very foundations in order to begin.

Here is another passage I thought worth quoting out of context:

"Habermas designated the present era as that of the neue Unϋbersichtlichkeit – ­the new opacity.1 More than ever, our daily experience is mystifying: moderniza­tion generates new obscurantisms, the reduction of freedom is presented to us as the arrival of new freedoms."

The New Opacity. Obscurantisms. Those words stick in my mind.

". . . one should be especially careful not to confuse the ruling ideology with ideology which seems to dominate. More than ever, one should bear in mind Walter Benjamin's reminder that it is not enough to ask how a certain theory (or art) declares itself with regard to social struggles – one should also ask how it effectively functions in these very struggles."

I think Slavoj Zizek is one of the most honest thinkers in a long time. Maybe I say that because I agree with a lot of what he says. Probably so.

"My personal experience is that practically all of the "radical" academics silently count on the long-term stability of the American capitalist model, with the secure tenured position as their ultimate professional goal (a surprising number of them even play on the stock market). If there is a thing they are gen­uinely horrified of, it is a radical shattering of the (relatively) safe life environ­ment of the "symbolic classes" in the developed Western societies. Their exces­sive Politically Correct zeal when dealing with sexism, racism, Third World sweatshops, etc., is thus ultimately a defense against their own innermost identi­fication, a kind of compulsive ritual whose hidden logic is: "Let's talk as much as possible about the necessity of a radical change to make sure that nothing will really change!""

This makes me think of my friend Jeff Vande Zande's novel entitled Landscape with Hothouse Flowers. I am also reminded, by the last lines especially, of an essay I wrote a few years ago about the possibly paradoxical catharsis viewers experienced through the movie V for Vendetta.

" . . . radical chic . . . "

Zizek talks about Peter Singer, Richard Rorty, Theodor Adorno, Maxim Gorky, Karl Marx (of course), Lenin (of course), Jean-Francois Lyotard, Etienne Balibar, Jacques Ranciere, Alain Badiou, Bill Clinton, Deleuze and Guattari, Christopher Hitchens, Franz Kafka, etc, but, interestingly, not Jean Baudrillard. Huh.

Here's maybe a line that could super-distill and oversimplify the article:

American academia is to radical politics as Starbucks is to specialty coffee.


chris said...

Great post! Thanks for letting me know about this article. I'm going to make my freshman read Zizek next quarter, maybe I'll have them read this one.

Josh Maday said...

Thanks, Chris. I found the article by accident when I looked at the IJBS because I hadn't read it in awhile. I was surpised to find an article by Zizek there. I thought it was about him, but it was by him; even better. Sounds like an excellent class you'll be teaching. Let me know how it goes.

Andrey Maklakov said...

Great post, and great Zizek`s article, especially in the end, when he talks about probability of revolution, sexual or social. Thanks, Chris!