Friday, March 6, 2015

What it Means to be Post-Modern

Superego is the reversal of the permissive "You May!" into the prescriptive "You Must!", the point in which permitted enjoyment turns into ordained enjoyment. We all know the formula of Kant s unconditional imperative: "Du canst, denn du sollst". You can do your duty, because you must do it. Superego turns this around into "You must, because you can." Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of Viagra, the potency pill that promises to restore the capacity of male erection in a purely biochemical way, bypassing all problems of psychological inhibitions and so on. Now Viagra takes care of the erection, there is no excuse, you can enjoy sex so you should enjoy it, otherwise you are guilty. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the New Age wisdom of recovering the spontaneity of your true self seems to offer a way out of this superego predicament. However, what do we get effectively? Is this attitude not secretly sustained by the superego imperative? You must do your duty of achieving full self–realization and self–fulfillment because you can. This is the reason why we feel, at least I do, a kind of terrorist pressure beneath the compliant tolerance of New Age preachers. They seem to preach peace and letting go and so on but there is an implicit terrorist dimension in it.

So what is superego? The external opposition between pleasure and duty is precisely overcome in the superego. It can be overcome in two opposite ways. On one hand, we have the paradox of the extremely oppressive, so–called totalitarian post–traditional power which goes further than the traditional authoritarian power. It does not only tell you "Do your duty, I don’t care if you like it or not." It tells you not only "You must obey my orders and do your duty" but "You must do it with pleasure. You must enjoy it." It is not enough for the subjects to obey their leader, they must actively love him. This passage from traditional authoritarian power to modern totalitarianism can be precisely rendered through superego in an old joke of mine. Let’s say that you are a small child and one Sunday afternoon you have to do the boring duty of visiting your old senile grandmother. If you have a good old–fashioned authoritarian father, what will he tell you? "I don’t care how you feel, just go there and behave properly. Do your duty." A modern permissive totalitarian father will tell you something else: "You know how much your grandmother would love to see you. But do go and visit her only if you really want to." Now every idiot knows the catch. Beneath the appearance of this free choice there is an even more oppressive order. You seem to have a choice, but there is no choice, because the order is not only you must visit your grandmother, you must even enjoy it. If you don’t believe me, just try to say "I have a choice, I will not do it." I promise your father will say "What did your grandmother ever do to you? Don’t you know how she loves you? How could you do this to her?" That’s superego.

On the other hand, we have the opposite paradox of the pleasure itself whose pursuit turns into duty. In a permissive society, subjects experience the need to have a good time, to really enjoy themselves, as a kind of duty, and consequently feel guilty for failing to be happy. The concept of the superego designates precisely this mysterious overlapping in which the command to enjoy overlaps with the duty to enjoy yourself. Maybe we can in this way distinguish the totalitarian from the liberal–permissive superego. In both cases, the message is "You may enjoy, but because you may, you must". In both cases you pay a price for this permission. In permissive liberalism, the "you may" of freely inventing yourself is paid for when you get caught in the cobweb of prohibitions concerning the well’being of yourself and your neighbors. We can do whatever we want today, hedonism and so on, but the result is that we have at the daily level so many prohibitions so as not to prevent others from enjoying. You are constantly told what to eat and drink, no fat, no smoking, safe sex, prohibition to enjoy the other, prohibition of sexual harassment, and so on, life is totally regulated. In an exactly symmetrical way, in totalitarianism the official message is "You should obey."

Neo–fundamentalists like to present themselves as "In today’s world there are no firm values, and we offer you safe haven, roots in firm values." This explains the so-called neo–fundamentalist appeal: As sociologists say, in postmodernity, in a reflexive society, there are no firm values, no nature or tradition, people who are used to a firm set of values get lost, long for safe haven… The other aspect of it is the exact opposite. It’s the postmodern subject of total permissiveness who gets caught up in so many prohibitions that precisely in order to be happy, the secret message between the lines of the totalitarian appeal to follow the master is, "If you follow me, you may." You may with impunity rape, sexually harass, kill, etc. I know this from personally talking to some years ago members of the old regime in Belgrade. There message was, "Before we were living this regulated life. Now at the point of us becoming Serb ethnic fundamentalists is that we may." Even before Adorno and Horkheimer, Brecht was attentive to this falsely liberating aspect of fundamentalism. Totalitarianism is not only "safe haven, firm values, we give you a sense of stability", it’s also a kind of false liberation. Which is why in an article from a year ago I offered as a metaphor for totalitarianism, the German fat free salami, whose slogan is Du Darfst. If you obey me, Du Darfst, you can have your salami without fat.
- Slavoj Zizek, "The SuperEgo and the Act"

