Cornstalk (Shawnee: Hokoleskwa or Hokolesqua) (ca. 1720 – November 10, 1777) was a prominent leader of the Shawnee nation just prior to the American Revolution (1775-1783). His name, Hokoleskwa, translates loosely into "stalk of corn" in English, and is spelled Colesqua in some accounts. He was also known as Keigh-tugh-qua and Wynepuechsika.
Cornstalk opposed European settlement west of the Ohio River in his youth, but he later became an advocate for peace after the Battle of Point Pleasant (1774). His murder by American militiamen at Fort Randolph during a diplomatic visit in November 1777 outraged both American Indians and Virginians.
Historians believe he may have been born in present-day Pennsylvania, and moved to the Ohio Country, near present-day Chillicothe, with his sister, Nonhelema, when the Shawnee fell back before expanding white settlement. Stories tell of Cornstalk's participation in the French and Indian War (1754–1763), though these are probably apocryphal. His alleged participation in Pontiac's Rebellion (1763–1766) is also unverified, though he did take part in the peace negotiations.
Cornstalk played a central role in Dunmore's War of 1774. After the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, settlers and land speculators moved into the lands south of the Ohio River in present-day West Virginia and Kentucky. Although the Iroquois had agreed to cede the land, the Shawnee and others had not been present at the Fort Stanwix negotiations. They still claimed this area as their hunting grounds. Clashes soon took place over this. Cornstalk tried unsuccessfully to prevent escalation of the hostilities.
Attempting to block a Virginian invasion of the Ohio country, Cornstalk led a force of Shawnee and Mingo warriors at the Battle of Point Pleasant. His attack, although ferociously made, was beaten back by the Virginians. Cornstalk retreated and would reluctantly accept the Ohio River as the boundary of Shawnee lands in the Treaty of Camp Charlotte.
Cornstalk's commanding presence often impressed American colonials. A Virginia officer, Col. Benjamin Wilson, wrote of Cornstalk's speech to Lord Dunmore at Camp Charlotte in 1774: "I have heard the first orators in Virginia, Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee, but never have I heard one whose powers of delivery surpassed those of Cornstalk on that occasion."
With the American Revolution begun, Cornstalk worked to keep his people neutral. He represented the Shawnee at treaty councils at Fort Pitt in 1775 and 1776, the first Indian treaties ever negotiated by the United States. Many Shawnees nevertheless hoped to use British aid to reclaim their lands lost to the settlers. By the winter of 1776, the Shawnee were effectively divided into a neutral faction led by Cornstalk, and militant bands led by men such as Blue Jacket.
In the fall of 1777, Cornstalk made a diplomatic visit to Fort Randolph, an American fort at present-day Point Pleasant, seeking as always to maintain his faction's neutrality. Cornstalk was detained by the fort commander, who had decided on his own initiative to take hostage any Shawnees who fell into his hands. When, on November 10, an American militiaman from the fort was killed nearby by unknown Indians, angry soldiers brutally executed Cornstalk, his son Elinipsico, and two other Shawnees. Private Jacob McNeil was one of the soldiers who participated in the capture of the Shawnee Chief Cornstalk, and tried to prevent his murder at Fort Randolph (West Virginia). McNeil testified: "That he was one of the guards over the celebrated Indian chief Corn Stalk [sic: Cornstalk or Hokoleskwa] – that when he was murdered [10 Nov 1777] he this affiant did all he could to prevent it – but that it was all in vain the American (soldier)'s exasperated at the depredations of the Indians."
American political and military leaders were alarmed by the murder of Cornstalk; they believed he was their only hope of securing Shawnee neutrality. At the insistence of Patrick Henry, then governor of Virginia, Cornstalk's killers — whom Henry called "vile assassins" — were eventually brought to trial, but since their fellow soldiers would not testify against them, all were acquitted.
Cornstalk was originally buried at Fort Randolph.
