.

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

Monday, May 23, 2022

Ukraine Again

Slavoj Zizek, "We must stop letting Russia define the terms of the Ukraine crisis"
A question like ‘Did US intelligence-sharing with Ukraine cross a line?’ forgets the fact that it was Russia that crossed the line – by invading Ukraine
In recent weeks, the western public has been obsessed with the question “What goes on in Putin’s mind?” Western pundits wonder: do the people around him tell him the whole truth? Is he ill or going insane? Are we pushing him into a corner where he will see no other way out to save face than to accelerate the conflict into a total war?

We should stop this obsession with the red line, this endless search for the right balance between support for Ukraine and avoiding total war. The “red line” is not an objective fact: Putin himself is redrawing it all the time, and we contribute to his redrawing with our reactions to Russia’s activities. A question like “Did US intelligence-sharing with Ukraine cross a line?” makes us obliterate the basic fact: it was Russia itself which crossed the line, by attacking Ukraine. So instead of perceiving ourselves as a group which just reacts to Putin as an impenetrable evil genius, we should turn the gaze back at ourselves: what do we – the “free west” – want in this affair?

We must analyze the ambiguity of our support of Ukraine with the same cruelty we analyze Russia’s stance. We should reach beyond double standards applied today to the very foundations of European liberalism. Remember how, in the western liberal tradition, colonization was often justified in the terms of the rights of working people. John Locke, the great Enlightenment philosopher and advocate of human rights, justified white settlers grabbing land from Native Americans with a strange left-sounding argument against excessive private property. His premise was that an individual should be allowed to own only as much land as he is able to use productively, not large tracts of land that he is not able to use (and then eventually rents to others). In North America, as he saw it, Natives were using vast tracts of land mostly just for hunting, and the white settlers who wanted to use it for intense agriculture had the right to seize it for the benefit of humanity.

In the ongoing Ukraine crisis, both sides present their acts as something they simply had to do: the west had to help Ukraine remain free and independent; Russia was compelled to intervene militarily to protect its safety. The latest example: the Russian foreign ministry claiming Russia will be “forced to take retaliatory steps” if Finland joins Nato. No, it will not be “forced”, in the same way that Russia was not “forced” to attack Ukraine. This decision appears “forced” only if one accepts the whole set of ideological and geopolitical assumptions that sustain Russian politics.

These assumptions have to be analyzed closely, without any taboos. One often hears that we should draw a strict line of separation between Putin’s politics and the great Russian culture, but this line of separation is much more porous than it may appear. We should resolutely reject the idea that, after years of patiently trying to resolve the Ukrainian crisis through negotiations, Russia was finally forced/compelled to attack Ukraine – one is never forced to attack and annihilate a whole country. The roots are much deeper; I am ready to call them properly metaphysical.

One is never forced to attack and annihilate a whole country

Anatoly Chubais, the father of Russian oligarchs (he orchestrated Russia’s rapid privatization in 1992), said in 2004: “I’ve reread all of Dostoevsky over the past three months. And I feel nothing but almost physical hatred for the man. He is certainly a genius, but his idea of Russians as special, holy people, his cult of suffering and the false choices he presents make me want to tear him to pieces.” As much as I dislike Chubais for his politics, I think he is right about Dostoevsky, who provided the “deepest” expression of the opposition between Europe and Russia: individualism versus collective spirit, materialist hedonism versus the spirit of sacrifice.

Russia now presents its invasion as a new step in the fight for decolonization, against western globalization. In a text published earlier this month, Dmitry Medvedev, the ex-president of Russia and now the deputy secretary of the security council of the Russian Federation, wrote that “the world is waiting for the collapse of the idea of an American-centric world and the emergence of new international alliances based on pragmatic criteria.” (“Pragmatic criteria” means disregard for universal human rights, of course.)

So we should also draw red lines, but in a way which makes clear our solidarity with the third world. Medvedev predicts that, because of the war in Ukraine, “in some states, hunger may occur due to the food crisis” – a statement of breathtaking cynicism. As of May 2022, about 25m metric tons of grain are slowly rotting in Odesa, on ships or in silos, since the port is blocked by the Russian navy. “The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that millions of people are ‘marching towards starvation’ unless ports in southern Ukraine which have been closed because of the war, are reopened,” Newsweek reports. Europe now promises to help Ukraine transport the grain by railway and truck – but this is clearly not enough. A step more is needed: a clear demand to open the port for the export of grain, inclusive of sending protective military ships there. It’s not about Ukraine, it’s about the hunger of hundreds of millions in Africa and Asia. Here should the red line be drawn.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, recently said: “Imagine [the Ukraine war] is happening in Africa, or the Middle East. Imagine Ukraine is Palestine. Imagine Russia is the United States.” As expected, comparing the conflict in Ukraine with the plight of the Palestinians “offended many Israelis, who believe there are no similarities”, Newsweek noted. “For example, many point out that Ukraine is a sovereign, democratic country, but don’t consider Palestine as a state.” Of course Palestine is not a state because Israel denies its right to be a state – in the same way Russia denies the right of Ukraine to be a sovereign state. As much as I find Lavrov’s remarks repulsive, he sometimes deftly manipulates the truth.

Yes, the liberal west is hypocritical, applying its high standards very selectively. But hypocrisy means you violate the standards you proclaim, and in this way you open yourself up to inherent criticism – when we criticize the liberal west, we use its own standards. What Russia is offering is a world without hypocrisy – because it is without global ethical standards, practicing just pragmatic “respect” for differences. We have seen clearly what this means when, after the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, they instantly made a deal with China. China accepts the new Afghanistan while Taliban will ignore what China is doing to Uyghurs – this is, in nuce, the new globalization advocated by Russia. And the only way to defend what is worth saving in our liberal tradition is to ruthlessly insist on its universality. The moment we apply double standards, we are no less “pragmatic” than Russia.


Sunday, May 22, 2022

Non-Representative Art

Slavoj Zizek, "The Political Implications of Non-Representative Art"
In his Philosophy of History, Hegel provided a wonderful characterization of Thucydides’s book on the Peloponnesian war: “his immortal work is the absolute gain which humanity has derived from that contest.” One should read this judgment in all its naivety: in a way, from the standpoint of the world history, the Peloponnesian war took place so that Thucydides could write a book on it. What if something similar holds for the relationship between the explosion of modernism and First World War, but in the opposite direction? The Great War was not the traumatic break that shattered late nineteenth-century progressism, but a reaction to the true threat to the established order: the explosion of vanguard art, scientific and political, which undermined the established worldview. This included artistic modernism in literature – from Kafka to Joyce, in music – Schoenberg and Stravinsky, in painting – Picasso, Malevitch, Kandinsky, in psychoanalysis, relativity theory and quantum physics, the rise of Social Democracy…

The rupture – condensed in 1913, the annus mirabilis of artistic vanguard – was so shattering in its opening of new spaces that, in a speculative historiography, one is even tempted to claim that the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 was, from the “spiritual” standpoint, a reaction to this Event of rupture – or, to paraphrase Hegel, that the horror of the World War I is the price humanity had to pay for waging the immortal artistic revolution of the years just prior to the war. In other words, one has to turn around the pseudo-deep insight on how Schoenberg et al prefigured the horrors of twentieth-century war: what if the true Event were 1913? It is crucial to focus on this intermediate explosive moment between the complacency of late-nineteenth century and the catastrophe of World War I. 1914 was not the awakening from slumber, but the forceful and violent return of patriotic sleep, destined to block the true awakening. The fact that Fascists and other patriots hated the vanguard entartete Kunst is not a marginal detail but a key feature of Fascism. It is against this background that we should approach the relationship between modern art and the horrors of twentieth-century history.