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Supercharged Freedom Fighters

You drink a bitter draught.
I sip the tears your eyes fight to hold
A cup of lees, of henbane steeped in chaff.
Your breast is hot,
Your anger black and cold,
Through evening's rest, you dream
I hear the moans, you die a thousand's death.
When cane straps flog the body
dark and lean, you feel the blow,
I hear it in your breath.
- Maya Angelou, "To A Freedom Fighter"

Monday, March 2, 2015

Dasein and Oppression


h/t - nicrap & source
We shall Witness
It is certain that we too, shall witness
the day that has been promised
of which has been written on the slate of eternity
When the enormous mountains of tyranny
blow away like cotton.
Under our feet- the feet of the oppressed-
when the earth will pulsate deafeningly
and on the heads of our rulers
when lightning will strike.
From the abode of God
When icons of falsehood will be taken out,
When we- the faithful- who have been barred out of sacred places
will be seated on high cushions
When the crowns will be tossed,
When the thrones will be brought down.
Only The name will survive
Who cannot be seen but is also present
Who is the spectacle and the beholder, both
I am the Truth- the cry will rise,
Which is I, as well as you
And then God’s creation will rule
Which is I, as well as you
We shall Witness
It is certain that we too, shall witness
(Translation source: http://ghazala.wordpress.com/2008/01/08/hum-dekhenge/)

Thou Mayest!

"Recall what is arguably the most powerful scene of The Sound of Music."

"After Maria escapes from the von Trapp family and returns to the monastery, unable to deal with her sexual attraction toward Baron von Trapp, she cannot find peace there, since she is still longing for the Baron; in a memorable scene, the Mother Superior summons her and advises her to return to the von Trapp family and try to sort out her relationship with the Baron. She delivers this message in a weird song “Climb every mountain!” whose surprising motif is: “Do it! Take the risk and try everything your heart wants! Do not allow petty considerations to stand in your way!”

"The uncanny power of this scene resides in its unexpected display of the spectacle of desire, which renders the scene literally embarrassing: The very person whom one would expect to preach abstinence and renunciation turns out to be the agent of the fidelity to one’s desire."
Slavoj Zizek

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Jawas! Sound then Raise/Raze Your Idols!

h/t - Gert
Under your name
People clean their sins
Covering veil of decadence

Idols without masks
All the time rise and fall

I talked to Nietzsche
One late November night
And he still believes in Superman

Today saint to divinity
Tomorrow ruthlessly defiled
Satan old fashioned idol

I wish to Nietzsche goodbye
Night revolves on fog scratch
Zarathustra will preach tomorrow

Age of idols have died
God is hiding behind the scenes.
- Ilire Zajmi, "Idols"

Life in the Faustian Age

Friday, February 27, 2015

Fresh

The formula of pathetic identification ‘I am …’ (or ‘We are all …’) only functions within certain limits, beyond which it turns into obscenity. We can proclaim ‘Je suis Charlie,’ but things start to crumble with examples like ‘We all live in Sarajevo!’ or ‘We are all in Gaza!’ The brutal fact that we are not all in Sarajevo or Gaza is too strong to be covered up by a pathetic identification. Such identification becomes obscene in the case of Muselmänner, the living dead in Auschwitz. It is not possible to say: ‘We are all Muselmänner!’ In Auschwitz, the dehumanisation of victims went so far that identifying with them in any meaningful sense is impossible. (And, in the opposite direction, it would also be ridiculous to declare solidarity with the victims of 9/11 by claiming ‘We are all New Yorkers!’ Millions would say: ‘Yes, we would love to be New Yorkers, give us a visa!’)