In 1840 Cornstalk's grave was rediscovered and his remains were moved to the Mason County Courthouse grounds. In 1954 the courthouse was torn down and he was reburied in Point Pleasant. A local legend claims that he took his revenge in the 1960s by sending the mysterious Mothman to terrorize Point Pleasant. Legends arose about his dying "curse" being the cause of misfortunes in the area (later supplanted by local "mothman" stories), though no contemporary historical source mentions any such utterance by Cornstalk.
Sunday, November 10, 2019
Saturday, November 9, 2019
Thursday, November 7, 2019
Slavoj Zizek, "For-show female empowerment & gender fluidity are simply the latest instruments of corporate capitalism"
Should women unashamedly wear mustaches? Should men abandon their masculinity because it’s ‘toxic’? This is all just a smoke screen capitalist overlords use to hide real issues and stay in power, philosopher Slavoj Zizek believes.
In one of the latest anti-objectification messages, women’s razor brand Billie ran an ad timed to Movember (the annual ‘mustache month’ event), proclaiming that “women have mustaches too” and should not be ashamed to grow them out. It looks like a step in the right direction of gender (identity) equality – but is in fact a drive fueled by the big corporations that do not want people to challenge the existing status quo in more substantial ways, world-renowned philosopher Zizek believes.
Here are his further thoughts on the issue:
Step towards de-sexualization?
I think this is a part of a larger phenomenon, which follows this logic: if women try to be beautiful or to obey the models of beauty in a traditional sense they objectify themselves for men. So women should re-appropriate their bodies in the sense of admitting them in their everyday ugliness – hair, fat, whatever – to de-mystify their bodies, to show that a woman’s body, especially sex organs, is not what they are for the gaze of men but has its own positive function that should be appropriated by women because women cannot be reduced to being objects for men.
One the one hand, I agree with the women’s feeling of oppression but I see a problem with this logic. Let’s face it: sexuality as such involves a certain degree of self-objectification. For example, when I engaged in sexual activity, when I embrace a naked person that I love, I abstract (and that is the imminent logic of sexuality) from all the nasty things that are part of the human body – bad odors, remains of dirt etc. I minimally idealize, in a way, the other’s body. Without this, we approach de-sexualization.
In spite of all the talk about free sexuality liberated from binary heterosexual restraints, what we are basically dealing with here is an attack on sexuality as such.
Push for imaginary sexual freedom will only lead to worse oppression
We all know that human sexuality is not just something biologically predetermined – as the traumatic experiences of transgender people prove. In your psychological identity, you can be a woman trapped in a masculine body, and you are ready to suffer quite a lot to change your body so that it fits your inner psychological identity. All this happens. There is no direct biological determination here.
Yet, to make a big jump from here to a claim that sexual difference is just one among the oppressive constructs of those in power and that we should playfully engage in multiple sexual identities, that it is just a game, and that everything is open and that if we just get rid of the binary heterosexual oppression we will enjoy full free sexuality, is a great mistake. It obliterates the basic lesson of Freudian psychoanalysis, which is that sexuality in itself is something pretty dark.
It is not a happy domain. It is a domain of deep traumas, masochist reversals and so on. That is why it is not enough to claim that if we get rid of this big masculine-feminine gender duality and, to paraphrase Mao Zedong, who said that thousands of flowers should blossom in us, to say that thousands of identities should blossom and all will be happy and live a satisfied sexual life. No, human sexuality, again, is inherently traumatic. It is a big mess, there is no simple formula here.
As experience with political correctness demonstrates, if you try to liberate sexuality in this simplistic sense and get rid of this heterosexual normativity and let all the different forms proliferate, you end up in an even worse oppression.
Everyone should be free to objectify themselves
What many people do not accept is that the problem is not objectification as such – it is not the whole game of sexual seduction, flirting of men and women - it’s that, in some sense, you precisely objectify yourself as you want to present yourself as seductive. The problem is not that there should be no objectification – the problem is that each sexual agent should have the right to control his/her/their objectification.
Let’s not forget that with all the feminist protests against objectifying women what bothers fundamentalists, for example, in Muslim countries is precisely when a woman plays with her own objectification... For example, imitating fellatio, playing with a banana in their mouth. What bothers men is that a woman, in this situation, is not objectified by men, but objectifies herself playfully enacting her objectification for her own pleasure.