In his Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911), Wassily Kandinsky develops the idea of how every artwork influences the spectator not through its subject matter but through a certain choice of colors and forms. In this sense, Kandinsky sees “high art” not as the thematization of a neutral medium, which represents nothing, but as having its own operational goal, namely irrational, subconscious influence on the spectator. Particular colors and forms influence the psyche of spectators and produce specific moods in them:
“Here the individual is placed not outside the artwork or in front of it but inside the artwork, and totally immersed in it. Such an artificial environment can create a powerful subconscious effect on the spectator, who becomes a visitor to, if not a prisoner of, the artwork… This approach to art does not propagate irrationality, it relies on an even more radical spiritualism: spiritual meaning is inscribed already into the form itself, not only into the content the work of art represents.”[1]
However, a quite naïve problem immediately arises here: if the specific form of a work of art produces moods of anxiety, discontent and disorientation, does it not deprive itself of any emancipatory dimension? Does it not propagate irrational pessimism and hopelessness? This is how abstract art (as well as atonal music and free-association writing) were perceived by both poles of the political spectrum in 1930s.

In 1938, during the Spanish Civil War, the French poet, artist, and architect of Slovene origins Alphonse Laurencic relied on Kandinsky’s theories of color and form to decorate cells at a prison in Barcelona where Republicans held captured Francoists. He designed each cell like an avant-garde art installation, so that the compositions of color and form inside the cells were chosen with the goal of causing the prisoners to experience disorientation, depression, and deep sadness:
“During the trial Laurencic revealed he was inspired by modern artists, such as surrealist Salvador Dali and Bauhaus artist Wassily Kandinsky, to create the torture cells /…/ Laurencic told the court the cells, in Barcelona, featured sloping beds at a 20-degree angle that were almost impossible to sleep on.
They also had irregularly shaped bricks on the floor that prevented prisoners from walking backwards or forwards, the trial papers said. The walls in the 6ft x 3ft cells were covered in surrealist patterns designed to make prisoners distressed and confused, the report continued, and lighting effects were used to make the artwork even more dizzying. Some of them had a stone seat designed to make occupants instantly slide to the floor, while other cells were painted in tar and became stiflingly hot in the summer.”

Indeed, later the prisoners held in these so-called “psychotechnic” cells did report extreme negative moods and psychological suffering due to their visual environment. Here, the mood becomes the message—the message that coincides with the medium. The power of this message is shown in Himmler’s reaction to the cells: he visited the psychotechnic cells after Barcelona was taken by the fascists and said that the cells showed the “cruelty of Communism.” They looked like Bauhaus installations and, thus, Himmler understood them as a manifestation of Kulturbolschevismus (cultural Bolshevism). No wonder Laurencic was put on trial and executed in 1939.

But the paradox is that orthodox Stalinist Marxism advocated the same thesis, just in the opposite direction. In the 1930s, writing in Moscow, Georg Lukács diagnosed expressionist “activism” as a precursor to National Socialism. He stressed the “irrational” aspects of expressionism that later, according to his analysis, culminated in Nazi ideology. Along the same lines, Ilya Ehrenburg wrote at that time about the surrealists: “For them a woman means conformism. They preach onanism, pederasty, fetishism, exhibitionism, and even sodomy.”[2] As late as 1963, in a famous pamphlet called Why I Am Not a Modernist, Soviet art critic Mikhail Lifshitz (a close friend and collaborator of Lukács in the 1930s) repeated the same point: modernism is cultural fascism because it celebrates irrationality and anti-humanism. He wrote:
“So, why am I not a modernist? Why does the slightest hint of such ideas in art and philosophy provoke my innermost protest? Because in my eyes modernism is linked to the darkest psychological facts of our time. Among them are a cult of power, a joy at destruction, a love for brutality, a thirst for a thoughtless life and blind obedience /…/ The conventional collaborationism of academics and writers with the reactionary policies of imperialist states is nothing compared to the gospel of new barbarity implicit to even the most heartfelt and innocent modernist pursuits. The former is like an official church, based on the observance of traditional rites. The latter is a social movement of voluntary obscurantism and modern mysticism. There can be no two opinions as to which of the two poses a greater public danger.”[3]
In short, modernism is a much greater danger than Fascism… While modernism is Fascist for Soviet Marxism, it is Communist for the Fascists. (There are exceptions on both sides, of course: futurism was appropriated by Italian Fascism as well as by the Soviet art in the 1920s.) On the opposite side, the realism of representation is “totalitarian” for Western modernists who see in anti-representative modern art the liberation of the medium from the message it is supposed to transmit: the message is (in) the medium itself, not in what the medium represents…[4] But the truly surprising fact is that today some cognitivists propagate the same anti-modernist stance, claiming that a good traditional taste for beauty as a source of pleasure is grounded in our nature, so that we should trust people’s taste. Here is what Steven Pinker wrote in this regard:
“The dominant theories of elite art and criticism in the 20th century grew out of a militant denial of human nature. One legacy is ugly, baffling, and insulting art. The other is pretentious and unintelligible scholarship. And they’re surprised that people are staying away in droves?”[5]
Such a stance is not just gaining traction among some theoreticians, but it is also spreading among Rightist populists. In Slovenia, the Rightists are elevating national folk music into the emblem of being a true Slovene, and are attacking its critics as traitors to Slovene nationhood… The proponents of the idea that the sense of artistic beauty and pleasure is grounded in our nature denounce the modernist “desire to destroy beauty” as an ideological moment of elitist globalism. In a naïve sense, they are making a valuable point: modern art reproduces horror, anxiety and dissonances, which characterize our social being. The question we should ask here is: so why is reproducing anxiety and horror in art subversive, not merely imitating and thereby sustaining the existing alienated social life? The answer is simple: just bringing up anxieties and dissonances is in itself an act of liberation, which enables us to regain a distance towards the existing order. To see this, we have to accept the Hegelian position of Adorno: art is not about pleasure or the experience of beauty; art is a medium of truth, the truth of our human condition in a given historical epoch. And in our epoch, after the modernist break, sticking to the tradition of tonal music or realist painting is as such a fake.

