And by a prudent flight and cunning save A life which valour could not, from the grave. A better buckler I can soon regain, But who can get another life again? Archilochus
Sunday, October 30, 2016
Friday, October 28, 2016
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
- Pablo Neruda, "Enigmas"
You've asked me what the lobster is weaving there with
his golden feet?
I reply, the ocean knows this.
You say, what is the ascidia waiting for in its transparent
bell? What is it waiting for?
I tell you it is waiting for time, like you.
You ask me whom the Macrocystis alga hugs in its arms?
Study, study it, at a certain hour, in a certain sea I know.
You question me about the wicked tusk of the narwhal,
and I reply by describing
how the sea unicorn with the harpoon in it dies.
You enquire about the kingfisher's feathers,
which tremble in the pure springs of the southern tides?
Or you've found in the cards a new question touching on
the crystal architecture
of the sea anemone, and you'll deal that to me now?
You want to understand the electric nature of the ocean
The armored stalactite that breaks as it walks?
The hook of the angler fish, the music stretched out
in the deep places like a thread in the water?
I want to tell you the ocean knows this, that life in its
is endless as the sand, impossible to count, pure,
and among the blood-colored grapes time has made the
hard and shiny, made the jellyfish full of light
and untied its knot, letting its musical threads fall
from a horn of plenty made of infinite mother-of-pearl.
I am nothing but the empty net which has gone on ahead
of human eyes, dead in those darknesses,
of fingers accustomed to the triangle, longitudes
on the timid globe of an orange.
I walked around as you do, investigating
the endless star,
and in my net, during the night, I woke up naked,
the only thing caught, a fish trapped inside the wind.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Friday, October 21, 2016
- Brian Vrepont, "The Crabs"
The crabs are lunching;
An hour I’ve watched, and still they eat,
Pincering microcosms from the scaly rocks,
Time to split-second mouth shutterings
Link Chinamen with chop-sticks;
No disrespect, but Asian they look,
And I on an overleaning rock am humbled.
Such industry is not mine,
Such battering I could not suffer.
The waves hiss and bury the feeders three feet deep,
Avalanches fall on their apparent frailty,
The rock bares, the sea sucks back,
And I laugh to see the crabs uninterruptedly feeding;
The little baby crab holds miraculously rock fast,
Centuried to sea-wash,
Insolently safe, insolently chop-stick lunching
Against the might of the sea.
I laugh, knowing crabs wiser than man;
When man, suicided from his home, the earth
Shall see no lord sun spray gold on wave,
Nor moon come like vespers, go in full song,
Crabs still will ply their chop-sticks,
Knowing nor caring that man is dust.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
Two important papers on capitalism by Richard Smith were published in the last few years explaining how capitalism, due to its structural mechanisms, cannot be reformed in any way to make it “sustainable”. In Smith’s papers, Green Capitalism: the God that Failed and Beyond Growth or Beyond Capitalism, four primary dictates of capitalism illustrate that no matter how herculean the effort to “green the economy”, whether through energy or other areas, the end result of inexorable environmental destruction as well as incredible social inequality are inevitable.Source: Collapse of Industrial Civilization ~ Finding the Truth behind the American Hologram"
1.) “Grow or die” is a law of survival in the marketplace:
In capitalism most producers… have no choice but to live by the capitalist maxim “grow or die.” First, as Adam Smith noted, the ever-increasing division of labor raises productivity and output, compelling producers to find more markets for this growing output. Secondly, competition compels producers to seek to expand their market share, to better defend their position against competitors. Bigger is safer because, ceteris paribus, bigger producers can take advantage of economies of scale and can use their greater resources to invest in technological development, so can more effectively dominate markets. Marginal competitors tend to be crushed or bought out by larger firms. Thirdly, the modern corporate form of ownership, which separates ownership from operation, adds further irresistible and unrelenting pressures to grow from owner-shareholders. And shareholders are not looking for “stasis”; they are looking to maximize portfolio gains, so they drive their CEOs forward.
“…relentless and irresistible pressures for growth are functions of the day-to-day requirements of capitalist reproduction in a competitive market, incumbent upon all but a few businesses, and that such pressures would prevail in any conceivable capitalism. Further, I contend that, given capitalism, the first result of any serious reduction in economic output (GDP) to get production back down to some reasonably sustainable level, would be to provoke mass unemployment. So here again, there will never be mass public support for de-growth unless it’s coupled with explicit guarantees of employment for redundant workers, which are unacceptable to capital and would require a socialist economy…”
2.) Maximizing profit and saving the environment are inherently in conflict:
“…Corporations can embrace pro-environmental policies but only so long as these boost profits. Saving the world, however, would require that profit-making be systematically subordinated to ecological concerns…”
“Most of the economy is comprised of large corporations owned by investor-shareholders. And shareholders, even those who are environmentally-minded professors investing via their TIAA-CREF accounts, are constantly seeking to maximize returns on investment. So they sensibly look to invest where they can make the highest return. This means that corporate CEOs do not have the freedom to choose to produce as much or little as they like, to make the same profits this year as last year. Instead, they face relentless pressure to maximize profits, to make more profits this year than last year (or even last quarter), therefore to maximize sales, therefore to grow quantitatively…
In the real world, therefore, few corporations can resist the relentless pressure to “grow sales,” “grow the company,” “expand market share”– to grow quantitatively. The corporation that fails to outdo its past performance risks falling share value, stockholder flight, or worse… And if economic pressures weren’t sufficient to shape CEO behavior, CEOs are, moreover, legally obligated to maximize profits — and nothing else…”
3.) Consumerism and overconsumption are built into capitalism:
“…consumerism and overconsumption are not “dispensable” and cannot be exorcised because they’re not just “cultural” or “habitual.” They are built into capitalism and indispensable for the day-to-day reproduction of corporate producers in a competitive market system in which capitalists, workers, consumers and governments alike are all locked into an endless cycle of perpetually increasing consumption to maintain profits, jobs, and tax revenues. We can’t shop our way to sustainability because the problems we face cannot be solved by individual choices in the marketplace. The global ecological crisis we face cannot be solved by even the largest individual companies. Problems like global warming, deforestation, overfishing, species extinction, the changing ocean chemistry are even beyond the scope of nation states. They require national and international cooperation and global economic planning. This requires collective bottom-up democratic control over the entire world economy. And since a global economic democracy could only thrive in the context of a rough economic equality, this presupposes a global redistribution of wealth as well.”
4.) The masses are dependent on the market:
“Capitalism is a mode of production in which specialized producers (corporations, companies, manufacturers, individual producers) produce some commodity for market but do not possess their own means of subsistence. So in a capitalisteconomy, everyone is first and foremost, dependent upon the market, compelled to sell in order to buy, to buy in order to sell, to re-enter production and carry on.”
To illustrate a case study in how impossible it is for even an “environmentally conscious” corporation to be sustainable, Smith discusses Ray Anderson and his company Interface, Inc.
Saint Ray Anderson and the limits of the possible:
“…CEO Ray Anderson has probably pushed the limits of industrial environmentalism as far as it’s humanly possible to go in an actual factory operating within the framework of capitalism. Ray Anderson is everybody’s favorite eco-capitalist and he and his company Interface Inc. have been applauded by virtually every eco-futurist book written since the 1990s as the eco-capitalist example to emulate. But what Ray Anderson’s case really shows us is the limits of the possible, especially under capitalism. For after almost two decades of sustained effort, the goal of “zero pollutants” is still as unreachable as ever at Interface Inc. It is not in the least to diminish Ray Anderson’s sincerity, his passionate dedication, his efforts or his impressive achievements. But the fact is, according to The Interface Sustainability Report of 2009, Interface has “cut waste sent to landfills by more than half while continuing to increase production,” “reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30%,” “reduced energy intensity by 45%,” while “over 25% of raw materials used in interface carpet are recycled and biobased materials in 2007,” and non-sustainable materials consumed per unit of product have declined from 10.2 lbs/yd2 in 1996 to 8.6 lb/yd2 in 2008. Read that last sentence again. Make no mistake: These are impressive, even heroic industrial-environmental achievements. But if after more than fifteen years of sustained effort, the most environmentally dedicated large company in the United States, if not the entire world, can only manage to cut non-sustainable inputs from 10.2 to 8.6 pounds per square yard of finished product, to inject a mere 25% recycled and biobased feedstock into its production process, so still requiring 75% of new, mostly petroleum-based nonsustainable feedstock in every unit of production, then the inescapable conclusion must be that even the greenest businesses are also on course to “destroy the world.” So if the reality is that, when all is said and done, there is “only so much you can do” in most industries, then the only way to bend the economy in an ecological direction is to sharply limit production, especially of toxic products, which means completely redesigning production and consumption – all of which is certainly doable, but impossible under capitalism.”