Instrument of capitalism
As it is usual with such events, we should not underestimate the degree to which this is a relatively marginal phenomenon. Be sure, most women will not want to grow a mustache and if they want to – let them do what they want. I often detect in these transgender new identities something that I do not like. It is that as once heterosexual standards were imposed oppressing other identities, now, if you read all these texts, in some of them you find the idea that if you are still within the traditional heterosexual sexuality you are somehow retarded. To be truly free, you have to play with your identity and blur all the lines.
I do not agree with this. This idea of freely rearranging, changing your body and playing with identities is something that perfectly fits today’s consumerist capitalism with its infinite dynamics. There is a chance that big companies are already playing these games. Probably some of our readers remember a Gillette ad from about a half a year ago, where a father helps his ex-daughter, who is now a boy, to shave herself for the first time with Gillette. There is absolutely nothing subversive in this ‘play with different identities, experiment with yourself’ attitude. It is simply a perfect form of sexuality for the late consumerist capitalism.
A lesson that we should take from all of this, not just from commercials, which are then sold to us with a progressive twist, but also the fact that – remember two or three years ago transgender movement exploded in the US with this big campaign for toilets that should be open to all sexual identities, not just masculine/feminine – how the entire big corporate US – all the big names like Tim Cook or Zuckerberg – all passionately followed this path and supported it. Unfortunately, this type of struggle for free sexual identities is something that can easily be used as a part of capitalist machinery to oppress more dangerous popular demands, even and especially the authentic feminist protests.
Elites seek to divert female emancipation drive away from changing political status quo
On the one hand, (and I wholeheartedly celebrate and support this) there is some kind of awakening of women. There are forms of feminine subordination, which are part of our tradition from even before class societies, from tribal societies – like woman is passive, subordinated to men. As it is always the case, the establishment tries to redirect this awakening in such a direction that it will not really change power relations. We will get a quota for women, women will be presented in the media more respectfully. But the same power relations will persist in our society. That is what all these fighters against patriarchy do not often get.
In the developed West, the ruling ideology is no longer a patriarchy. It is a kind of false openness which also functions as a way to avoid radical mobilization and radical solutions. When we are focused on whether a woman can wear a beard or a man can put on lipstick, no one wants to talk about the continuing terrifying oppression of women, of the exploding rape culture in Mexico and South Africa. Let’s focus on the struggles in which the real freedom of people will be decided.
Monday, November 4, 2019
The much acclaimed Todd Phillips movie starring Joaquin Phoenix has received its fair share of criticism from almost everyone, from the woke community to the US Army, who all believed it could prompt some "evil" people to commit acts of violence.
Yet, the film's critics have apparently overlooked the underlying message of the movie, world-renowned philosopher Zizek told RT, adding that it is not about some mentally-challenged person, but about the "hopelessness" of our "best ever" political order itself, which many still simply refuse to accept.
Slavoj Zizek, "'System deadlock': Joker artistically diagnoses modern world's ills"
Daily life has become a horror movie
We should congratulate Hollywood and the viewers on two things: that such a film that, let's face it, gives a very dark image of highly developed capitalism, a nightmarish image which led some critics to designate it a 'social horror film', came out. Usually, we have social films, which depict social problems, and then we have horror films. To bring these two genres together, it is only possible when many phenomena in our ordinary social life become phenomena which belong to horror films.
It is even more interesting to see how reactions to the film provide a whole specter of political cohesions in the US. On the one hand, conservatives were afraid that this film would incite violence. It was an absurd claim. No violence was triggered by this film. On the contrary, the film depicts violence and awakens you to the danger of violence.
As it is always the case, some politically correct people feared that the film used racist clichés and celebrates violence. It is also unfair. One of the most interesting positions was that of Michael Moore, a leftist documentarist, who celebrated the film as an honest depiction of reality of those poor, excluded and not covered by healthcare in the US.
His idea is that the film explains how figures like Joker can arise. It is a critical portrayal of reality in the US, which can give birth to people like Joker. I agree with him but I would also like to go a bit further.