Why? Let’s return to Hegel, to his notion of the end of art. Hegel’s fateful limitation was that his notion of art remained within the confines of classical representative art: he was unable to consider the possibility of what we call abstract (nonfigurative) art, or, for that matter, atonal music, or literature which reflexively focuses on its own process of writing, etc. The truly interesting question here is in what way this limitation—remaining within the constraints of the classical notion of representative art—is linked to what Robert Pippin detects as Hegel’s other limitation, namely his inability to detect the alienation/antagonism that persists even in a modern rational society where individuals attain their formal freedom and mutual recognition. In what way—and why—can this persisting unfreedom, unease, dislocation in a modern free society be properly articulated, brought to light, in an art which is no longer constrained to the representative model? Is it that the modern unease, unfreedom in the very form of formal freedom, servitude in the very form of autonomy, and, more fundamentally, anxiety and perplexity caused by that very autonomy, reach so deep into the very ontological foundations of our being that they can be expressed only in an art form which destabilizes and denaturalizes the most elementary coordinates of our sense of reality? So, for Pippin, Hegel’s “greatest failure” is that he
“never seemed very concerned about [the] potential instability in the modern world, about citizens of the same ethical commonwealth potentially losing so much common ground and common confidence that a general irresolvability of any of these possible conflicts becomes ever more apparent, the kind of high challenge and low expectations we see in all those vacant looks. . . . He does not worry much because his general theory about the gradual actual historical achievement of some mutual recognitive status, a historical claim that has come to look like the least plausible aspect of Hegel’s account and that is connected with our resistance to his proclamations about art as a thing of the past.”[6
And Pippin himself designates as the core of this new dissatisfaction class division and struggle (here, of course, class is to be opposed to castes, estates, and other hierarchies). A fundamental ambiguity thus characterizes the disturbing and disorienting effect of Manet’s paintings: yes, they indicate the “alienation” of modern individuals who lack a proper place within a society traversed by radical antagonisms, individuals deprived of the intersubjective space of collective mutual recognition and understanding; however, they simultaneously generate and reflect a liberating effect (the individuals they depict appear as no longer bound to a specific place in the social hierarchy).

Pippin is right to point out that, in his proclamation of the end of art (as the highest expression of the absolute), Hegel is paradoxically not idealist enough. What Hegel doesn’t see is not simply some post-Hegelian dimension totally outside his grasp, but the very “Hegelian” dimension of the analyzed phenomenon. The same goes for economy: what Marx demonstrated in his Capital is how the self-reproduction of capital obeys the logic of the Hegelian dialectical process of a substance-subject, which retroactively posits its own presuppositions. However, Hegel himself missed this dimension—his notion of industrial revolution was the Adam-Smith-type manufacture where the work process was still that of combined individuals using tools, not yet a factory where the machinery set the rhythm and individual workers were de facto reduced to organs serving the machinery, to its appendices. This is why Hegel could not yet imagine the way abstraction rules in developed capitalism: this abstraction is not only in our (financial speculator’s) misperception of social reality, but it is “real” in the precise sense of determining the structure of the very material social processes. The fate of whole strata of population and sometimes of whole countries can be decided by the “solipsistic” speculative dance of capital, which pursues its goal of profitability in a blessed indifference to how its movement will affect social reality. Therein resides the fundamental systemic violence of capitalism, much more uncanny than the direct precapitalist socio-ideological violence: this violence is no longer attributable to concrete individuals and their “evil” intentions, but is purely “objective,” systemic, anonymous.

And in an exact homology to this reign of abstraction in capitalism, Hegel was paradoxically not idealist enough to imagine the reign of abstraction in art. That is to say, in the same way that in the domain of economy he wasn’t able to discern the self-mediating Notion which structured the economic reality of production, distribution, exchange, and consumption, he wasn’t able to discern the Notional content of a painting which mediates and regulates its form (shapes, colors) at a level that is more basic than the content represented (pictured) in a painting. In other words, “abstract painting” mediates/reflects sensuality at a non-representative level.[7]

APPENDIX: AM I NOW ASHAMED OF ONCE PUBLISHING IN “RUSSIA TODAY”?

No, absolutely not! Here is the main reason.

A news item passed largely unnoticed while our eyes are mostly on the Ukraine war: on April 20, 2022, Julian Assange moved one step closer to being extradited to the United States, where he is set to be tried under the Espionage Act. A London court issued a formal extradition order in a hearing Wednesday, leaving UK Home Secretary Priti Patel (the one who proposed sending refugees who arrived to the UK to Rwanda) to rubber-stamp his transfer to the US. If convicted, Assange faces up to 175 years in prison… So, yes, we should fully support Ukrainian resistance. And, yes, we should defend Western freedoms. Just imagine with shudder what would have happened to Chelsea Manning if she were Russian! But our Western freedom also has limits, which we should never lose out of our sight, especially in moments like this when “the fight for freedom” is on everyone’s lips.

We hear these days the demand that Putin should be brought to the Hague tribunal for Russian war crimes in Ukraine. OK, but how can the US demand this, while they do not recognize the competence of the Hague tribunal for their own citizens? And, to add insult to injury, how can they demand the extradition of Assange to the US when Assange is not a US citizen, was not involved in any spysing against the US, plus all he did was to make public what are undoubtedly the US war crimes (recall just the famous video clip of US snipers killing Iraqi civilians)? Assange is under threat of getting 175 years of prison for just disclosing US crimes, which are beyond reproach… Not even to mention the long list of crimes of the US Presidents!

If Putin belongs in the Hague, why not also Assange? Why not Bush and Rumsfeld (who is already dead) for the “shock and awe” bombardment of Baghdad? It is as if the guideline of the recent US politics is a weird reversal of the well-known motto of the ecologists: act globally, think locally. This contradiction was best exemplified already back in 2003 by the two-sided pressure the US was exerting on Serbia: the US representatives simultaneously demanded of the Serbian government to deliver suspected war criminals to the Hague court AND to sign the bilateral treaty with the US obliging Serbia not to deliver to any international institution (i.e., to the SAME Hague court) the US citizens suspected of war crimes or other crimes against humanity. No wonder the Serb reaction was one of perplexed fury…

There were things – not only on Assange, but also on the weaknesses of liberal democracy, on the Israeli apartheid politics in the West Bank, on the aberrations of Political Correctness, etc. – which I was simply able to publish in English only there, in Russia Today (RT). If I were to do it in other very marginal sites in the West, the texts would have found a very limited echo. Of course, we have much more freedom in the liberal West, but that’s why prohibitions are all the more conspicuous. The lesson is that Western democracies also have their dirty side, their own censorship, so we have the full right to ruthlessly play one superpower against the other. What I was publishing in RT and what I am now publishing in support of Ukraine are for me parts of the same struggle, in the same way that there is no “contradiction” between the struggle against anti-Semitism and the struggle against what Israel is doing on the West Bank with Palestinians. If we see Ukraine and Assange as a choice, we are lost; we have already sold our soul to the devil.

Far from standing for a utopian position, this necessity of a common struggle is grounded in the very fact of the far-reaching consequences of extreme suffering. In a memorable passage in Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered, Ruth Klüger describes a conversation with “some advanced PhD candidates” in Germany:
“one reports how in Jerusalem he made the acquaintance of an old Hungarian Jew who was a survivor of Auschwitz, and yet this man cursed the Arabs and held them all in contempt. How can someone who comes from Auschwitz talk like that? the German asks. I get into the act and argue, perhaps more hotly than need be. What did he expect? Auschwitz was no instructional institution /…/. You learned nothing there, and least of all humanity and tolerance. Absolutely nothing good came out of the concentration camps, I hear myself saying, with my voice rising, and he expects catharsis, purgation, the sort of thing you go to the theatre for? They were the most useless, pointless establishments imaginable.”[8]
In short, the extreme horror of Auschwitz did not make it into a place which purifies its surviving victims into ethically sensitive subjects who got rid of all petty egotistic interests; on the contrary, part of the horror of Auschwitz was that it also dehumanized many of its victims, transforming them into brutal insensitive survivors, making it impossible for them to practice the art of balanced ethical judgment. The lesson to be drawn here is a very depressing one: we have to abandon the idea that there is something emancipatory in extreme experiences, that they enable us to clear the mess and open our eyes to the ultimate truth of a situation. Or, as Arthur Koestler, the great anti-Communist convert, put it concisely: “If power corrupts, the reverse is also true; persecution corrupts the victims, though perhaps in subtler and more tragic ways.”