The same goes for the killings last month: it was relatively easy to identify with the Charlie Hebdo journalists, but it would have been much more difficult to announce: ‘We are all from Baga!’ (For those who don’t know: Baga is a small town in the north-east of Nigeria where Boko Haram executed two thousand people.) The name ‘Boko Haram’ can be roughly translated as ‘Western education is forbidden,’ specifically the education of women. How to account for the weird fact of a massive sociopolitical movement whose main aim is the hierarchic regulation of the relationship between the sexes? Why do Muslims who were undoubtedly exposed to exploitation, domination and other destructive and humiliating aspects of colonialism, target in their response the best part (for us, at least) of the Western legacy, our egalitarianism and personal freedoms, including the freedom to mock all authorities? One answer is that their target is well chosen: the liberal West is so unbearable because it not only practises exploitation and violent domination, but presents this brutal reality in the guise of its opposite: freedom, equality and democracy.

Back to the spectacle of big political names from all around the world holding hands in solidarity with the victims of the Paris killings, from Cameron to Lavrov, from Netanyahu to Abbas: if there was ever an image of hypocritical falsity, this was it. An anonymous citizen played Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, the unofficial anthem of the European Union, as the procession passed under his window, adding a touch of political kitsch to the disgusting spectacle staged by the people most responsible for the mess we are in. If the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, were to join such a march in Moscow, where dozens of journalists have been murdered, he would be arrested immediately. And the spectacle was literally staged: the pictures shown in the media gave the impression that the line of political leaders was at the front of a large crowd walking along an avenue. But another photo was taken of the entire scene from above, clearly showing that behind the politicians there were only a hundred or so people and a lot of empty space, patrolled by police, behind and around them. The true Charlie Hebdo gesture would have been to publish on its front page a big caricature brutally and tastelessly mocking this event.

As well as the banners saying ‘Je suis Charlie!’ there were others that said ‘Je suis flic!’ The national unity celebrated and enacted in large public gatherings was not just the unity of the people, reaching across ethnic groups, classes and religions, but also the unification of the people with the forces of order and control – not only the police but also the CRS (one of the slogans of May 1968 was ‘CRS-SS’), the secret service and the entire state security apparatus. There is no place for Snowden or Manning in this new universe. ‘Resentment against the police is no longer what it was, except among poor youth of Arab or African origins,’ Jacques-Alain Miller wrote last month. ‘A thing undoubtedly never seen in the history of France.’ In short, the terrorist attacks achieved the impossible: to reconcile the generation of ’68 with its arch enemy in something like a French popular version of the Patriot Act, with people offering themselves up to surveillance.

The ecstatic moments of the Paris demonstrations were a triumph of ideology: they united the people against an enemy whose fascinating presence momentarily obliterates all antagonisms. The public was offered a depressing choice: you are either a flic or a terrorist. But how does the irreverent humour of Charlie Hebdo fit in? To answer this question, we need to bear in mind the interconnection between the Decalogue and human rights, which, as Kenneth Reinhard and Julia Reinhard Lupton have argued, are ultimately rights to violate the Ten Commandments. The right to privacy is a right to commit adultery. The right to own property is a right to steal (to exploit others). The right to freedom of expression is a right to bear false witness. The right to bear arms is a right to kill. The right to freedom of religious belief is a right to worship false gods. Of course, human rights do not directly condone the violation of the Commandments, but they keep open a marginal grey zone that is supposed to be out of the reach of (religious or secular) power. In this shady zone I can violate the commandments, and if the power probes into it, catching me with my pants down, I can cry: ‘Assault on my basic human rights!’ The point is that it is structurally impossible, for the power, to draw a clear line of separation and prevent only the misuse of a human right without infringing on its proper use, i.e. the use that does not violate the Commandments.

It is in this grey zone that the brutal humour of Charlie Hebdo belongs. The magazine began in 1970 as a successor to Hara-Kiri, a magazine banned for mocking the death of General de Gaulle. After an early reader’s letter accused Hara-Kiri of being ‘dumb and nasty’ (‘bête et méchant’), the phrase was adopted as the magazine’s official slogan and made it into everyday language. It would have been more appropriate for the thousands marching in Paris to proclaim ‘Je suis bête et méchant’ than the flat Je suis Charlie.’