'Deadlock of nihilism'
I think what is important is that the figure of Joker in the end, when he identifies with his mask, is a figure of extreme nihilism, self-destructive violence and a crazy laughter at others' despair. There is not positive political project.
The way we should read 'Joker' is that it very wisely abstains from providing a positive image. A leftist critique of 'Joker' could have been: "Yes, it is a good portrayal of reality in the poor slums of the US but where is the positive force? Where are democratic socialists, where are ordinary people organizing themselves?" In this case, it would have been a totally different and a pretty boring film.
The logic of this film is that it leaves it to the spectators to do this. The movie shows sad social reality and a deadlock of the nihilist reaction. In the end, Joker is not free. He is only free in a sense of arriving at a point of total nihilism.It is up to us to decide what we should do.I designated the figure of Joker in a kind of Kazimir Malevich, the Russian avangardist, position when he did this famous painting of the Black Square. It is a kind of minimal protest – a reduction to nothing. Joker simply mocks every authority. It is destructive but lacks a positive project. We have to go through this path of despair.
It is not enough to play the game of those in power. That is the message of 'Joker'. The fact that they could be charitable like Bruce Wayne's father in this latest movie is just a part of the game. You have to get rid of all these liberal stupidities that obfuscate the despair of the situation.
Yet, it is not the final step but a zero level of clearing the table to open up the space for something new. This is how I read the film. It is not a final decadent vision. We have to go through this hell. Now, it is up to us to go further.
Social alarm clock
The danger of explaining just the backstory is to give a kind of a rational explanation that we should understand the figure of Joker. But Joker does not need this. Joker is a creative person in some sense. The crucial moment in the film for his subjective change is when he says: "I used to think my life was a tragedy. But now I realize, it's a comedy."
Comedy means for me that at that point he accepts himself in all his despair as a comical figure and gets rid of the last constraints of the old world. That is what he does for us. He is not a figure to imitate. It is wrong to think that what we see towards the end of the film – Joker celebrated by others – is the beginning of some new emancipatory movement. No, it is an ultimate deadlock of the existing system; a society bent on its self-destruction.
The elegance of the film is that it leaves the next step of building a positive alternative to it to us. It is a dark nihilist image meant to awaken us.
Are we ready to face reality?
The leftists who are disturbed by 'Joker' are 'Fukuyama leftists'; those who think that the liberal democratic order is the best possible order and we should just make it more tolerant. In this sense, everyone is a socialist today. Bill Gates says he is for socialism, Mark Zuckerberg says he is for socialism.
The lesson of 'Joker' is that a more radical change is needed; that this is not enough. And that is what all those democratic leftists are not aware of. This dissatisfaction that grows up today is a serious one. The system cannot deal with it with gradual reforms, more tolerance or better healthcare.
These are signs of the need for more radical change.
The true problem is whether we are ready to really experience the hopelessness of our situation. As Joker himself said at a certain moment in the film: "I laugh because I have nothing to lose, I am nobody."
There is also a clever name game here. Joker's real family name is Fleck. In German, fleck is a stain, a meaningless stain. It is like anamorphosis. We need to take a different look to see a new perspective.
I do not trust all those leftist critics who are afraid of its potential. As Moore put it very nicely, you are afraid of violence here, not of real violence in our daily life. To be shocked by violence depicted in the film is just an escape from real violence.
Sunday, November 3, 2019
Consider the strange paradox of Donald Trump’s political stance towards Israel: even while he has been a vocal advocate of Binyamin Netanyahu and his government has recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, many of his supporters are openly anti-Semitic. But is this really an inconsistent stance?
A cartoon published back in July 2008 in the Viennese daily Die Presse depicted two stocky Nazi-looking Austrians sit at a table, and one of them holding a newspaper and commenting to his friend: “Here you can see again how a totally justified anti-Semitism is being misused for a cheap critique of Israel!” This caricature thereby inverts the standard argument against the critics of the policies of the State of Israel. But when today’s Christian fundamentalist supporters of Israeli politics reject leftist critiques of Israeli policies, is their implicit line of argumentation not uncannily close to its reasoning?