NOW is the time to insist on equal treatment and to address the same critical questions to Russia and to the West. Yes, we are all now Ukrainians – in the sense that every nation has the right to defend itself like Ukraine does.


Notes:
[1] Boris Groys, quoted from The Cold War between the Medium and the Message: Western Modernism vs. Socialist Realism – Journal #104 November 2019 – e-flux. In my description, I rely heavily on Groys’s text.

[2] Quoted from Groys, op.cit.

[3] Quoted from op.cit.

[4] One should mention here another surprising exception: Irving Reis’s Crack-Up, a noir from 1946 in which the elite proponents of modern non-realist art are presented as corrupted Fascist villains who aim at confusing masses of ordinary people; the film’s hero is an art critic who attacks modern art and defends the taste of ordinary people.

[5] Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, London: Penguin 2002.

[6] Robert B. Pippin, After the Beautiful: Hegel and the Philosophy of Pictorial Modernism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), p. 69.

[7] I resume here my argumentation from chapter 4 of Disparities, London: Bloomsbury Press 2016.

[8] Ruth Klüger, Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered, New York: The Feminist Press 2003, p. 189.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

The Problem of Neo-Left Liberalism

 

Mark Fisher, "Exiting the Vampire Castle" (11/22/13)

This summer, I seriously considered withdrawing from any involvement in politics. Exhausted through overwork, incapable of productive activity, I found myself drifting through social networks, feeling my depression and exhaustion increasing.

‘Left-wing’ Twitter can often be a miserable, dispiriting zone. Earlier this year, there were some high-profile twitterstorms, in which particular left-identifying figures were ‘called out’ and condemned. What these figures had said was sometimes objectionable; but nevertheless, the way in which they were personally vilified and hounded left a horrible residue: the stench of bad conscience and witch-hunting moralism. The reason I didn’t speak out on any of these incidents, I’m ashamed to say, was fear. The bullies were in another part of the playground. I didn’t want to attract their attention to me.

The open savagery of these exchanges was accompanied by something more pervasive, and for that reason perhaps more debilitating: an atmosphere of snarky resentment. The most frequent object of this resentment is Owen Jones, and the attacks on Jones – the person most responsible for raising class consciousness in the UK in the last few years – were one of the reasons I was so dejected. If this is what happens to a left-winger who is actually succeeding in taking the struggle to the centre ground of British life, why would anyone want to follow him into the mainstream? Is the only way to avoid this drip-feed of abuse to remain in a position of impotent marginality?

One of the things that broke me out of this depressive stupor was going to the People’s Assembly in Ipswich, near where I live. The People’s Assembly had been greeted with the usual sneers and snarks. This was, we were told, a useless stunt, in which media leftists, including Jones, were aggrandising themselves in yet another display of top-down celebrity culture. What actually happened at the Assembly in Ipswich was very different to this caricature. The first half of the evening – culminating in a rousing speech by Owen Jones – was certainly led by the top-table speakers. But the second half of the meeting saw working class activists from all over Suffolk talking to each other, supporting one another, sharing experiences and strategies. Far from being another example of hierarchical leftism, the People’s Assembly was an example of how the vertical can be combined with the horizontal: media power and charisma could draw people who hadn’t previously been to a political meeting into the room, where they could talk and strategise with seasoned activists. The atmosphere was anti-racist and anti-sexist, but refreshingly free of the paralysing feeling of guilt and suspicion which hangs over left-wing twitter like an acrid, stifling fog.

Then there was Russell Brand. I’ve long been an admirer of Brand – one of the few big-name comedians on the current scene to come from a working class background. Over the last few years, there has been a gradual but remorseless embourgeoisement of television comedy, with preposterous ultra-posh nincompoop Michael McIntyre and a dreary drizzle of bland graduate chancers dominating the stage.

The day before Brand’s now famous interview with Jeremy Paxman was broadcast on Newsnight, I had seen Brand’s stand-up show the Messiah Complex in Ipswich. The show was defiantly pro-immigrant, pro-communist, anti-homophobic, saturated with working class intelligence and not afraid to show it, and queer in the way that popular culture used to be (i.e. nothing to do with the sour-faced identitarian piety foisted upon us by moralisers on the post-structuralist ‘left’). Malcolm X, Che, politics as a psychedelic dismantling of existing reality: this was communism as something cool, sexy and proletarian, instead of a finger-wagging sermon.

The next night, it was clear that Brand’s appearance had produced a moment of splitting. For some of us, Brand’s forensic take-down of Paxman was intensely moving, miraculous; I couldn’t remember the last time a person from a working class background had been given the space to so consummately destroy a class ‘superior’ using intelligence and reason. This wasn’t Johnny Rotten swearing at Bill Grundy – an act of antagonism which confirmed rather than challenged class stereotypes. Brand had outwitted Paxman – and the use of humour was what separated Brand from the dourness of so much ‘leftism’. Brand makes people feel good about themselves; whereas the moralising left specialises in making people feed bad, and is not happy until their heads are bent in guilt and self-loathing.

The moralising left quickly ensured that the story was not about Brand’s extraordinary breach of the bland conventions of mainstream media ‘debate’, nor about his claim that revolution was going to happen. (This last claim could only be heard by the cloth-eared petit-bourgeois narcissistic ‘left’ as Brand saying that he wanted to lead the revolution – something that they responded to with typical resentment: ‘I don’t need a jumped-up celebrity to lead me‘.) For the moralisers, the dominant story was to be about Brand’s personal conduct – specifically his sexism. In the febrile McCarthyite atmosphere fermented by the moralising left, remarks that could be construed as sexist mean that Brand is a sexist, which also meant that he is a misogynist. Cut and dried, finished, condemned

It is right that Brand, like any of us, should answer for his behaviour and the language that he uses. But such questioning should take place in an atmosphere of comradeship and solidarity, and probably not in public in the first instance – although when Brand was questioned about sexism by Mehdi Hasan, he displayed exactly the kind of good-humoured humility that was entirely lacking in the stony faces of those who had judged him. “I don’t think I’m sexist, But I remember my grandmother, the loveliest person I‘ve ever known, but she was racist, but I don’t think she knew. I don’t know if I have some cultural hangover, I know that I have a great love of proletariat linguistics, like ‘darling’ and ‘bird’, so if women think I’m sexist they’re in a better position to judge than I am, so I’ll work on that.”


Brand’s intervention was not a bid for leadership; it was an inspiration, a call to arms. And I for one was inspired. Where a few months before, I would have stayed silent as the PoshLeft moralisers subjected Brand to their kangaroo courts and character assassinations – with ‘evidence’ usually gleaned from the right-wing press, always available to lend a hand – this time I was prepared to take them on. The response to Brand quickly became as significant as the Paxman exchange itself. As Laura Oldfield Ford pointed out, this was a clarifying moment. And one of the things that was clarified for me was the way in which, in recent years, so much of the self-styled ‘left’ has suppressed the question of class.