Refreshing as it could be in some situations, Charlie Hebdo’s ‘bête et méchant’ stance is constrained by the fact that laughter is not in itself liberating, but deeply ambiguous. In the popular view of Ancient Greece, there is a contrast between the solemn aristocratic Spartans and the merry democratic Athenians. But the Spartans, who prided themselves on their severity, placed laughter at the centre of their ideology and practice: they recognised communal laughter as a power that helped to increase the glory of the state. Spartan laughter – the brutal mockery of a humiliated enemy or slave, making fun of their fear and pain from a position of power – found an echo in Stalin’s speeches, when he scoffed at the panic and confusion of ‘traitors’, and survives today. (Incidentally, it is to be distinguished from another kind of laughter of those in power, the cynical derision that shows they don’t take their own ideology seriously.) The problem with Charlie Hebdo’s humour is not that it went too far in its irreverence, but that it was a harmless excess perfectly fitting the hegemonic cynical functioning of ideology in our societies. It posed no threat whatsoever to those in power; it merely made their exercise of power more tolerable.

In Western liberal-secular societies, state power protects public freedoms but intervenes in private space – when there is a suspicion of child abuse, for example. But as Talal Asad writes in Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury and Free Speech (2009), ‘intrusions into domestic space, the breaching of “private” domains, is disallowed in Islamic law, although conformity in “public” behaviour may be much stricter … for the community, what matters is the Muslim subject’s social practice – including verbal publication – not her internal thoughts, whatever they may be.’ The Quran says: ‘Let him who wills have faith, and him who wills reject it.’ But, in Asad’s words, this ‘right to think whatever one wishes does not … include the right to express one’s religious or moral beliefs publicly with the intention of converting people to a false commitment’. This is why, for Muslims, ‘it is impossible to remain silent when confronted with blasphemy … blasphemy is neither “freedom of speech” nor the challenge of a new truth but something that seeks to disrupt a living relationship.’ From the Western liberal standpoint, there is a problem with both terms of this neither/nor: what if freedom of speech should include acts that may disrupt a living relationship? And what if a ‘new truth’ has the same disruptive effect? What if a new ethical awareness makes a living relationship appear unjust?

If, for Muslims, it is not only ‘impossible to remain silent when confronted with blasphemy’ but also impossible to remain inactive – and the pressure to do something may include violent and murderous acts – then the first thing to do is to locate this attitude in its contemporary context. The same holds for the Christian anti-abortion movement, who also find it ‘impossible to remain silent’ in the face of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of foetuses every year, a slaughter they compare to the Holocaust. It is here that true tolerance begins: the tolerance of what we experience as impossible-to-bear (l’impossible-a-supporter’, as Lacan put it), and at this level the liberal left comes close to religious fundamentalism with its own list of things it’s ‘impossible to remain silent when confronted with’: sexism, racism and other forms of intolerance. What would happen if a magazine openly made fun of the Holocaust? There is a contradiction in the left-liberal stance: the libertarian position of universal irony and mockery, making fun of all authorities, spiritual and political (the position embodied in Charlie Hebdo), tends to slip into its opposite, a heightened sensitivity to the other’s pain and humiliation.

It is because of this contradiction that most left-wing reactions to the Paris killings followed a predictable, deplorable pattern: they correctly suspected that something is deeply wrong in the spectacle of liberal consensus and solidarity with the victims, but took a wrong turn when they were able to condemn the killings only after long and boring qualifications. The fear that, by clearly condemning the killing, we will somehow be guilty of Islamophobia, is politically and ethically wrong. There is nothing Islamophobic in condemning the Paris killings, in the same way that there is nothing anti-Semitic in condemning Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

As for the notion that we should contextualise and ‘understand’ the Paris killings, it is also totally misleading. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley allows the monster to speak for himself. Her choice expresses the liberal attitude to freedom of speech at its most radical: everyone’s point of view should be heard. In Frankenstein, the monster is fully subjectivised: the monstrous murderer reveals himself to be a deeply hurt and desperate individual, yearning for company and love. There is, however, a clear limit to this procedure: the more I know about and ‘understand’ Hitler, the more unforgiveable he seems.