Remember Anders Breivik, the Norwegian anti-immigrant mass murderer: he was anti-Semitic, but pro-Israel, since he saw in the State of Israel the first line of defence against the Muslim expansion. He even wanted to see the Jerusalem Temple rebuilt, but he wrote in his “Manifesto”:There is no Jewish problem in Western Europe (with the exception of the UK and France) as we only have 1 million in Western Europe, whereas 800,000 out of these 1 million live in France and the UK. The US on the other hand, with more than 6 million Jews (600% more than Europe) actually has a considerable Jewish problem.His figures thus realise the ultimate paradox of the Zionist anti-Semite — and we find the traces of this strange stance more often than one would expect. Reinhard Heydrich himself, the mastermind of the Holocaust, wrote in 1935:We must separate the Jews into two categories, the Zionists and the partisans of assimilation. The Zionists profess a strictly racial concept and, through emigration to Palestine, they help to build their own Jewish State ... our good wishes and our official goodwill go with them.As Frank Ruda has pointed out, today we are witnessing a new version of this Zionist anti-Semitism: Islamophobic respect for Islam. So the same politicians who warn of the danger of the Islamisation of the Christian West — from Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin — respectfully congratulate Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his ever-tightening grip on power. The authoritarian reign of Islam is fine for Turkey, it would seem, but not for the West. We can thus easily imagine a new version of the cartoon from Die Presse, with two stocky Nazi-looking Austrians sitting at a table, one of them holding a newspaper and commenting: “Here you can see again how a totally justified Islamophobia is being misused for a cheap critique of Turkey!”
(Samuel) Huntington’s disease
How are we to understand this weird logic? It is a reaction, a false cure, to the great social disease of our time. Typically, the first symptoms of Huntington’s disease are jerky, random and uncontrollable movements called chorea. Chorea may initially manifest as general restlessness, small unintentional or uncompleted motions, lack of coordination.
Does an explosion of brutal populism not look quite similar? It begins with what appear to be random acts of excessive violence against immigrants, outbursts which lack coordination and merely express a general unease and restlessness apropos of “foreign intruders,” but then it gradually grows into a well-coordinated and ideologically grounded movement: what the other Huntington — that is, Samuel — called “the clash of civilizations.” This fortuitous coincidence is telling: what is usually referred to under this term is effectively the Huntington’s disease of today’s global capitalism.
According to Samuel Huntington, after the end of the Cold War, the “iron curtain of ideology” had been replaced by the “velvet curtain of culture.” Huntington’s dark vision of the “clash of civilizations” may appear to be the very opposite of Francis Fukuyama’s bright prospect of the “end of history” in the guise of a world-wide liberal democracy. What could be more different from Fukuyama’s pseudo-Hegelian idea that the final formula of the best possible social order was found in capitalist liberal democracy, than a “clash of civilizations” as the fundamental political struggle in the twenty-first century? How, then, do the two fit together?
From today’s experience, the answer is clear: the “clash of civilizations” is politics at “the end of history.” The ethnic-religious conflicts are the form of struggle which fits global capitalism: in our age of post-politics, when politics proper is progressively replaced by expert social administration, the only remaining legitimate source of conflicts are cultural (ethnic, religious) tensions. Today’s rise of “irrational” violence is thus to be conceived of as strictly correlative to the depoliticization of our societies — that is, to the disappearance of the political dimension proper, and its translation into different levels of “administration” of social affairs.
If we accept this thesis concerning the “clash of civilizations,” the only alternative to it remains the peaceful coexistence of civilizations (or of “ways of life” — a more popular term today): so forced marriages, misogynistic violence and homophobia are fine, just as long as they are confined to another country which is otherwise fully included in the world market.
The New World Order (NWO) that is emerging is thus no longer the Fukuyamaist NWO of global liberal democracy, but the NWO of the peaceful coexistence of different politico-theological ways of life — coexistence, of course, against the background of the smooth functioning of global capitalism. The obscenity of this process is that it can present itself as progress in the anti-colonial struggle: the liberal West will no longer be allowed to impose its standards on others; all ways of life will be treated as equal.