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
- Popol Vuh (The Creation)
Here is the story of the beginning,
when there was not one bird,
not one fish,
not one mountain.
Here is the sky, all alone.
Here is the sea, all alone.
There is nothing more
–no sound, no movement.
Only the sky and the sea.
Only Heart-of-Sky, alone.
And these are his names:
Maker and Modeler,
But there is no one to speak his names.
There is no one to praise his glory.
There is no one to nurture his greatness.
And so Heart-of-Sky thinks,
"Who is there to speak my name?
Who is there to praise me?
How shall I make it dawn?"
Heart-of-Sky only says the word,
and the earth rises,
like a mist from the sea.
He only thinks of it,
and there it is.
He thinks of mountains,
and great mountains come.
He thinks of trees,
and trees grow on the land.
And so Heart-of-Sky says,
"Our work is going well."
Now Heart-of-Sky plans the creatures of the forest
-birds, deer, jaguars and snakes.
And each is given his home.
"You the deer, sleep here along the rivers.
You the birds, your nests are in the trees.
Multiply and scatter," he tells them.
Then Heart-of-Sky says to the animals,
"Speak, pray to us."
But the creatures can only squawk.
The creatures only howl.
They do not speak like humans.
They do not praise Heart-of-Sky
And so the animals are humbled.
They will serve those who will worship Heart-of-Sky.
And Heart-of-Sky tries again.
Tries to make a giver of respect.
Tries to make a giver of praise.
Here is the new creation,
made of mud and earth.
It doesn't look very good.
It keeps crumbing and softening.
It looks lopsided and twisted.
It only speaks nonsense.
It cannot multiply.
So Heart-of-Sky lets it dissolved away.
Now Heart-of-Sky plans again.
Our Grandfather and Our Grandmother are summoned.
They are the most wise spirits.
"Determine if we should carve people from wood,"
They run their hands over the kernels of corn.
They run their hands over the coral seeds.
"What can we make that will speak and pray?
asks Our Grandfather.
What can we make that will nurture and provide?"
asks Our Grandmother.
They count the days,
the lots of four,
seeking an answer for Heart-of-Sky.
Now they give the answer,
"It is good to make your people with wood.
They will speak your name.
They will walk about and multiply."
"So it is," replies Heart-of-Sky.
And as the words are spoken, it is done.
The doll-people are made
with faces carved from wood.
But they have no blood, no sweat.
They have nothing in their minds.
They have no respect for Heart-of-Sky.
They are just walking about,
But they accomplish nothing.
"This is not what I had in mind,"
And so it is decided to destroy
these wooden people.
Hurricane makes a great rain.
It rains all day and rains all night.
There is a terrible flood
and the earth is blackened.
The creatures of the forest
come into the homes of the doll-people.
"You have chased us from our homes
so now we will take yours,"
And their dogs and turkeys cry out,
"You have abused us
so now we shall eat you!"
Even their pots and grinding stones speak,
"We will burn you and pound on you
just as you have done to us!"
The wooden people scatter into the forest.
Their faces are crushed,
and they are turned into monkeys.
And this is why monkeys look like humans.
They are what is left of what came before,
an experiment in human design.
Monday, October 10, 2016
Philip Freneau, "Columbus in Chains"
Are these the honors they reserve for me,
Chains for the man who gave new worlds to Spain!
Rest here, my swelling heart! — O kings, O queens,
Patrons of monsters, and their progeny,
Authors of wrong, and slaves to fortune merely!
Why was I seated by my prince's side,
Honor'd, caress'd like some first peer of Spain?
Was it that I might fall most suddenly
From honor's summit to the sink of scandal?
'T is done, 't is done! — what madness is ambition!
What is there in that little breath of men,
Which they call Fame, that should induce the brave
To forfeit ease and that domestic bliss
Which is the lot of happy ignorance,
Less glorious aims, and dull humility? —
Whoe'er thou art that shalt aspire to honor,
And on the strength and vigor of the mind
Vainly depending, court a monarch's favor,
Pointing the way to vast extended empire;
First count your pay to be ingratitude,
Then chains and prisons, and disgrace like mine!
Each wretched pilot now shall spread his sails,
And treading in my footsteps, hail new worlds,
Which, but for me, had still been empty visions.
Sunday, October 9, 2016
Ameriphobia - A fear of the United States of America. Because America is arguably the most powerful country with the widest influence in the world, many people fear their power. This fear is usually unprovoked, since America is a democracy and any idiots in power who screwed up (for all you Bush haters) will be gone by the next election, unlike dictators.from the Urban Dictionary
Because of this fear, people with Ameriphobia tend to become anti-American. These anti-Americans can form into groups, ranging from the typical radical muslim Al-Queda; to communist radicals, although they have lost power since the end of the Cold War.
You will never see a "Britiphobia" or a "Chinaphobia". The United States is the most powerful country in the world, and they will obviously receive the most criticism from around the world. Yet, the United States is also arguably the best country in the world, with a thriving economy and one of the highest standards of living in the world. They also commit to spreading democracy worldwide, so communist dictator shitholes like Cuba and North Korea cease to exist. So fuck off America haters.kid 1: "Who's that one kid with Ameriphobia who went to the 'School of the Americas protest'?"
kid 2: "Oh, you mean John?"
kid 1: "Yeah, where is he, I thought they were supposed to be back a few weeks ago?"
kid 2: "I heard he went to some place called 'Guantanamo'..? It must be another protest location."
Saturday, October 8, 2016
- Danniel Schoonebeek, "A Woman in the Sun"
Edward Hopper, "Cobb's Barns, South Truro 1930-1933"
The shed behind the barn behind the red cottage I wait
for her in the fescue grass the rye I hear it grow over me
Wait for my friends in the distance on fire their full heads
of rust (I love how the clothing drips off them I hear myself say)
If the beekeeper doesn’t come chasing behind with a hatchet
I’ll wait behind Cobb’s barn watching the distant houses
She will come down this road my shadow is paving for her
a stalk of honey and the rye grass grows from her arms
(She was raised in these hills looking down on Elk Creek)
and behind her the bluegrass it’s reaching to touch her ankle
Friday, October 7, 2016
The philosopher and cultural critic [Slavoj Zizek] recently made a foray into drama when he reworked Sophocle’s Antigone—not out of admiration for the original, but to examine the “stupid and morally problematic” character at its heart. Here he selects five plays he admires—but declines to see performed.Interview by Liza Thompson on October 3, 2016, Source
Can you tell us a little bit about why you’ve chosen each of these plays?
At first, the five plays look like a jumbled heap lacking any common feature—what could they have in common? The bitter end of the old Oedipus who cannot reconcile himself with his fate; Richard II’s descent into madness after he is deprived of royal prerogatives; the meaningless self-sacrifice of a woman married to a man she despises; the ruthless killing of a young Communist who has shown too much compassion; and the confused mumbling of an old senile Irish woman?
To each of these plays, one can easily substitute another piece by the same author which deserves much more our attention. For example, is the ethical fidelity of Antigone not much easier to identify with than the vicissitudes of the old Oedipus? Are the doubts and procrastinations of Hamlet not infinitely more interesting than the endless narcissistic complaints of Richard II? Does the terrible burden imposed on the heroine of Claudel’s Annunciation of Marie not touch us much more directly than Sygne’s eccentric act in Hostage? How can the minimalist staging of the Stalinist meanders in Measure Taken even compare with the wealthy texture of Brecht’s Galileo? And, last but not least, does the sheer wit of Waiting for Godot not immediately eclipse the rather boring monologue of Not I?
You’ve given us reasons not to read these plays! Is there something that pulls them together? A theme, perhaps?
I clearly see a feature they all share: they all push our subjective experience to its extreme, they all enact what Lacan calls “subjective destitution.” In every play, the hero is pushed beyond a certain limit, out of the domain in which rules of normal human existence apply; he or she finds him or herself in what Lacan called “between-the-two-deaths”: dead while still alive. Oedipus is thrown out of human community, wandering around as an excremental/sacred outcast with no place in any polis—he has seen too much. Richard II is gradually deprived of his royal symbolic identity and authority, reduced to a point of madness with nothing to rely on. Sygne de Coufontaine first sacrifices everything for a higher, Catholic, cause, and is then forced to sacrifice this cause itself, so that she finds herself in an existential void.