What this also means is that, when approaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we should stick to ruthless and cold standards: we should unconditionally resist the temptation to ‘understand’ Arabic anti-Semitism (where we really encounter it) as a ‘natural’ reaction to the sad plight of the Palestinians, or to ‘understand’ Israeli measures as a ‘natural’ reaction to the memory of the Holocaust. There should be no ‘understanding’ for the fact that in many Arab countries Hitler is still considered a hero, and children at primary school are taught anti-Semitic myths, such as that Jews use the blood of children for sacrificial purposes. To claim that this anti-Semitism articulates, in a displaced mode, resistance against capitalism in no way justifies it (the same goes for Nazi anti-Semitism: it too drew its energy from anti-capitalist resistance). Displacement is not here a secondary operation, but the fundamental gesture of ideological mystification. What this claim does involve is the idea that, in the long term, the only way to fight anti-Semitism is not to preach liberal tolerance, but to articulate the underlying anti-capitalist motive in a direct, non-displaced way.

The present actions of the Israel Defence Forces in the West Bank should not be judged against the background of the Holocaust; the desecration of synagogues in France and elsewhere in Europe should not be judged as an inappropriate but understandable reaction to what Israel is doing in the West Bank. When any public protest against Israel is flatly denounced as an expression of anti-Semitism – that is to say, when the shadow of the Holocaust is permanently evoked in order to neutralise any criticism of Israeli military and political operations – it is not enough to insist on the difference between anti-Semitism and criticism of particular policies of the state of Israel; one should go a step further and say that it is the state of Israel which, in this case, is desecrating the memory of Holocaust victims, instrumentalising them as a way to legitimise political measures in the present. What this means is that one should flatly reject the notion of any logical or political link between the Holocaust and current Israeli-Palestinian tensions. They are two thoroughly different phenomena: one of them is part of the European history of rightist resistance to the dynamics of modernisation; the other is one of the last chapters in the history of colonisation.

The growth of anti-Semitism in Europe is undeniable. When, for example, the aggressive Muslim minority in Malmö harasses Jews so they are afraid to walk the streets in traditional dress, it should be clearly and unambiguously condemned. The struggle against anti-Semitism and the struggle against Islamophobia should be viewed as two aspects of the same struggle.

In a memorable passage in Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered (2001), Ruth Klüger describes a conversation with ‘some advanced PhD candidates’ in Germany:
One reports how in Jerusalem he made the acquaintance of an old Hungarian Jew who was a survivor of Auschwitz, and yet this man cursed the Arabs and held them all in contempt. How can someone who comes from Auschwitz talk like that? the German asks. I get into the act and argue, perhaps more hotly than need be. What did he expect? Auschwitz was no instructional institution … You learned nothing there, and least of all humanity and tolerance. Absolutely nothing good came out of the concentration camps, I hear myself saying, with my voice rising, and he expects catharsis, purgation, the sort of thing you go to the theatre for? They were the most useless, pointless establishments imaginable.
We have to abandon the idea that there is something emancipatory in extreme experiences, that they enable us to open our eyes to the ultimate truth of a situation. This, perhaps, is the most depressing lesson of terror.
- Slavoj Zizek, "In the Grey Zone"

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Islam's* War on the West

Warriors to the Battlefield

If it's not "Islam" which unites them, what does? Being-in-the-World (Dasein)? And what does it mean to become an "authentic" Moslem?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Hysterical Question - Che Vuoi?

The anonymous mechanism of the symbolic order, or another subject in his or her radical alterity, a subject from whom I am forever separated by the "wall of language"? The easy way out of this predicament would have been to read in this discrepancy the sign of a shift in Lacan's development, from the early Lacan focused on the intersubjective dialectic of recognition, to the later Lacan who puts forward the anonymous mechanism that regulates the interaction of subjects (in philosophical terms: from phenomenology to structuralism). While there is a limited truth in this solution, it obfuscates the central mystery of the big Other: the point at which the big Other, the anonymous symbolic order, gets subjectivized.