It is little wonder, then, that Robert Mugabe exhibited such enthusiasm for Trump’s slogan “America first!”: “America first!” for you, “Zimbabwe first!” for me, “India first!” or “North Korea first!” for them. This is already how the British Empire, the first global capitalist empire, functioned: each ethnic-religious community was allowed to pursue its own way of life (for instance, honour killings or the burning of widows by Hindus in India were permitted). While these local “customs” were either criticised as barbaric or praised for their premodern wisdom, they were tolerated because what mattered was that they remained economically part of the Empire.
There is thus something deeply hypocritical about those liberals who criticise the slogan “America first!” — as if this is not more or less what every country is doing; as if America did not play a global role precisely because it suited its own interests. The underlying message of “America first!” is nonetheless a sad one: the American century is over; American exceptionalism is no more; America has resigned itself to being just one among the nations. The supreme irony is that the leftists, who for a long time criticised the US pretension to be the global policeman, may begin to long for the good old days when, hypocrisy notwithstanding, the United States imposed democratic standards onto the world.
We can see what “America first!” means in the outrage that followed reports of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election in favour of Donald Trump. Of course, I agree that Putin’s regime should be relentlessly criticised — but, in this case, has not the United States regularly done the same thing? Did a US team not help Boris Yeltsin win a key election in Russia? And what about the United States’ active support for the Maidan uprising in Ukraine? This is “America first!” in practice: when they are doing it, it’s a dangerous plot; when we are doing it, it’s supporting democracy.
In this NWO, universality will more and more be reduced to tolerance — tolerance for different “ways of life.” Following the formula of Zionist anti-Semitism, there will be no contradiction between imposing in our own countries the strictest “politically correct” pro-feminist rules and simultaneously rejecting any critique of the dark side of Islam as neocolonialist arrogance.
From private capital to state power
In this New World Order, there will be less and less place for figures like Julian Assange, who, in spite of all his problematic gestures, remains today’s most powerful symbol of what Kant called “the public use of reason” — a space for public knowledge and debate outside of state control. Following his arrest, it is clear what lies ahead: Wikileaks will be declared a terrorist organization, and rather than genuine advocates of public space like Assange, public figures who exemplify the privatization of our commons will predominate. The figure of Elon Musk is emblematic here: he belongs to the same series with Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg — all “socially conscious” billionaires. They stand for global capital at its most seductive and “progressive” — which is to say, at its most dangerous.
Musk likes to warn about the threats that new technologies pose to human dignity and freedom — which, of course, doesn’t prevent him from investing in a brain-computer interface venture called Neuralink, a company which is focussed on creating devices that can be implanted in the human brain, with the eventual purpose of helping human beings merge with software and keep pace with advancements in artificial intelligence. These enhancements could improve memory or allow for more direct interface with computing devices: “Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence.”
Every technological innovation is always first presented like this, emphasising its health or humanitarian benefits, which function to blind us to the more ominous implications and consequences: can we even imagine what new forms of control this so-called “neural lace” contains? This is why it is absolutely imperative to keep it out of the control of private capital and state power — that is, to render it totally open to public debate. Assange was right in his strangely ignored book on Google: to understand how our lives are regulated today, and how this regulation is experienced as our freedom, we have to focus on the shadowy collusion between private corporations which control our commons and secret state agencies.
Today’s global capitalism can no longer afford a positive vision of emancipated humanity, even as an ideological dream. Fukuyamaist liberal-democratic universalism failed because of its own immanent limitations and inconsistencies, and populism is the symptom of this failure — its “Huntington’s disease.” But the solution is not populist nationalism, rightist or leftist. The only solution is a new universalism — it is demanded by the problems humanity is confronting today, from ecological threats to refugee crises.
Protecting the new commons
In his book What Happened in the Twentieth Century?, Peter Sloterdijk provides his own outline of what is to be done in twenty-first century, best encapsulated in the title of the first two essays in the book, “The Anthropocene” and “From the Domestication of the Human Being to the Civilizing of Cultures.”