In a homologous way, Brecht’s anonymous hero has to sacrifice sacrifice itself, to disappear and to accept the disappearance of his very disappearance. Last but not least, the speaking mouth in Beckett is directly deprived of personality and reduced to a “partial object,” something like the smile of the Cheshire Cat which survives the cat’s disappearance. The underlying premise of all five plays is that this extreme limit-position is not just a point of total annihilation or destruction but, simultaneously, the unique chance of a new beginning.
‘The chance of a new beginning’ is an interesting point. I’m not sure these plays are usually characterised as hopeful! Is there a strand of hope and possibility running through each one, then?
I am well aware that all five plays are usually perceived as dark, if not hopeless—how can one imagine a more desperate situation than that of their heroes? What I try to do is not to simply turn around their predicament and discern a hidden optimist reversal, but something more subtle, a minimal subjective change, a change of the hero’s innermost stance which, while not making the situation in any sense less desperate, executes a kind of transfiguration opening up a new space. Towards the end of Oedipus at Colonus, the blind hero calls for Theseus and tells him that it is time for him to give the gift he promised to Athens; filled with new strength, he stands up and walks, inviting for his children and Theseus to follow him—the play ends with a gift as a political gesture. At the end of Richard II, the hero finds unexpected solace in music, fully identifying himself with its rhythm. In The Hostage, after losing everything, even the justification of her loss, Sygne enacts her resistance with a weird tic of her face. A weird spirit of calm concludes The Measures Taken, the hero dies reconciled with his fate, tenderly embraced by his comrades. And even in Not I, what then happens in the final shift of the play is that the speaker accepts her trauma in its meaninglessness and thereby gets rid of the entire topic of sin and punishment; there is no longer despair in the Mouth’s voice, the standard Beckettian formula of persistence is asserted (“no matter. . . keep on”). Such moments continue to fascinate me, one finds them also in other works, say, at the end of Coetzee’s Disgrace. It seems to me they can all be described as religious conversions for those who remain total atheists.
Do you think all great writing has to have the potential for a (non-)religious conversion? The writing, in order to be good, has to be able to change the reader?
Yes, but this conversion is profoundly atheist—it is not a discovery of transcendence, but of the void obfuscated by the mirage of transcendence. The best definition of this conversion was provided by Shakespeare in his Midsummer Night’s Dream, act 5, scene 1, where Theseus says:The lunatic, the lover and the poetShakespeare proposes here a triad: a madman who sees devils everywhere; a lover sees sublime beauty in an ordinary face; a poet who “gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.” In all three cases we have the gap between ordinary reality and a transcendent ethereal dimension… This happens in art, and this happens exemplarily at the end of all five plays I listed: at the end, each of its heroes finds a relief in assuming the void.
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing.
This sense of simultaneous relief and dread must be difficult to communicate to an audience. Have you seen any truly great productions of any of the plays you’ve listed and have any of them captured that sense of relief at the end?
Now comes the big surprise: I haven’t seen on stage any of my favourite five plays – with the exception of a totally irrelevant, bad staging of Brecht’s The Measures Taken in Berlin.
Why haven’t you seen any of your favourite plays?!
It’s not just the empirical fact that I am not aware of any great performances of these plays in the last decades (although I was told that, a decade or so ago, there was a good staging of Richard II with Mark Rylance at the Globe Theatre in London). I want to keep these plays free for my imagination – whenever I re-read them, I always try to imagine some key scene in cinematic terms.
“At the end, each of its heroes find a relief in assuming the void”
Dorothy Sayers wrote a wonderful essay on Aristotle’s Poetics as a theory of detective novel—since Aristotle didn’t have at his disposal detective fiction, he had to refer to minor theatre pieces. I claim the same goes for Sophocles: since he didn’t have at his disposal cinema, he had to deal with theatre in all its clumsiness. Can one imagine anything more cinematic than the scene of Oedipus’s death—in the midst of a fierce thunderstorm, the blind Oedipus walks towards the abyss, and then we pass to a flashback, the messenger reports: “We couldn’t see the man—he was gone—nowhere! And the king, alone, shielding his eyes, both hands spread out against his face as if some terrible wonder flashed before his eyes and he, he could not bear to look.”
Similarly, is the finale of Richard II not calling for a crazy psychedelic combination of reality and cartoons, with Richard turning into a gigantic clock? When, in Hostage, Sygne intercepts the bullet aimed at her worthless husband and then dies with an obscene tic on her face, can this scene work without a cinematic close-up? The same goes for The Measure Taken: the finale (the young comrade accepts his death) only works when the declamatory dialogue is contrasted by the young comrade’s subtle bodily signs of distress and uneasiness? And, to conclude, how can Beckett’s Not I work without a close-up of the gigantic lips as an autonomous partial object?
Do you also “protect” other pieces of art—like film adaptations of favourite novels and the like—so that your imaginative responses can remain unfettered by other people’s interpretations? Or is it only plays?
In a strange way, I am not protective in the same way about novels—I always want to see the cinema version of a novel that I love, if there is one, for a simple and stupidly naïve reason: I want to see how the people I’ve read about really look and act! Furthermore, I am always in search of a movie that is better than the novel it is based upon, which is quite often the case. For example, although I admire Russell Banks, I think Atom’s Egoyan’s cinema version of The Sweet Hereafter is much better than Banks’ novel. But what really interests me are those rare cases when both the novel and its cinema adaptation can be worse—how can this be? The cinema version of Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate is basically a failure, but an interesting one: a failure which nonetheless evokes in the viewer the spectre of the much better novel. However, when one then goes to read the novel on which the film is based, one is disappointed—this is not the novel the film evoked as the standard with regard to which it failed. The repetition — of a failed novel in the failed film — thus gives rise to a third, purely virtual, element, the better novel. The film does not repeat the novel on which it is based; rather, they both repeat the unrepeatable virtual x, the ‘true’ novel whose spectre is engendered in the passage from the actual novel to the film. This virtual point of reference, although unreal, is in a way more real than reality: it is the absolute point of reference of the failed real attempts.
“This virtual point of reference, although unreal, is in a way more real than reality”
There is another similar case, The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick’s alternative history classic from 1963. It takes place in 1962, fifteen years after an alternative ending to World War II, in which the war lasted until 1947, when the victorious Axis Powers—Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany — rule over the former United States. The novel features a “novel within the novel” which describes an alternate history within this alternate history wherein the Allies defeat the Axis… We can read this double reversal as a dark allegory of our own time in which, although Fascism was defeated in reality, it is more and more triumphing in fantasy.
However, such a reading neglects the fact that the alternate reality described in the novel-within-the-novel is not simply our reality but differs from it in many crucial details. If we follow Lacan’s claim that the ‘real’ as a rule appears in the guise of a fiction-within-a-fiction, we should thus conceive alternate reality—depicted in the novel—and our reality as two realities, two variations of reality, while the ‘Real’ is the fiction—the novel-within-the-novel, or, in the TV series version, the film-within-the-film—which is neither of the two realities; our reality is one of the alternate realities with reference to the Real of the truth-fiction.
In order to understand our reality, we should first imagine the possible alternate realities, and then construct the ‘impossible real’ which serves as their secret point of reference, as their hard core. What we have here is a kind of Freudian version of phenomenological eidetic variation: in Husserl, we vary the empirical content of, say, a table in order to arrive at what unites all empirical variations, the absolutely necessary and invariable components that make a table what it is, the eidos of table; in psychoanalysis, one collects all variations in order to reconstruct their “absent centre,” a purely virtual (inexistent in reality) form negated (distorted, displaced, et cetera) in a specific way by every variation given in reality.
Just to go back to your reluctance to see performances of the plays you love, you have actually written a play—Antigone—but considering you tend to see things more filmically than theatrically, are there any obvious cinematic affinities with your version of Antigone you can tell us about?
I have no problem with eventually seeing my play being performed—for the simple reason that I don’t love it. It’s too much part of me, and it’s obscene for me to love oneself. The ideal version of my play would have been a weird impossible combination of minimalist theatre and big spectacular cinema, superficially akin to Olivier’s version of Henry V.