Class consciousness is fragile and fleeting. The petit bourgeoisie which dominates the academy and the culture industry has all kinds of subtle deflections and pre-emptions which prevent the topic even coming up, and then, if it does come up, they make one think it is a terrible impertinence, a breach of etiquette, to raise it. I’ve been speaking now at left-wing, anti-capitalist events for years, but I’ve rarely talked – or been asked to talk – about class in public.

But, once class had re-appeared, it was impossible not to see it everywhere in the response to the Brand affair. Brand was quickly judged and-or questioned by at least three ex-private school people on the left. Others told us that Brand couldn’t really be working class, because he was a millionaire. It’s alarming how many ‘leftists’ seemed to fundamentally agree with the drift behind Paxman’s question: ‘What gives this working class person the authority to speak?’ It’s also alarming, actually distressing, that they seem to think that working class people should remain in poverty, obscurity and impotence lest they lose their ‘authenticity’.

Someone passed me a post written about Brand on Facebook. I don’t know the individual who wrote it, and I wouldn’t wish to name them. What’s important is that the post was symptomatic of a set of snobbish and condescending attitudes that it is apparently alright to exhibit while still classifying oneself as left wing. The whole tone was horrifyingly high-handed, as if they were a schoolteacher marking a child’s work, or a psychiatrist assessing a patient. Brand, apparently, is ‘clearly extremely unstable … one bad relationship or career knockback away from collapsing back into drug addiction or worse.’ Although the person claims that they ‘really quite like [Brand]‘, it perhaps never occurs to them that one of the reasons that Brand might be ‘unstable’ is just this sort of patronising faux-transcendent ‘assessment’ from the ‘left’ bourgeoisie. There’s also a shocking but revealing aside where the individual casually refers to Brand’s ‘patchy education [and] the often wince-inducing vocab slips characteristic of the auto-didact’ – which, this individual generously says, ‘I have no problem with at all’ – how very good of them! This isn’t some colonial bureaucrat writing about his attempts to teach some ‘natives’ the English language in the nineteenth century, or a Victorian schoolmaster at some private institution describing a scholarship boy, it’s a ‘leftist’ writing a few weeks ago.

Where to go from here? It is first of all necessary to identify the features of the discourses and the desires which have led us to this grim and demoralising pass, where class has disappeared, but moralism is everywhere, where solidarity is impossible, but guilt and fear are omnipresent – and not because we are terrorised by the right, but because we have allowed bourgeois modes of subjectivity to contaminate our movement. I think there are two libidinal-discursive configurations which have brought this situation about. They call themselves left wing, but – as the Brand episode has made clear – they are many ways a sign that the left – defined as an agent in a class struggle – has all but disappeared.

Inside the Vampires’ Castle

The first configuration is what I came to call the Vampires’ Castle. The Vampires’ Castle specialises in propagating guilt. It is driven by a priest’s desire to excommunicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd. The danger in attacking the Vampires’ Castle is that it can look as if – and it will do everything it can to reinforce this thought – that one is also attacking the struggles against racism, sexism, heterosexism. But, far from being the only legitimate expression of such struggles, the Vampires’ Castle is best understood as a bourgeois-liberal perversion and appropriation of the energy of these movements. The Vampires’ Castle was born the moment when the struggle not to be defined by identitarian categories became the quest to have ‘identities’ recognised by a bourgeois big Other.

The privilege I certainly enjoy as a white male consists in part in my not being aware of my ethnicity and my gender, and it is a sobering and revelatory experience to occasionally be made aware of these blind-spots. But, rather than seeking a world in which everyone achieves freedom from identitarian classification, the Vampires’ Castle seeks to corral people back into identi-camps, where they are forever defined in the terms set by dominant power, crippled by self-consciousness and isolated by a logic of solipsism which insists that we cannot understand one another unless we belong to the same identity group.

I’ve noticed a fascinating magical inversion projection-disavowal mechanism whereby the sheer mention of class is now automatically treated as if that means one is trying to downgrade the importance of race and gender. In fact, the exact opposite is the case, as the Vampires’ Castle uses an ultimately liberal understanding of race and gender to obfuscate class. In all of the absurd and traumatic twitterstorms about privilege earlier this year it was noticeable that the discussion of class privilege was entirely absent. The task, as ever, remains the articulation of class, gender and race – but the founding move of the Vampires’ Castle is the dis-articulation of class from other categories.

The problem that the Vampires’ Castle was set up to solve is this: how do you hold immense wealth and power while also appearing as a victim, marginal and oppositional? The solution was already there – in the Christian Church. So the VC has recourse to all the infernal strategies, dark pathologies and psychological torture instruments Christianity invented, and which Nietzsche described in The Genealogy of Morals. This priesthood of bad conscience, this nest of pious guilt-mongers, is exactly what Nietzsche predicted when he said that something worse than Christianity was already on the way. Now, here it is …

The Vampires’ Castle feeds on the energy and anxieties and vulnerabilities of young students, but most of all it lives by converting the suffering of particular groups – the more ‘marginal’ the better – into academic capital. The most lauded figures in the Vampires’ Castle are those who have spotted a new market in suffering – those who can find a group more oppressed and subjugated than any previously exploited will find themselves promoted through the ranks very quickly.

The first law of the Vampires’ Castle is: individualise and privatise everything. While in theory it claims to be in favour of structural critique, in practice it never focuses on anything except individual behaviour. Some of these working class types are not terribly well brought up, and can be very rude at times. Remember: condemning individuals is always more important than paying attention to impersonal structures. The actual ruling class propagates ideologies of individualism, while tending to act as a class. (Many of what we call ‘conspiracies’ are the ruling class showing class solidarity.) The VC, as dupe-servants of the ruling class, does the opposite: it pays lip service to ‘solidarity’ and ‘collectivity’, while always acting as if the individualist categories imposed by power really hold. Because they are petit-bourgeois to the core, the members of the Vampires’ Castle are intensely competitive, but this is repressed in the passive aggressive manner typical of the bourgeoisie. What holds them together is not solidarity, but mutual fear – the fear that they will be the next one to be outed, exposed, condemned.

The second law of the Vampires’ Castle is: make thought and action appear very, very difficult. There must be no lightness, and certainly no humour. Humour isn’t serious, by definition, right? Thought is hard work, for people with posh voices and furrowed brows. Where there is confidence, introduce scepticism. Say: don’t be hasty, we have to think more deeply about this. Remember: having convictions is oppressive, and might lead to gulags.

The third law of the Vampires’ Castle is: propagate as much guilt as you can. The more guilt the better. People must feel bad: it is a sign that they understand the gravity of things. It’s OK to be class-privileged if you feel guilty about privilege and make others in a subordinate class position to you feel guilty too. You do some good works for the poor, too, right?

The fourth law of the Vampires’ Castle is: essentialize. While fluidity of identity, pluarity and multiplicity are always claimed on behalf of the VC members – partly to cover up their own invariably wealthy, privileged or bourgeois-assimilationist background – the enemy is always to be essentialized. Since the desires animating the VC are in large part priests’ desires to excommunicate and condemn, there has to be a strong distinction between Good and Evil, with the latter essentialized. Notice the tactics. X has made a remark/ has behaved in a particular way – these remarks/ this behaviour might be construed as transphobic/ sexist etc. So far, OK. But it’s the next move which is the kicker. X then becomes defined as a transphobe/ sexist etc. Their whole identity becomes defined by one ill-judged remark or behavioural slip. Once the VC has mustered its witch-hunt, the victim (often from a working class background, and not schooled in the passive aggressive etiquette of the bourgeoisie) can reliably be goaded into losing their temper, further securing their position as pariah/ latest to be consumed in feeding frenzy.