The exemplary case is divinity: is what we call "God" not the big Other personified, addressing us as a larger-than-life person, a subject beyond all subjects? In a similar way, we talk about History asking something of us, of our Cause calling us to make the necessary sacrifice. What we get here is an uncanny subject who is not simply another human being, but the Third, the subject who stands above the interaction of real human individuals - and the terrifying enigma is, of course, what does this impenetrable subject want from us (theology refers to this dimension as that of Deus absconditus). For Lacan, we do not have to evoke God to get a taste of this abyssal dimension; it is present in every human being:
man's desire is the Other's desire, in which the de /of/ provides what grammarians call a 'subjective determination' - namely, that it is qua /as/ Other that man desires. ... This is why the Other's question - that comes back to the subject from the place from which he expects an oracular reply - which takes some such form as 'Che vuoi?', 'What do you want?' is the question that best leads the subject to the path of his own desire.
-Slavoj Zizek, "From Che vuoi? to Fantasy: Lacan with Eyes Wide Shut."
---

In order to understand the point here we must remember Lacan’s notion that ‘desire is ultimately the Other’s desire: the question-enigma of desire is ultimately not "What do I really want?", but "What does the Other really want from me? What, as an object, am I myself for the Other" - I myself (the subject), as the object-cause of the Other's desire, am the object whose overproximity triggers anxiety (Zizek 2000: 363-364). So the actors become 'suspects' of the big Other when they are 'reduced to the object exchanged or used by the Other (ibid), in this case, the Author.

Bearing this in mind, the actors qua 'suspects' are left with the question 'Che vuoi?' ('What does the Other want from me?'), which signals the role of the hysteric: to constantly question his/her position in relation to the big Other. What we can further claim, in this role, is that the Author appears to act as the Ego-Ideal. This is a term often confused with its obverse, the ideal ego. For Lacan, the ideal ego is simply the image I would like to present to the world of myself - how I wish to be seen. It is therefore considered part of the imaginary. The Ego-Ideal, on the other hand, is the 'agency whose gaze I try to impress with my ego image' (Zizek 2006:80). In this case it is the Author who the Actors perform for; it is his ideal-artistic vision - which is impossible to distinguish beforehand in so far as it is unknowable even to the Author himself until he has already witnessed it - that they wish to actualize. However, if my claim were to stop there it would miss the role of the superego: that which makes us suppress our 'sinful strivings': namely, that which turns actors into 'suspects'. Although the Author's desires may appear senseless he should not be confused with the G_d of the Old Testament (Yahweh), who is full of tautologies 'I am what I am' or irrational commandments; '[i]n short, this G_d is the G_d of pure Will, of the capricious abyss that lies beyond any global rational order of logos, a G_d who does not have to account for anything he does'(Žižek 2000: 318)
- Bryce Lease, "How Badly Do You Want to Kill Your Father?"

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Waiting...

If you're willing to wait for the love of your life
Please wait by the line
And you know dispersive prisms rainbow
But my native optimism isn't broken by the light

The idea of life without company fell suddenly
It crashed through the ceiling on me
And pinned me to the pine
And layer upon layer of hope and doubt
Will crush bones to oil in time

Are you a pusher or are you a puller?
I pull the weight towards me
And I lack the zest of a lemon, looking forward
Unless I have a woman pushing me

A canopy of red-billed quelea
Passed over the blue
A five hour flock, not one dives down
To tell you the truth

As night falls, a quelea crawls
And whispers on his last wings
So abundant are we, left alone I shall be
But a waited phone never rings

Are you a pusher or are you a puller?
I pull the weight towards me
And I lack the zest of a lemon, looking forward
Unless I have a woman pushing me

Are you a pusher or are you a puller?
We could hold hands for fifteen minutes in the sauna
We could hold hands for a pool length under water
I can push and pull
Her

If you're willing to wait for the love of your life
Please wait by the line
A Flock of Red-Billed Quelea