Most of the action would take place on an almost barren stage, with just some half-abstract objects (a large rock, a small bamboo forest…), and with all actors dressed in simple ordinary contemporary clothes (old jeans, faded T-shirts). There would just be some details strangely sticking out—say, Ismene’s mouth would be painted by an extremely strong and fluorescent red lipstick. In one of his reflections about the stage, Brecht ferociously opposed the idea that the background of the stage should render the impenetrable depth of the ‘All of Reality’ as the obscure ‘Origin of Things’ out of which everything we see and know appear as fragments. For Brecht, the background of a stage should ideally be empty, white, signalling that, behind what we see and experience, there is no secret ‘Origin’. This in no way implies that reality is transparent to us, that we know all; of course there are infinite blanks, but the point is that these blanks are just that, blanks, things we simply do not know, not a substantial “deeper” reality.
“I have no problem with eventually seeing my play being performed—for the simple reason that I don’t love it”
Furthermore, this minimalism should also affect the way actors perform their roles. I think Elfriede Jelinek’s advice to theatre writers is not only aesthetically correct, but has a deep ethical justification: “Characters on stage should be flat, like clothes in a fashion show: what you get should be no more than what you see. Psychological realism is repulsive, because it allows us to escape unpalatable reality by taking shelter in the ‘luxuriousness’ of personality, losing ourselves in the depth of individual character. The writer’s task is to block this manoeuvre, to chase us off to a point from which we can view the horror with a dispassionate eye.”
This is what I want: people reduced to their ideologico-political stance, no depth of the real person behind.
Only in a couple of passages, this minimalism should be interrupted by a mega-spectacular cinematic mise-en-scene. For example, the final minutes of the second version of the denouement, the desperate Antigone wandering around Thebes in ruin, should be done with thousands of extras, gigantic sets of the town and special effects of fire and destruction, all these epic shots combined with extreme close-ups of the details of Antigone’s face—trembling lips, et cetera. The final killings should also be done in a pseudo-authentic ancient surroundings, with old swords, etc.
The message of this contrast is clear: reality is flat, ‘realism’ is a kitschy dream.
You say you don’t love your play—because it’s somewhat tainted by being associated with yourself—and so I wonder why you wrote it? Why a play? Why now?
The reason I wrote it is a simple one: the topic haunted me for years, and I just wanted to get it out, to get rid of it. What lurked in the back of my mind was Glenn Gould recording of Mozart’s piano sonatas, sometimes characterized as “wilfully idiotic”: he recorded it to demonstrate how bad the sonatas are, how low they stand compared to Bach’s piano works. I had the same idea with Antigone: I wrote it to show how stupid and morally problematic the girl is.
“Reality is flat, ‘realism’ is a kitschy dream”
And why a play? The reason is again a simple and straight one: it’s easier to write, it’s just dialogue, there is no need for descriptive passages—brief stage indications suffice—plus there is no first person voice of the writer: only others talk, never me. I find terrifying the idea of disclosing my emotions in first person, there is something obscenely exhibitionist in it, not unlike masturbating in public. No decent person can recite his or her poetry in public. The only poetry I can tolerate is the minimalist one, with no overflow of emotions or experiences—think of someone like Paul Celan.
Plato’s reputation suffers because of his claim that poets should be thrown out of the city—a rather sensible advice, judging from the post-Yugoslav experience, where ethnic cleansing was prepared by poets’ dangerous dreams. True, Milosevic manipulated nationalist passions—but it was the poets who delivered him the stuff which lend itself to manipulation. They—the sincere poets, not the corrupted politicians—were at the origin of it all. To put it in a brutal way, behind every ethnic cleansing there is some poet.
“Behind every ethnic cleansing there is some poet”
And, last but not least, why now? It’s politics, of course. It would be very depressing to see the recent revival of the Left end up in another quagmire like the previous ones, in another missed opportunity. One can effectively say about the Left in the last decades that it never missed the opportunity to miss an opportunity, so it is very important to delineate the basic ethico-political choices this revival faces. That’s why I wrote in the introduction to my Antigone that it’s not a work of art but an ethico-political exercise.
Are the five plays you’ve selected also ‘ethico-political exercises’? Or are they about ‘never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity’?
The five plays are precisely not about missing an opportunity, the ‘suicidal’ gesture with which they close is an authentic act—in contrast to Sophocles’s Antigone which, I think, is about a missed opportunity, and the point of my rewriting is to reintroduce into it the dimension of authentic act, with direct relevance to our contemporary predicament.
We live in times of pseudo-conflicts: Brexit[‘s] yes or no; in Turkey, military or Erdogan; in Eastern Europe, new Baltic-Polish-Ukrainian fundamentalists or Putin; in Syria, Assad or Isis…
“There is no worse choice, both choices are worse, to paraphrase Stalin”
In all these cases, although one might slightly prefer one side to the other, the ultimate stance should be the one of indifferences: there is no worse choice, both choices are worse, to paraphrase Stalin. And it is here, at this formal level, that I see the ethico-political relevance of my rewriting of Antigone. The conflict between Antigone and Creon is for me also a pseudo-conflict: the only way to resolve it is to change the terrain and introduce another dimension (the intervention of the Chorus in my version). Exactly the same thing is needed in today’s struggle for emancipation: to move beyond our pseudo-conflicts—liberal permissiveness versus religious fundamentalism, et cetera—and to draw the coordinates of the true conflict which is, to put it bluntly, today’s form of what once was called class struggle. Who will be today’s Chorus? Refugees? Unemployed? A Chorus that I have in mind already appeared in what I consider the theatrical event of the 20th century, the Chereau-Boulez staging of Wagner’s Ring in Bayreuth [1976-1980]. What remains on stage after the twilight is the human crowd silently observing the cataclysmic event, a crowd which is left staring into the spectators when the music ends. To quote Chereau:The Redemption motif is a message delivered to the entire world, but like all pythonesses, the orchestra is unclear and there are several ways of interpreting its message… Doesn’t one hear it, shouldn’t one hear it, with mistrust and anxiety, a mistrust which would match the boundless hope which this humanity nurses and which has always been at stake, silently and invisibly, in the atrocious battles which have torn human beings apart throughout the Ring? The gods have lived, the values of their world must be reconstructed and reinvented. Men are there as if on the edge of a cliff—they listen, tensely, to the oracle which rumbles from the depths of the earth.There is no guarantee of redemption here: redemption is merely given as possible. Everything rests on them, the anonymous Chorus, without any guarantee in God or any other figure of the big Other—it is up to them to act like the Holy Spirit, practicing agape, or political love, as Terry Eagleton proposed to translate this term.
* In this case, Zizek's "desire" is really "Jacques Lacan's" (Antigone/The Hostage)
Thursday, October 6, 2016
“"Dalí shows us the hierarchized libidinous emotion, suspended and as though hanging in midair, in accordance with the modern 'nothing touches' theory of intra-atomic physics. Leda does not touch the swan; Leda does not touch the pedestal; the pedestal does not touch the base; the base does not touch the sea; the sea does not touch the shore. . . ."”Source
In 1941, American photographer Philippe Halsman met the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí in New York City and they began to collaborate in the late 1940s. The 1948 work Dali Atomicus explores the idea of suspension, depicting three cats flying, water thrown from a bucket, an easel, a footstool and Salvador Dalí all seemingly suspended in mid-air. The title of the photograph is a reference to Dalí's work Leda Atomica (at that which can be seen in the right of the photograph behind the two cats.) Halsman reported that it took 28 attempts to be satisfied with the result. This is the unretouched version of the photograph that was published in LIFE magazine. In this version the wires suspending the easel and the painting, the hand of the assistant holding the chair and the prop holding up the footstool can still be seen. The frame on the easel is still empty. The copyright for this photo was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office but according to the U.S. Library of Congress was not renewed, putting it in the public domain in the United States and countries which adopted the rule of the shorter term.from Wikipedia
TAKEN in 1948 this image memorably depicted gravity defeated, a moment in time plucked from a chaotic convergence of flying cats, water, chairs, paintings and the magnificent showman Salvador Dali.
The image is in many ways a photographic rendering of Dali's paintings, with their trademark melting watches, looming telephones, minaturised landscapes and women's bodies in various worrying states of disintegration.
Named Dali Atomicus, this image was created by Austrian photographer Philippe Halsman, who collaborated with Dali throughout the 1940s.
The apparent levitation of furniture was an effect created through using various "invisible" supporting devices but it took 28 attempts to get all the moving parts working in harmony.