The fifth law of the Vampires’ Castle: think like a liberal (because you are one). The VC’s work of constantly stoking up reactive outrage consists of endlessly pointing out the screamingly obvious: capital behaves like capital (it’s not very nice!), repressive state apparatuses are repressive. We must protest!

Neo-anarchy in the UK

The second libidinal formation is neo-anarchism. By neo-anarchists I definitely do not mean anarchists or syndicalists involved in actual workplace organisation, such as the Solidarity Federation. I mean, rather, those who identify as anarchists but whose involvement in politics extends little beyond student protests and occupations, and commenting on Twitter. Like the denizens of the Vampires’ Castle, neo-anarchists usually come from a petit-bourgeois background, if not from somewhere even more class-privileged.

They are also overwhelmingly young: in their twenties or at most their early thirties, and what informs the neo-anarchist position is a narrow historical horizon. Neo-anarchists have experienced nothing but capitalist realism. By the time the neo-anarchists had come to political consciousness – and many of them have come to political consciousness remarkably recently, given the level of bullish swagger they sometimes display – the Labour Party had become a Blairite shell, implementing neo-liberalism with a small dose of social justice on the side. But the problem with neo-anarchism is that it unthinkingly reflects this historical moment rather than offering any escape from it. It forgets, or perhaps is genuinely unaware of, the Labour Party’s role in nationalising major industries and utilities or founding the National Health Service. Neo-anarchists will assert that ‘parliamentary politics never changed anything’, or the ‘Labour Party was always useless’ while attending protests about the NHS, or retweeting complaints about the dismantling of what remains of the welfare state. There’s a strange implicit rule here: it’s OK to protest against what parliament has done, but it’s not alright to enter into parliament or the mass media to attempt to engineer change from there. Mainstream media is to be disdained, but BBC Question Time is to be watched and moaned about on Twitter. Purism shades into fatalism; better not to be in any way tainted by the corruption of the mainstream, better to uselessly ‘resist’ than to risk getting your hands dirty.

It’s not surprising, then, that so many neo-anarchists come across as depressed. This depression is no doubt reinforced by the anxieties of postgraduate life, since, like the Vampires’ Castle, neo-anarchism has its natural home in universities, and is usually propagated by those studying for postgraduate qualifications, or those who have recently graduated from such study.

What is to be done?

Why have these two configurations come to the fore? The first reason is that they have been allowed to prosper by capital because they serve its interests. Capital subdued the organised working class by decomposing class consciousness, viciously subjugating trade unions while seducing ‘hard working families’ into identifying with their own narrowly defined interests instead of the interests of the wider class; but why would capital be concerned about a ‘left’ that replaces class politics with a moralising individualism, and that, far from building solidarity, spreads fear and insecurity?

The second reason is what Jodi Dean has called communicative capitalism. It might have been possible to ignore the Vampires’ Castle and the neo-anarchists if it weren’t for capitalist cyberspace. The VC’s pious moralising has been a feature of a certain ‘left’ for many years – but, if one wasn’t a member of this particular church, its sermons could be avoided. Social media means that this is no longer the case, and there is little protection from the psychic pathologies propagated by these discourses.

So what can we do now? First of all, it is imperative to reject identitarianism, and to recognise that there are no identities, only desires, interests and identifications. Part of the importance of the British Cultural Studies project – as revealed so powerfully and so movingly in John Akomfrah’s installation The Unfinished Conversation (currently in Tate Britain) and his film The Stuart Hall Project – was to have resisted identitarian essentialism. Instead of freezing people into chains of already-existing equivalences, the point was to treat any articulation as provisional and plastic. New articulations can always be created. No-one is essentially anything. Sadly, the right act on this insight more effectively than the left does. The bourgeois-identitarian left knows how to propagate guilt and conduct a witch hunt, but it doesn’t know how to make converts. But that, after all, is not the point. The aim is not to popularise a leftist position, or to win people over to it, but to remain in a position of elite superiority, but now with class superiority redoubled by moral superiority too. ‘How dare you talk – it’s we who speak for those who suffer!’

But the rejection of identitarianism can only be achieved by the re-assertion of class. A left that does not have class at its core can only be a liberal pressure group. Class consciousness is always double: it involves a simultaneous knowledge of the way in which class frames and shapes all experience, and a knowledge of the particular position that we occupy in the class structure. It must be remembered that the aim of our struggle is not recognition by the bourgeoisie, nor even the destruction of the bourgeoisie itself. It is the class structure – a structure that wounds everyone, even those who materially profit from it – that must be destroyed. The interests of the working class are the interests of all; the interests of the bourgeoisie are the interests of capital, which are the interests of no-one. Our struggle must be towards the construction of a new and surprising world, not the preservation of identities shaped and distorted by capital.


If this seems like a forbidding and daunting task, it is. But we can start to engage in many prefigurative activities right now. Actually, such activities would go beyond pre-figuration – they could start a virtuous cycle, a self-fulfilling prophecy in which bourgeois modes of subjectivity are dismantled and a new universality starts to build itself. We need to learn, or re-learn, how to build comradeship and solidarity instead of doing capital’s work for it by condemning and abusing each other. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we must always agree – on the contrary, we must create conditions where disagreement can take place without fear of exclusion and excommunication. We need to think very strategically about how to use social media – always remembering that, despite the egalitarianism claimed for social media by capital’s libidinal engineers, that this is currently an enemy territory, dedicated to the reproduction of capital. But this doesn’t mean that we can’t occupy the terrain and start to use it for the purposes of producing class consciousness. We must break out of the ‘debate’ that communicative capitalism in which capital is endlessly cajoling us to participate in, and remember that we are involved in a class struggle. The goal is not to ‘be’ an activist, but to aid the working class to activate – and transform – itself. Outside the Vampires’ Castle, anything is possible.
Mark Fisher is the author of Capitalist Realism and the forthcoming Ghosts of my Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (both published by Zer0 books, where he is now a Commissioning Editor). His writing has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Film Quarterly, The Wire, The Guardian and Frieze. He is Programme Leader of the MA in Aural and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London and a lecturer at the University of East London.

Mind Your Symptom...

Vamplik and Zomluk (translated) — Slavoj Žižek, "Vampire and Zombie":
According to the Hegelian conclusion to be drawn from Kant, every limitation must be considered a precursor of things "beyond", according to which even Kant's notion of Thing in Itself remains too "reified".

Hegel is nuanced in this regard: when he says that the supra-sense "appearance is appearance," he is suggesting that precisely the Thing in Itself is the limitation of phenomena. "Supersensory objects (objects of suprasensory intuition)" belong to the chimeric "reverse world"; there at best the content of audible intuition is presented in reverse under the inaudible form of another intuition, reflected like a stream [or echoed like a hemsada: Hiçpekora]

Let us recall Marx's ironic criticism of Proudhon in The Misery of Philosophy:
Instead of the ordinary way of speaking and thinking of the ordinary individual, there is only this ordinary style, pure and simple, without an individual.
(The irony here is compounded because Marx wrote these lines with the intention of cynically rejecting Proudhon's Hegelianism—his attempt to support economic theory in a speculative dialectical form!)