“Anthropocene” designates a new epoch in the life of our planet in which we, humans, cannot any longer rely on the Earth as a reservoir ready to absorb the consequences of our productive activity: we cannot any longer afford to ignore the side effects (the collateral damage) of our productivity, which cannot any longer be reduced to the background of the figure of humanity. We have to accept that we live on a “Spaceship Earth,” and are thus accountable for its conditions. Earth is no longer the impenetrable background/horizon of our productive activity, it emerges as an(other) finite object which we can inadvertently destroy or transform it to make it unliveable.
This means that, at the very moment when we become powerful enough to affect the most basic conditions of our life, we have to accept that we are just another animal species on a small planet. A new way to relate to our environs is necessary once we realise this: no longer a heroic worker expressing his/her creative potentials and drawing from the inexhaustible resources from his/her environs, but a much more modest agent collaborating with his/her environs, permanently negotiating a tolerable level of safety and stability. So in order to establish this new mode of relating to our environs, a radical politico-economic change is necessary, what Sloterdijk calls “the domestication of the wild animal culture.”
Until now, each culture disciplined or educated its own members and guaranteed civic peace among them in the guise of state power, but the relationship between different cultures and states was permanently under the shadow of potential war, with each state of peace nothing more than a temporary armistice. As Hegel conceptualised it, the entire ethic of a state culminates in the highest act of heroism — namely, the readiness to sacrifice one’s life for one’s nation-state, which means that the wild barbarian relations between states serve as the foundation of the ethical life within a state. Today, is North Korea with its ruthless pursuit of nuclear weapons and rockets advanced enough to reach distant targets not the ultimate example of this logic of unconditional nation-state sovereignty?
However, the moment we fully accept the fact that we live on a “Spaceship Earth,” the task that urgently imposes itself is that of civilizing civilizations themselves, of imposing universal solidarity and cooperation among all human communities — a task rendered all the more difficult by the ongoing rise of sectarian religious and ethnic “heroic” violence and readiness to sacrifice oneself (and the world) for one’s specific Cause.
The measures Sloterdijk proposes as necessary for the survival of humanity — the overcoming of capitalist expansionism, achieving broad international solidarity capable to forming an executive power ready to violate state sovereignty, and so on — are they not all measures destined to protect our natural and cultural commons? If they do not point towards some kind of reinvented Communism, if they do not imply a Communist horizon, then the term “Communism” has no meaning at all.
This is why the idea of the European Union is worth fighting for, despite of the misery of its actual existence: in today’s global capitalist world, it offers the only model of a trans-national organisation with the authority to limit national sovereignty and the capacity to guarantee a minimum of ecological and social welfare standards. Something that directly descends from the best traditions of European Enlightenment survives in it. Our — that is, Europeans’ — duty is not to humiliate ourselves as the ultimate culprits of colonialist exploitation but to fight for this part of our legacy as vital for the survival of humanity.
Europe is more and more alone in the New World Order, dismissed as an old, exhausted, irrelevant, contingent, reduced to playing a secondary role in today’s big geopolitical conflicts. As Bruno Latour recently put it: “L’Europe est seule, oui, mais seule l’Europe peut nous sauver.” Europe is alone, yes, but Europe alone can save us.
Let us begin with Antigone who, according to Lacan, irradiates a sublime beauty from the very moment she enters the domain between two deaths, between her symbolic and her actual death. What characterizes her innermost posture is precisely her insistence on a certain unconditional demand on which she is not prepared to give way: a proper burial for her brother. It is the same with the ghost of Hamlet's father, who returns from his grave with the demand that Hamlet revenge his infamous death. This connection between drive as an unconditional demand and the domain between the two deaths is also visible in popular culture.
In the film The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a cyborg who returns to contemporary Los Angeles from the future, with the intention of killing the mother of a future leader. The horror of this figure consists precisely in the fact that it functions as a programmed automaton who, even when all that remains of him is a metallic, legless skeleton, persists in his demand and pursues his victim with no trace of compromise or hesitation. The terminator is the embodiment of the drive, devoid of desire. In two other films, we encounter two versions of the same motive, one comical, the other pathetic-tragic.