Halsman went on to capture Einstein in a miserabilist portrait that would eventually grace the cover of Time magazine, to accompany their article on the father of relativity being named the "Person of the Century".
Dali had his sights set very firmly on being a "person of the century" and dedicated his life to achieving fame and notoriety. He was undeniably a virtuoso artist and certainly one of the most recognisable painters of the era.
His eccentric moustache, bohemian dress and bizarre lifestyle earned him acres of column inches and press photographs but often obscured thoughtful analysis of his work.
As one of the founding members of the Surrealist movement in 1920s Paris, he was a flamboyant exponent of the Surrealist manifesto: the liberation of the human spirit through a release of libidinal desires and suppressed emotion.
Whether Dali was as strange a man as the persona he projected is moot but he certainly had a number of eccentricities that put him just shy of mental aberration.
Purportedly he had an intense fear of grasshoppers, was afraid to expose his feet and always carried a piece of driftwood around to ward off evil spirits.
His wife Gala suited his strange lifestyle perfectly. She met Dali in Spain having ended a three-way relationship with Max Ernst and her then husband Paul Eluard, both artists.
Gala's strong sex drive meant she had many affairs during her marriage to Dali, which he possibly encouraged given his practice of candaulism: a penchant for showing his naked partner to others for their voyeuristic pleasure.
Andre Breton, the leading light of the Surrealists, who largely formulated their approach to art and life, was profoundly influenced by his training in medicine and psychiatry.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
- Drake Brayer, "Economy" (10/21/14)
Deceit, my throne
Agony, my crown
Within an ocean of tears, the silent man drowns
Pain so clear, across this grim façade
Life serene, cut so close, by this paper god
This seed of market and stock, supply and demand
The story of capitalism written by greed’s melancholy hand
A story so sad, imbued with regret
Consumerism the tragedy- heresy is debt
Okay, heresy isn't debt... heresy would be an absence of debt.
Sunday, October 2, 2016
The first things you notice about the Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres are the enormous eggs on the top of the tower. Then you see a thousand yellow protrusions on the maroon walls. Initially, they seem to be flowers, but up close they reveal themselves to be life-sized casts of loaves of bread.from The Independent
Bread? Why would this painter of the fantastic, the sophisticated and the elaborate cover the building – his eventual tomb – with bread? Why does this most basic food appear regularly in his work? I hope to find the answer in the Dalian triangle, formed by his three homes in Catalonia, all now open to the public.
First stop, Port Lligat, a little fishing cove on the last peninsula before France. The bus from Barcelona coils round a Daliesque range of barren drystone-stepped hills before dropping down into Cadaques. Half an hour's walk over a hill to Port Lligat and the first you see of Dali's house are more eggs on the roof.
The interior gives you a good idea of what Dali was like – a stuffed bear, a dome-shaped room with strange echoes, a mirror in the wall to see the sunrise from his bed and a phallic swimming pool. It's homely, albeit in an eccentric way. In the hallway is a photo of Gala, his wife-model-secretary-muse, and it's clearly the basis for his painting La Galarina. Just a hint of patisserie here. "Her arms are cradled like a bread basket," he said of his work. "The cup of her revealed breast is like the heel of a loaf of bread".
Back into Cadaques, and another hour on the bus back to Figueres, where the Theatre-Museum, redesigned by Dali in 1974, houses his favourite works. Above the entrance four life-sized, veiled statues, their stomachs hollowed out, hold aloft double-sized baguettes. The Bread Basket was painted in 1945 in the week the atomic bombs fell on Japan. "Here we have a picture about which we have nothing to say..." said its creator. "A total enigma!" Then, a contradiction. "My objective was to arrive at the immobility of the pre-explosive object."
I stand back from the painting. Am I getting any closer to an understanding? In the foreground is a real half-loaf in a real bread basket, both painted gold, laid on a plinth. "The basket," the artist later explained, "has become a crown, and the bread represents the unity of the tail and horn of the rhinoceros." I'm none the wiser.
Up in the Galatea Tower the Gala-Dali Foundation's Jordi Fargas speaks more prosaically. "For Dali, as for all Catalans, bread was the fundamental basis of the diet. At the same time it had a religious significance and thus represented the spiritual as well as the tangible." Dali was more offbeat. "Bread," he said, "has always been one of the most fetishistic and obsessive themes of my work." There are loaves of Pan Dali on sale in the bakery near to the museum. They are like the ones on the wall. I buy some for later.
On to the Castello de Pubol, the third corner of the triangle. A train to Flacá, another bus and a mile-long hike in the midday sun to the medieval castle which Dali redesigned for his wife in 1970 when she had sickened of him. They spoke once a day on the telephone but he had to make an appointment to see her.
It's a sad place, evocative of the death of their relationship. In one corner of the kitchen is a bread basket. It holds no bread; there is no need.
Outside the castle, with a long walk ahead, I'm feeling a pang of hunger, and the Pan Dali is still in its bag. But is it a sexual symbol? A religious icon? A portent of death? The last pre-explosive object? I don't want to bite off more than I can chew here. I pull off a hunk, and take a bite. It's slightly stale. I wash it down with water. It hits the spot. I set off down the road.
Saturday, October 1, 2016
- Roger Scruton, "Clown Prince of the Revolution: On Slavoj Zizek, a new kind of leftist thinker"
During the 1960s and 1970s, the consensus in Western academic and intellectual institutions was very much on the left. Writers like Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu shot to eminence by attacking the civilization they dismissed as “bourgeois.” The critical-theory writings of Jürgen Habermas achieved a dominant place in the curriculum in the social sciences, despite their stupefying tediousness. The rewriting of national history as a tale of “class struggle,” undertaken by Eric Hobsbawm in Britain and Howard Zinn in the United States, became a near-orthodoxy not only in university history departments but also in high schools. For us dissidents, it was a dispiriting time, and there was scarcely a morning when I did not wake up during those years, asking myself whether my teaching at the University of London was the right choice of career. Then came the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, and I allowed myself to hope.
For a while, it looked as though an apology might be forthcoming from those who had devoted their intellectual and political efforts to whitewashing the crimes of the Soviet Union or praising the “people’s republics” of China and Vietnam. But the moment proved short-lived. Within a decade, the Left establishment was back in the driver’s seat, with Zinn and Noam Chomsky renewing their intemperate denunciations of America, the European Left regrouped against “neoliberalism” (the new name for the free economy) as though this had been the trouble all along, Habermas and Ronald Dworkin collecting prestigious prizes for their barely readable defenses of ruling leftist platitudes, and the veteran Marxist Hobsbawm rewarded for a lifetime of unswerving loyalty to the Soviet Union by his appointment as “Companion of Honour” to the Queen.
True, the enemy was no longer described as before: the Marxist template did not easily fit the new conditions, and it seemed a trifle foolish to champion the cause of the working class, when its last members were joining the ranks of the unemployable or the self-employed. But one thing remained unchanged in the wake of Communism’s collapse: the conviction that it was unacceptable to be on the “right.” You might have doubts about certain leftist doctrines or policies; you might entertain the thought that this or that leftist thinker or politician had made “mistakes.” But that was as far as self-criticism could go; by contrast, merely to entertain a right-wing thought was to place yourself in the devil’s camp.
Thus, within a couple of years, the Manichaean vision of modern politics, as a fight to the death between the good Left and the evil Right, returned to its dominant position. Assuring the world that they had never really been taken in by Communist propaganda, leftist thinkers renewed their attacks on Western civilization and its “neoliberal” economics as the principal threat to humanity in a globalized world. The term “right-wing” has remained as much a term of abuse today as it was before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and leftist attitudes have adapted themselves to the new conditions with little moderation of their oppositional zeal.
There has, however, been one important change. A new kind of leftist thinker has emerged—one who clothes his revolutionary zeal in a layer of irony, half-dismissing his own impractical idealism as though speaking through the face paint of a clown. If you set out to study in a humanities department at an American university, it won’t be long before you come across the name of Slavoj Žižek, the philosopher who grew up in the comparatively mild regime of Communist Yugoslavia, qualified as a “dissident” during the declining years of Communism in his native Slovenia, but is now making waves as a radical critic of the West, though one whose tongue is always in his cheek.
It is proof of the Yugoslav regime’s leniency that Žižek was able to spend time in Paris during the early 1980s. There, he came across the psychoanalyst Jacques-Alain Miller, whose seminar he attended and who also became Žižek’s analyst. Miller is the son-in-law of Jacques Lacan, the unscrupulous power-maniac whom Raymond Tallis has described as “the shrink from Hell,” and it is an unfortunate price to pay for the endeavor to understand Žižek that you have to engage with Lacan, too.