This is the point in the chimera of "inaudible intuition": instead of ordinary objects of audible intuition, we still have the same ordinary sense objects, [but] inaudiblely.

The fact that vampires and other "living dead" are often referred to as "things" is quite Kantian: Vampire is something that looks and behaves like us, but it is not one of us. In sum, the difference between the vampire and the living person is the difference between infinite judgment and negative judgment: the deceased person remains the same person even if he loses the quality of vitality; an undead, on the contrary, is not alive even though it holds all of its vitality qualities. As in the Marxian joke above, the vampire "has only this ordinary style, pure and simple, without an individual."

(Lingering with the Negative)

It can be argued that the class difference is embedded in horror films under the guise of vampire-zombie difference. Vampires are mannered, kind, noble, and live with normal people, while zombies are clumsy, lethargic, dirty, and attack from the outside, like the primitive rebellion of outcast mobs.

The equivalence of zombies with the working class was made evictive in the film White Zombie (1932). When filming this first full-length zombie film, made before the enactment of the Hays Ordinance, Hollywood's self-censorship system, it was not yet forbidden to directly address the ruthlessness of the capitalists and the workers' struggle. There are no vampires in this film, but it is noteworthy that Bela Lugosi, who plays the villain who rules zombies, became famous for his role as Dracula the previous year. White Zombie It is set on the farm where Haiti's most famous slave uprising took place. Lugosi entertains another rancher and shows him the zombie workers working in the sugar factory he owns and immediately explains the situation: the zombie workers do not complain about working conditions, do not demand unions, do not strike at all, and work non-stop. Such a film could only be made before the Hays Ordinance was imposed.

(Trouble in Heaven)


Notes:
Turkish: Işık Barış Fidaner

See "It is the appearance that is the self-appearance" Slavoj Žižek, "The sensual is the speech of the transcendence of this world" G. W. F. Hegel, "Arbitrariness beyond the phallus" Jacques Lacan:
Our people – I have acquaitances, I am involved in the public even if they do not come to the seminar – our people call their wives "bourgeois". The meaning of this is obvious. The word is the man who listens, not the woman. (Lacan)
According to Lacan, a woman is a bourgeois of a man. According to Žižek, the worker zombie is symbolized by the bourgeois vampire. So maybe every man has a piece of zombie and every woman has a piece of vampness?

See "Man hates zom masculinity" by Luke Burns

Friday, May 20, 2022

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Slavoj Žižek, "Applause"
The fundamental difference between the nature of Stalinist and Fascist 'totalitarianisms' is captured in a small but important detail:

When his public address is over and the crowd applauds him, the Fascist Leader states that he accepts that he is the subject of that applause (he sets his sights far away or salutes the people, etc.), while the Stalinist leader (for example, when the party's secretary general's report to congress is finished) stands up and joins in the applause.

This distinction indicates that the two rhetorical positions are fundamentally different: the Stalinist leader must stand up and join in the applause, because he is not the main subject of the applause, but the great Other in terms of History, which he humbly serves/mediates.

Since being the object-instrument of the pleasure of the Great Other – according to Lacan – is the character of the deviant economy, it can be said that the distinction here is between fascist paranoid and Stalinist heretic.

Notes:

From the Epidemic of Dreams

Turkish: Light Peace Fidaner

The Problem of the Cynic

Russell Baker, "OBSERVER; A Little Sincerity, Please" (4/1/89)
A fool takes the world at face value. As a result, he and his money are soon parted. Why this is bad is hard to say. People being parted from their money often seems to be what America, as the commercials say, is all about.

In fact, when people and their money are not parting at a fierce pace, Wall Street weeps and economists foresee misery until millions resume the fool's readiness to be parted from his money. ''Shop Until You Drop,'' urges a popular bumper sticker extolling the joys of parting from money.

Weighing this evidence, a fool - he takes the world at face value, remember - will say, ''America is a fool's paradise.''

If he does, however, he had better make sure he is wearing a fool's cap, bell-tipped kewpie shoes and a Jack of Hearts doublet. This will assure everybody that he is a professional who says fool things only to entertain us and that he really knows better, and is, therefore, underneath his merryman suit, just as serious as the rest of us.

We may even flatter him about the value of his ''wit and wisdom,'' as kings and toffs in days of old are said to have kept fools on the payroll for the jewels of wisdom they disguised in nonsense and insults.

If, on the other hand, our fool says, ''Logic proves that America is a fool's paradise,'' and appears to believe it - to really believe it! - he receives no mercy but only contempt and abuse.

The popular word for him is ''cynic.'' What we mean by ''cynic'' is a person ''who is down on everything,'' or ''who never sees the good in anybody.'' To put it back into Greek, a misanthrope.

Ambrose Bierce once defined cynicism as a ''defect of vision which compels us to see the world as it is, instead of as it should be.'' Not surprisingly, Bierce is remembered today mostly for his ''cynicism.''

The problem of the cynic arises from a refusal to compromise. He has begun like all fools and children (which are the same thing) by taking the world at face value, only to be disillusioned by the inevitable discovery that the world is more complicated, more interesting and more treacherous than a perfect world ought to be.

There is a sort of folk wisdom about the importance of lowering the child's/fool's expectations before they cause dangerous loss of contact with reality. The rituals of April Fool's Day serve this purpose.

''Your shoelace is untied,'' a 6-year-old says to his favorite playmate, and laughs, crying ''April fool!'' when the playmate bends to look down.

The victim is taught that there are risks in taking the world at face value, that sometimes you can't even trust your best friend, that gullibility can lead to humiliation. It's painful to be the butt of the joke. Later in life, the joke may be crueler; the laughter, betrayal; the price of gullibility, contempt.

Better to learn young that the world is not to be taken at face value. Better to be a little skeptical. Better to learn in childhood to live by a few old saws, even though they be of dubious validity.

Somebody who learns at age 6 that ''A fool and his money are soon parted'' has a chance, for better or worse, of growing up to be another Joseph P. Kennedy, who, when asked what made him take his vast winnings out of the stock market before the crash of 1929, replied, ''Only a fool holds out for top dollar.''

Such wisdom often saves its possessor from falling prey in later life to the despicable charge of ''cynicism.'' It does so by preparing him to confront life in the ''sincere'' mode so highly respected in America.

The ''sincere'' person is neither fool nor cynic. He knows the world is not always perfect. Not always. The ''always'' is a vital qualifier if you are a ''sincere'' person, because it allows for the possibility that sometimes the world is, indeed, perfect.

To be ''sincere'' is, among other things, to believe in the possibility of life's perfect moments, and it is this belief that keeps scientists toiling in the laboratory, poets slaving at the typewriter, young people treading to the marriage altar and television commercials pouring through the parlor.

Yes, the world may be flawed, but things can still be perfect once in a while if we keep our eye upon the doughnut and not upon the hole, if we never succumb to ole devil cynicism but, instead, are always truly sincere.

Fools and cynics are our romantics, either childish or disillusioned. Sincerity, as sincere people say, is where it's at. Thus the wisdom of the advice in the Flanders and Swann song: Always be sincere, whether you mean it or not.