In George Romero's omnibus Creepshow (screenplay by Stephen King), a family is gathered around the dinner table to celebrate the anniversary of their father's death. Years earlier, his sister had killed him at his birthday party by hitting him on the head in response to his endlessly repeated demand, "Daddy wants his cake!" Suddenly, a strange noise is heard from the family cemetery behind the house; the dead father climbs from his grave, kills his murderous sister, cuts off the head of his wife, puts it on the tray, smears it with cream, decorates it with candles and mumbles contentedly: "Daddy got his cake!"—a demand that has persisted beyond the grave until satisfied. The cult film Robocop, a futuristic story about a policeman shot to death and then revived after all parts of his body have been replaced by artificial substitutes, introduces a more tragic note: the hero who finds himself literally "between two deaths"—clinically dead and at the same time provided with a new, mechanical body—starts to remember fragments of his previous, "human" life and thus undergoes a process of resubjectivation, changing gradually back from pure incarnated drive to a being of desire.
The ease with which examples from popular culture can be found should come as no surprise: if there is a phenomenon that fully deserves to be called the "fundamental fantasy of contemporary mass culture," it is this fantasy of the return of the living dead: the fantasy of a person who does not want to stay dead but returns again and again to pose a threat to the living. The unattained archetype of a long series—from the psychotic killer in Halloween to Jason in Friday the Thirteenth—is still George Romero's The Night of the Living Dead, where the "undead" are not portrayed as embodiments of pure evil, of a simple drive to kill or revenge, but as sufferers, pursuing their victims with an awkward persistence, colored by a kind of infinite sadness (as in Werner Herzog's Nosferatu, in which the vampire is not a simple machinery of evil with a cynical smile on his lips, but a melancholic sufferer longing for salvation).
Apropos of this phenomenon, let us then ask a naive and elementary question: why do the dead return? The answer offered by Lacan is the same as that found in popular culture: because they were not properly, buried, i.e., because something went wrong with their obsequies. The return of the dead is sign of a disturbance in the symbolic rite, in the process of symbolization; the dead return as collectors of some unpaid symbolic debt. This is the basic lesson drawn by Lacan from Antigone and Hamlet. The plots of both plays involve improper funeral rites, and the "living dead"—Antigone and the ghost of Hamlet's father—return to settle symbolic accounts. The return of the living dead, then, materializes a certain symbolic debt persisting beyond physical expiration.
It is commonplace to state that symbolization as such equates to symbolic murder: when we speak about a thing, we suspend, place in parentheses, its reality. It is precisely for this reason that the funeral rite exemplifies symbolization at its purest: through it, the dead are inscribed in the text of symbolic tradition, they are assured that, in spite of their death, they will "continue to live" in the memory of the community. The "return of the living dead" is, on the other hand, the reverse of the proper funeral rite. While the latter implies a certain reconciliation, an acceptance of loss, the return of the dead signifies that they cannot find their proper place in the text of tradition.
The two great traumatic events of the holocaust and the gulag are, of course, exemplary cases of the return of the dead in the twentieth century. The shadows of their victims will continue to chase us as "living dead" until we give them a decent burial, until we integrate the trauma of their death into our historical memory. The same may be said of the "primordial crime" that founded history itself, the murder of the ''primal father" (re)constructed by Freud in Totem and Taboo: the murder of the father is integrated into the symbolic universe insofar as the dead father begins to reign as the symbolic agency of the Name-of-the-Father. This transformation, this integration, however, is never brought about without remainder; there is always a certainleftover that returns in the form of the obscene and revengeful figure of the Father-of-Enjoyment, of this figure split between cruel revenge and crazy laughter, as, for example, the famous Freddie from Nightmare on Elm Street.This article is an extract from Slavoj Žižek's book 'Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan hrough Popular Culture' published by MIT Press (1991) and reproduced here with kind permission from the author. and publisher.