Lacan’s collected Écrits, published in 1966, were one of the sources drawn upon by the student revolutionaries in May 1968. Thirty-four volumes of his seminars followed, published by his disciples and subsequently translated into English, or at least into a language that resembles English as closely as the original resembles French. The influence of these seminars is one of the deep mysteries of modern intellectual life. Their garbled regurgitation of theories that Lacan neither explored nor understood is, for sheer intellectual effrontery, without parallel in recent literature. Unexplained technicalities, excerpted from set theory, particle physics, linguistics, topology, and whatever else might seem to confer power on the wizard who conjures with them, are used to prove such spectacular theorems as that the erectile penis in bourgeois conditions is equal to the square root of minus one or that you do not (until worked on by Lacan) “ex-sist.”
Another Lacanian concept—that of the big Other—is crucial to understanding Žižek. Following the famous lectures on Hegel by Alexandre Kojève, delivered at the Institut des Hautes Études before World War II and attended by everybody who was anybody in the Parisian literary world (Lacan included), the idea of the Other became a fixture in French philosophical writing. The great and subtle argument of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, to the effect that we attain self-consciousness and freedom through the recognition of the Other, has been recycled again and again by those who attended Kojève’s lectures. You find it in Jean-Paul Sartre, Emmanuel Levinas, and Georges Bataille. And you find it, horribly garbled, in Lacan.
For Lacan, the big Other (capital A for Autre) is the challenge presented to the self by the not-self. This big Other haunts the perceived world with the thought of a dominating and controlling power—a power that we both seek and flee from. There is also the little other (lowercase a for autre), who is not really distinct from the self but is the thing seen in the mirror during that stage of development that Lacan calls the “mirror stage,” when the infant supposedly catches sight of himself in the glass and says “Aha!” That is the point of recognition, when the infant first encounters the “object = a,” which, in some way that I find impossible to decipher, indicates both desire and its absence.
The mirror stage provides the infant with an illusory (and brief) idea of the self, as an all-powerful other in the world of others. But this self is soon to be crushed by the big Other, a character based on the good-breast/bad-breast, good-cop/bad-cop scenario invented by psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. In the course of expounding the tragic aftermath of this encounter, Lacan comes up with astounding aperçus, often repeated without explanation by his disciples, as though they have changed the course of intellectual history. One in particular is constantly repeated: “there is no sexual relation,” an interesting observation from a serial seducer, from whom no women, not even his own analysands, were safe.
In addition, Lacan is credited with the view that the subject does not exist beyond the mirror stage until brought into being by an act of “subjectivization.” You become a self-conscious subject by taking possession of your world and incorporating its otherness into your self. In this way, you begin to “ex-sist”—to exist outwardly, in a community of others.
Lacan’s ruminations on the Other appear constantly in Žižek’s writings, which offer proof of one feature in which the Communist system had the edge on its Western rivals: they are the products of a seriously educated mind. Žižek writes perceptively of art, literature, cinema, and music, and when he is considering the events of the day—be it American presidential elections or Islamist extremism in the Middle East—he always has something interesting and challenging to say. He has learned Marxism not as a flamboyant pursuit of an academic leisure class but as an attempt to discover the truth about our world. He has studied Hegel in depth, and in what are surely his two most sustained pieces of writing—The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989) and Part I of The Ticklish Subject (1999)—he shows how to apply this study to the confused times in which we live. He has responded to the poetry of Hegel as well as to the metaphysics, and he has retained the Hegelian longing for a total perspective, in which being and nothingness, affirmation and negation, are brought into relation and reconciled.
If he had stayed in Slovenia, and if Slovenia had stayed Communist, Žižek would not have been the nuisance he has since become. Indeed, the release of Žižek into the world of Western scholarship could almost suffice to make one regret the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. By seizing on Lacan’s psychoanalytic vision as the transcendental ground for his new socialist philosophy, Žižek raises the level of excitement beyond anything achieved by the dreary socialists who are the normal product of the Western academy. And his slick, all-inclusive style offers constant hints of persuasive argument. He can sometimes be read with ease for pages at a time, with a full sense that he is sharing matters that could form an understanding between himself and his reader. At the same time, he passes quickly over outrageous statements that seem, at first, to be slips of the pen but that the reader discovers, in time, to be the true content of his message.
As an indication of Žižek’s style, here are some of the topics touched on in three consecutive pages, chosen more or less at random, from his engaging 2008 book In Defense of Lost Causes: the Turin shroud; the Koran and the scientific worldview; the Tao of physics; secular humanism; Lacan’s theory of fatherhood; truth in politics; capitalism and science; Hegel on art and religion; postmodernity and the end of grand narratives; psychoanalysis and modernity; solipsism and cyberspace; masturbation; Hegel and objective spirit; Richard Rorty’s pragmatism; and is there or is there not a big Other?
The machine-gun rattle of topics and concepts makes it easy for Žižek to slip in his little pellets of poison, which the reader, nodding in time to the rhythm of the prose, might easily swallow unnoticed. Thus, we are not “to reject terror in toto but to re-invent it”; we must recognize that the problem with Hitler, and with Stalin, too, is that they “were not violent enough”; we should accept Mao’s “cosmic perspective” and read the Cultural Revolution as a positive event. Rather than criticizing Stalinism as immoral, we should praise it for its humanity, since it rescued the Soviet experiment from “biopolitics”; besides, Stalinism is not immoral but too moral, since it relied on the figure of the big Other, which, as all Lacanians know, is the primordial mistake of the moralist. We must also recognize that the “dictatorship of the proletariat” is “the only true choice today.”
Žižek’s defense of terror and violence, his call for a new Party organized on Leninist principles, his celebration of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the countless deaths notwithstanding and, indeed, lauded as part of the meaning of a politics of action—all this might have served to discredit Žižek among more moderate left-wing readers, were it not for the fact that it is never possible to be sure that he is serious. Maybe he is laughing—not only at himself and his readers but at an academic establishment that can seriously include Žižek alongside Kant and Hegel on the philosophy curriculum, with a Journal of Žižek Studies now in its fourth year of publication. Maybe he is cheering us all on in a holiday from thinking, scoffing at the idiots who imagine that there is anything else to be done with thinking than to escape from it:
Here, however, one should avoid the fatal trap of conceiving the subject as the act, the gesture, which intervenes afterwards in order to fill in the ontological gap, and insist on the irreducible vicious cycle of subjectivity: “the wound is healed only by the spear which smote it,” that is, the subject “is” the very gap filled in by the gesture of subjectivization (which, in Laclau, establishes a new hegemony; which, in Rancière, gives voice to the “part no part”; which, in Badiou, assumes fidelity to the Truth-Event; etc.). In short, the Lacanian answer to the question asked (and answered in a negative way) by such different philosophers as Althusser, Derrida and Badiou—“Can the gap, the opening, the Void which precedes the gesture of subjectivization, still be called ‘subject’?”—is an emphatic “Yes!”—the subject is both at the same time, the ontological gap (the “night of the world,” the madness of radical self-withdrawal) as well as the gesture of subjectivization which, by means of a short circuit between the Universal and the Particular, heals the wound of this gap (in Lacanese: the gesture of the Master which establishes a “new harmony”). “Subjectivity” is a name for this irreducible circularity, for a power which does not fight an external resisting force (say, the inertia of the given substantial order), but an obstacle that is absolutely inherent, which ultimately “is” the subject itself. In other words the subject’s very endeavor to fill in the gap retroactively sustains and generates this gap.Notice the sudden intrusion into the logorrhea of a long italicized sentence, no clearer than any others, as though Žižek had paused to draw a conclusion before passing exultantly to the next half-formed conception.
The passage is part of a contribution to the Lacanian theory of “subjectivization.” But its main import is to bring home to the reader that, whatever might be said by the other purveyors of fashionable nonsense, Žižek has said it, too, and that all truths, all insights, all useful nuggets of leftist nonsense, are tributaries flowing into the unstanchable flood of his all-comprehending negativity. The prose is an invitation: you the reader should plunge in, so as to be washed clean of the taint of reasoned argument and to enjoy, at last, the refreshing waters of the mind, which flow from topic to topic and from place to place unimpeded by realities, always flowing to the left.
Žižek publishes at the rate of two or three books a year. He writes at an ironical distance from himself, aware that acceptance is obtainable in no other way. But he is also concerned to undermine the superficial plausibility of the consumerist society that has replaced the old order of Communist Yugoslavia and to discover the deep spiritual cause of its ailments. When he is not writing allusively, jumping like a grasshopper from topic to topic, he is trying to unmask what he sees as the self-deceptions of the global capitalist order. Like his other master, the far-left French philosopher Alain Badiou, he fails to provide a clear alternative. But absent a clear alternative, an unclear alternative—even a purely imaginary one—will do, whatever the consequences. As he puts it, using Badiou’s language: “Better a disaster of fidelity to the Event than a non-being of indifference towards the Event.” (The Event being the always longed-for, and always postponed, Revolution.)
To summarize Žižek’s position is not easy: he slips between philosophical and psychoanalytical ways of arguing and is spellbound by Lacan’s gnomic utterances. He is a lover of paradox and believes strongly in what Hegel called “the labor of the negative,” though following Lacan in taking negation to its extreme point—not simply as a way of setting limits to a concept but as a way of ruling it out. We become self-conscious by an act of total negation: by learning that there is no subject. Instead of the subject, there is the act of subjectivization, which is a defense against the subject—a way in which I prevent myself from become a substance, an identity, a center of being. The subject does not exist before subjectivization. But through subjectivization, I read myself back into the condition that preceded my self-awareness. I am what I become, and I become what I am by filling the void of my past.
For Žižek, as for Lacan, there is the “little other,” which appears as the object of fantasy, and also of desire; and the big Other, the mother imago, which dominates the growing child, the authority-bringing order, the “consistent, closed totality” to which we aspire but that always eludes us, since “there is no big Other.” As with the subject, so with the object—it doesn’t exist, and nonexistence is its way of existing. This is the aspect of Lacan that Žižek finds most exciting—the magic wand that conjures visions and promptly waves them to nothingness.
Žižek uses this mystical vision to take shortcuts to many of his surprising conclusions. It is because Stalinism relies on the figure of the big Other that it is too moral—a nice excuse that nobody is in a position to refute. Democracy is no solution because, though it implies a “barred big Other,” as Jacques-Alain Miller has apparently shown, there is another big Other—the “procedural big Other” of electoral rules, which have to be obeyed, whatever the result.
But perhaps the real danger is populism, in which the big Other returns in the guise of the People. Or is it okay to invoke the People, if you do so in the spirit of Robespierre, whose invocation of Virtue “redeems the virtual content of terror from its actualization”? There is no knowing, but who cares? Certainly not Žižek, who takes refuge behind the skirts of the big Other whenever the little others come with their irritating questions. In this way, he can defend himself from the antitotalitarians, whose thoughts are “a worthless sophistic exercise, a pseudo-theorization of the lowest opportunist survivalist fears and instincts”—language that has all the authenticity of those Newspeak denunciations that composed the editorials of Pravda, Rudé Právo, and the Slovenian Delo in the days of Žižek’s youth.
From Lacan, Žižek also takes the idea that mental processes fall into three distinct categories: fantasy, symbol, and the reaching for the Real. Desire comes through fantasy, which proposes both the object = a (the objet petit a), and the first subjectivization: the mirror stage, in which desire (and its lack) enter the infant psyche. The notion of fantasy is connected with that key term of Lacanian analysis—a term that incidentally entered and dominated French literary theory under the influence of Roland Barthes—namely, jouissance, Lacan’s substitute for the Freudian “pleasure principle.” Fantasies enter our lives and persist because they bring enjoyment, and they are revealed in symptoms, those irrational-seeming fragments of behavior through which the psyche protects its achieved terrain of enjoyment from the threatening realities of the world beyond—from the unvisitable world of the Real.
This thought gives rise to a spectacular emendation to Freud’s idea of the superego, expressed in terms that unite Kant with the Marquis de Sade:
It is a commonplace of Lacanian theory to emphasize how [the] Kantian moral imperative conceals an obscene superego injunction: “Enjoy!”—the voice of the Other impelling us to follow our duty for the sake of duty is a traumatic irruption of an appeal to impossible jouissance, disrupting the homeostasis of the pleasure principle and its prolongation, the reality principle. This is why Lacan conceives Sade as the truth of Kant.Having pushed the nonsense machine this far, so as to identify Kant and Sade, and thereby to dismiss as a kind of obscenity the Enlightenment morality by which Western society has tried for two centuries to anchor itself, Žižek is able to offer a new theory of ideology, one that renews the Marxist critique of capitalism.
Ideology, in the classical Marxist analysis, is understood in functional terms, as the system of illusions through which power achieves legitimacy. Marxism offers a scientific diagnosis of ideology, reducing it to a symptom, showing how things really are behind the fetishes. By doing so, it “opens our eyes” to the truth: we see exploitation and injustice where previously we had seen contract and free exchange. The illusory screen of commodities, in which relations between people appear as the law-like motion of things, crumbles before us and reveals the human reality: stark, unadorned, and changeable. In short, by tearing away the veil of ideology, we prepare the way for revolution.
But in that case, Žižek reasonably asks, why has the revolution not come? Why is it that capitalism, achieving this consciousness of itself, continues to assert its ever-growing dominion, sucking more and more of human life into the maelstrom of commodity consumption? Žižek’s answer is that ideology is renewed through fantasy. We cling to the world of commodities as the scene of our deeper jouissance, and we shun the reality beyond, the Real that refuses to be known. We come to understand ideology not as serving the capitalist economy but as serving itself—it is enjoyable for its own sake, in the way that art and music are.
Ideology becomes a toy in our hands—we both accept it and laugh at it, knowing that everything has its price in our world of illusions but that nothing of value will ever appear there. This, at least, is how I read remarks like this one, which is about as clear as Žižek gets on the topic:
Why must this inversion of the relation of aim and means remain hidden, why is its revelation self-defeating? Because it would reveal the enjoyment which is at work in ideology, in the ideological renunciation itself. In other words, it would reveal that ideology serves only its own purpose, that it does not serve anything—which is precisely the Lacanian definition of jouissance.It is at this point, however, that clarity is imperative. Is Žižek telling us that the world of commodities and markets is with us to stay and that we must learn to make the best of it? What does it mean that he has arrived at his position by deploying those strange Lacanian categories that appear throughout his prose in lieu of foundations but that are themselves entirely foundationless? Is there a real argument here, one that might be convincing to a person who has not had the benefit of brainwashing by Jacques-Alain Miller? Almost always, at the critical juncture, when a clear argument is needed, Žižek takes refuge behind a rhetorical question, into which he packs all the mysterious incantations of the Lacanian liturgy:
Is not the paradoxical topology of the movement of capital, the fundamental blockage which resolves and reproduces itself through frenetic activity, excessive power as the very form of appearance of a fundamental impotence—this immediate passage, this coincidence of limit and excess, of lack and surplus—precisely that of the Lacanian objet petit a, of the leftover which embodies the fundamental, constitutive lack?
The syntactical pressure exerted by such rhetorical questions is directed toward the response: “Of course, I should have known that already.” The goal is to escape the real question, which is that of the meaning and foundation of the terms. I give another and spectacular example, since it is directly relevant to the theme:Is not the ultimate domain of psychoanalysis the connection between the symbolic Law and desire? Is not the multitude of perverse satisfactions the very form in which the connection between Law and desire is realized? Is not the Lacanian division of the subject the division that concerns precisely the subject’s relationship to the symbolic Law? Furthermore, is not the ultimate confirmation of this Lacan’s “Kant avec Sade,” which directly posits the Sadeian universe of morbid perversion as the “truth” of the most radical assertion of the moral weight of symbolic Law in human history (Kantian ethics)?If you answered no to any of those questions, the response would be “No? What on earth do you mean, no?” For the real question is: “What exactly do you mean?”
But this brings me to the heart of Žižek’s leftism. The Real, touched by Lacan’s magic wand, vanishes. It is the primary absence, the “truth” that is also castration. The wand waves away reality and thereby gives fresh life to the dream. It is in the world of dreams, therefore, that morality and politics are now to be implanted. What matters is not the discredited world of merely empirical events but the goings-on in the dream world, the world of the exalted intellectuals, for whom ideas and enthusiasms cancel mere realities.
Thus, in a singularly repulsive essay on “Revolutionary Terror,” Žižek praises the “humanist terror” of Robespierre and Saint-Just (as opposed to the “anti-humanist, or rather inhuman,” terror of the Nazis) not because it was particularly kind to its victims but because it expressed the “utopian explosions of political imagination” of its perpetrators. No matter that the terror led to the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of innocent people and the deaths of as many more. The statistics are irrelevant, waved away by Lacan’s wand, reduced to the square root of minus one—a purely imaginary number. What is relevant is the way in which, through speeches that Žižek would recognize to be self-vaunting bombast did his critical faculties not desert him in the face of a revolutionary hero, Robespierre “redeemed the virtual content of terror from its actualisation.”
In this way, for Žižek, thought cancels reality, when the thought is “on the left.” It matters less what you do than what you think you are doing, provided what you think you are doing has the ultimate goal of emancipation—of égaliberté, as the Marxian theorist Étienne Balibar expresses it. The goal is not equality or liberty conceived in the qualified sense that you or I would understand those terms. It is absolute equality (with a bit of liberty thrown in, if you are lucky), which can, by its nature, be achieved only by an act of total destruction. To pursue this goal might also be to acknowledge its impossibility—is that not what all such “total” projects amount to? No matter. It is precisely the impossibility of utopia that fastens us to it: nothing can sully the absolute purity of what will never be tested.
We should not be surprised, therefore, when Žižek writes that “the thin difference between the Stalinist gulag and the Nazi annihilation camp was also, at that moment, the difference between civilization and barbarism.” His only interest is in the state of mind of the perpetrators: Were they moved, in however oblique a manner, by utopian enthusiasms, or were they moved, on the contrary, by some discredited attachment? If you step back from Žižek’s words, and ask yourself just where the line between civilization and barbarism lay, at the time when the rival sets of death camps were competing over their body counts, you would surely put Communist Russia and Nazi Germany on one side of the line, and a few other places—Britain and America, for instance—on the other. To Žižek, that would be an outrage, a betrayal, a pathetic refusal to see what is really at stake. For what matters is what people say, not what they do, and what they say is redeemed by their theories, however stupidly or carelessly pursued, and with whatever disregard for real people. We rescue the virtual from the actual through our words, and the deeds have nothing to do with it.
Reading Žižek, I am reminded of a visit I once made to the cemetery of Devichye Pole in Moscow, in the days of Gorbachev. My guide, a dissident intellectual not unlike Žižek in appearance and manner, took me to the grave of Khrushchev, on which stood a monument designed by Ernst Neizvestny. The sculptor had been singled out for particular denunciation by Khrushchev, when, following a visit to an exhibition of modernist art, the Soviet leader had decided to attack the entire artistic community. My guide regarded this particular tantrum of Khrushchev’s far more seriously than his destruction of 25,000 churches and found nothing wrong in his burial here, in what was once consecrated ground.
The monument shows Khrushchev’s head, mounted on two intersecting trunks of stone, one black, one white, symbolizing the contradictions in the leader’s character. After all, my guide insisted, it was he who denounced Stalin and showed himself thereby to be the friend of the intellectuals, just as it was he who denounced artistic modernism, and so declared himself to be the enemy of the intellectuals. It was brought painfully home to me that the Russian people have counted for nothing in the intellectual history of Russian Communism, either in the minds of its champions or in the minds of its critics, for whom the entire modern period has been a kind of dialogue—conducted at the top of the voice and with every available weapon—between the Party and the intelligentsia. Millions of serfs have gone silently to the grave simply to illustrate some intellectual conclusion and to give to the arguments of power the decisive proof of another’s helpless suffering.
This discounting of reality reminds us of the crucial fact: that the goal of a supreme emancipation, which will also be the reign of total equality, is a matter of faith, not prediction. It expresses a religious need that cannot be discarded and that will survive all the evidence adduced toward its refutation. For a while, in the wake of 1989, it looked as if the Communist agenda had been defeated and that the evidence pointed to the rejection of the ideas that had enslaved the people of Eastern Europe since the war. But the nonsense machine was wheeled on to obliterate the shoots of rational argument, to cover everything in a mist of uncertainty, and to revive the idea that the real revolution has yet to come and that it will be a revolution in thought, an inner liberation, against which rational argument (mere “bourgeois ideology”) has no defense. The reign of nonsense buried the question of revolution so deeply beneath the possibility of rational inquiry that it could no longer be directly stated.
At the same time, the alchemists never ceased to propose revolution as the goal, the thing that was to be conjured from the darkness that their spells created. What exactly were they hoping for? Let us step back into the world of rational analysis, so as to notice that there are at least two kinds of revolution and that it is important, when we make an idol of this word, to ask ourselves which of the two we mean by it. There is the kind exemplified by the English Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the American Revolution of 1783, in which essentially law-abiding people attempt to define and protect their rights against usurpation. And then there is the kind exemplified by the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917, in which one elite seizes power from another and then establishes itself by a reign of terror.
The difference between those two kinds of revolution is enormous and of vast significance to us, looking at the course of modern history. But Žižek and other postmodern leftists dismiss the distinction with a sneer. For them, the English and American Revolutions did not scintillate in the imagination of exultant intellectuals but merely pressed themselves into being through the needs of real people. Instead of examining what such revolutions achieved, whether it might not have been sufficient and, in any case, the best that can be hoped for, thinkers like Žižek prefer to bury themselves in scholastic disputes with fellow leftists, shifting blocks of formidable Newspeak around the sanctuary where the idol has been hidden.
Those who imagined, in 1989, that never again would an intellectual be caught defending the Leninist Party, or advocating the methods of Stalin, had reckoned without the overwhelming power of nonsense. In the urgent need to believe, to find a central mystery that is the true meaning of things and to which one’s life can be dedicated, nonsense is much to be preferred to sense. For it builds a way of life around something that cannot be questioned. No reasoned assault is possible against what denies the possibility of a reasoned assault. And thus it is that utopia stepped again into the place vacated by theology, to erect its own mysterium tremendum et fascinans in the center of intellectual life. A new generation rediscovered the authentic voice of the proletariat, which speaks the language of the nonsense machine. And despite all the disappointments, they were reassured that “the dictatorship of the proletariat” remains an option—indeed, the only option. The proof of this is there in Žižek’s prose; you have his word for it.
In Žižek, we find astonishing evidence of the fact that the “Communist hypothesis,” as Badiou calls it, will never go away. Notwithstanding Marx’s attempt to present it as the conclusion of a science, the “hypothesis” cannot be put to the test and refuted. For it is not a prediction or, in any real sense, a hypothesis. It is a statement of faith in the unknowable. Žižek unhesitatingly adds his weight to every cause that is directed, in whatever way, against the established order of the Western democracies. He even sets himself against parliamentary democracy and has no qualms in advocating terror (suitably aestheticized) as part of his glamorous detachment. But his few empty invocations of the egalitarian alternative advance no further than the clichés of the French Revolution and are soon wrapped in Lacanian spells by way of shielding them from argument. When it comes to real politics, he writes as though negation is enough. Whether it be the Palestinian intifada, the IRA, the Venezuelan Chavistas, the French sans-papiers, or the Occupy movement—whatever the radical cause, it is the attack on the “System” that matters.
As in 1789, as in 1917, as in the Long March of Mao, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution, the work of destruction feeds on itself. Žižek’s windbaggery serves one purpose: to turn attention away from the actual world, from real people, and from ordinary moral and political reasoning. It exists to promote a single and absolute cause, the cause that admits of no criticism and no compromise and that offers redemption to all who espouse it. And what is that cause? The answer is there on every page of Žižek’s writings: Nothing.
Scruton's Straw Men are embarrassing. He represents everything that he accuses Zizek of being. While in his book ‘The West and the Rest: Globalisation and the Terrorist Threat’, Roger Scruton is correct in contesting that:
by imposing itself and its values on the entire world through the globalization process, the West is creating the conditions for conflict to occur between other cultures. It has also made itself impossible to ignore and was at the very cause of an anti-Western movement and an international Jihad. Globalization has brought face to face two very confident and incompatible ideas and the battle for dominance has been transformed into what is known as terrorism or “the dark side of globalization”.He apparently sees no problem at all with neo-liberalism or our system of global capital other than burdens to be born by those "outside" of Western Society. That our 'global corporatist' neo-liberal economic system is rendering vast numbers of its' own citizens economically superfluous poses no issue at all. Really, Roger? Really?
You need to stop fighting the Cold War and wrap your head around capitalism with Asian values, the very real and very present neo-liberalism enabled "threat from within".