Zizek Interview (Translated) About Ukraine


Žižek: "Western apathy is limitless!"
The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek sees the Ukraine crisis as the beginning of a world war, he calls for a fundamentally new European security coordination - and he is taking the pacifist left to court.

Can it get worse? Undoubtedly. And it will, he is convinced. With the words that he was "sick and totally depressed", the philosopher Slavoj Žižek answered an interview request from profil four weeks ago: "In what time do we live?" Nevertheless, he was willing to be available for a conversation - just please no longer than 30 minutes: he gets tired so quickly.

The interview took place on Tuesday last week, but it is only possible by telephone, because Žižek, 73, now suffers from an Omikron infection at home in Ljubljana. He was also so desperate because the European left had the chance to stand up for Ukraine. Instead, all the efforts that culminated in an open letter to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz last week seem to be aimed only at preserving our apathetic but relatively luxurious existence. It is a nightmare, even this Covid plague, which he had been able to avoid so consistently so far, he says in the introduction, but he hopes that his voice will not deny him the service. Laconic addition: "If I collapse, I'll let you know." Needless to say, Žižek will talk himself into a rage in the course of the conversation reproduced here and will have easily doubled the estimated 30 minutes in the end. In any case, he has not lost his gallows humor: intellectuals cannot be trusted in principle, he explains at the farewell, which is why he asks for a quasi-"Stalinist censorship". And we may hope, he says, that the phone bill that will be due the next time we hear each other again will not already be payable in rubles.

Profil: You recently wrote that the Third World War had already begun "in a certain sense". In what sense?

Žižek: The current crisis goes far beyond Russia and Ukraine. I believe that the vision of alternative globalisation is being worked on in the background. Western capitalism with its fixation on dollars and euros is to be brought down, Russia and China are turning to the so-called Third World. Globalization is aligned with Western values, it is to be replaced by a new, different globalization aimed at decolonization. Russian media portray the Ukrainian resistance as a protest against decolonization, as if Ukraine had been a Western colony and Russia is now "liberating" it against its will.

Profil: But to what extent is this already a world war?

Žižek: Look at what is happening in Latin America or Indonesia. Putin's unofficial mercenary force, the far-right "Wagner Group", operates in Syria and many African countries. Friends in Africa tell me how colonial China acts and exploits copper mines in Zambia - and how brutally this happens. So we are not only witnessing a cultural war against Western liberalism, but also a global new economic project. Russia and China are preparing their own variant of globalization; it provides for permanent military interventions to strengthen local authoritarian regimes. And they also exploit Western hypocrisy in a clever way. Why is Vladimir Putin suddenly considered a criminal when he bombs Kiev? In 2015, he bombed Aleppo no less brutally. Why was this tolerated?

This hypocrisy is now coming to light.

Profil: It seems to be even intensifying under the pressure of events.

Žižek: Why do so many left-wing liberals still have sympathy for Russia? Because they see American imperialism as the great evil. The public discourse in Moscow has now lowered to the level of Trump or even deeper. The war veterans in the country are calling for much more drastic measures, explicitly calling for a "real war" instead of the "masturbation" that is taking place. This vulgarity currently shapes the atmosphere.

Profil: How should the West respond to such blatant belligerence?

Žižek: Of course we have to prevent an impending world war. But the worst thing now would be to fall into an abstract pacifism. Pacifism has always been a major concern of all occupiers. Of course, Israel wants peace in the West Bank, only then can they build their settlements unhindered. Did Germany want peace in France in 1940? Of course! So I ask my pacifist friends, what exactly do they mean by the term peace? Should Ukraine simply cease to exist? To be modest with peaceful resistance? That would be crazy! The Russians would laugh, occupy the country, change its culture and rewrite history.

Profil: Things are not going particularly well for Russia at the moment.

Žižek: It's crazy: by intervening, the Russians are provoking exactly what they claim to be fighting. Many countries suddenly want to come under the umbrella of NATO. And a real Ukrainian identity has now only been fixed by the Russians, previously a mixed, relaxed society lived in Ukraine. I am not only concerned about war, but its combination with other global crises. Worldwide, there is drought, food shortages, pandemics. The four apocalyptic horsemen are already arriving at our place. We have the plague Covid and other epidemics, we have war, hunger and global warming. To provoke my friends, I call for a new communism. By this, of course, I mean war communism, not terror and dictatorship: a global social coordination of the production of security. We need globally coordinated pandemic control and food distribution. If we do not achieve this, there will be unimaginable consequences. But this is the madness of humanity: at a moment when such global coordination would be more necessary than ever, this war is happening.

Profil: How will it develop?

Žižek: Something strange has happened in the last two or three weeks that reminds me of the beginning of the pandemic. At that time, there was talk of a maximum of two to four weeks, then everything would be over. But nothing ended. Also with regard to this war, we have unconsciously adjusted to the fact that Ukraine will lose quickly. But she resisted, which put us in a completely new situation. Now we are familiarizing ourselves with the idea that this conflict will continue, that the war must be normalized. And Russia has a well-devised plan. Despite the war, Russian gas flows through Ukraine to the West, and Russia receives much more money than Europe spends on support for Ukraine. This is the Russian model: we have local wars, but capitalist supply runs smoothly on the side. Russia is counting on this new, frightening normality, which I call "Hot Peace".

Profil: Isn't a hot peace better than a prolonged war?

Žižek: No. There is a kind of peace that would be worse than a war that has at least some logic: things explode, and then they are over. What happens now could drag on and on. This is the Russian logic: if Europe resists too much, it warns of ever more serious consequences. The situation is getting worse and worse, but always presented as the good will to have avoided total disaster. Any compromises we make to avoid this disaster will cause the situation to spiral out of control.

Profil: So how should Europe counter the danger of escalation?

Žižek: Europe must re-coordinate itself and find ways to avoid Russian pressure. No one seems happy that a small, weak country is resisting a much stronger adversary! But that is a triumph! I agree with Francis Fukuyama, who thinks that a miracle has happened: Western apathy is limitless; we know that we would have to fight seriously against global warming and pandemic, but we don't, just give big speeches at important conferences. In Ukraine, people are showing that they can fight unconditionally for liberal values, which is unique, we should be happy about that. But we are unconsciously afraid of the Ukrainian resistance. We prefer a false peace as long as it is established quickly. This is like the story of Oedipus. There is a prophecy in it: the son will kill the father and marry the mother - and this prophecy becomes true only through the knowledge of it and through the intention to thwart it. Something similar could happen in Ukraine. The more vehemently we try to prevent the worst, the closer we get to it.

Profil: You seriously think that a new war communism could improve the situation?

Žižek: I don't mean a return to the Central Committee. But what will happen to agriculture, which is already battered by climate chaos, when Western Europe obtains more than half of its fertilizers from Russia? We are obviously approaching an exceptional situation. In contrast to the "Third World", we in Europe have had no experience of long-term crises since 1945. This new war will not simply disappear. It is only the beginning. Tens of millions of people worldwide will have to flee.

Profil: Can't there be a spark of hope in the destabilization of a world order that has long been desolate?

Žižek: Putin is working hard to destroy a united Europe; he campaigned for Brexit, was happy about the Catalonia conflict and the AfD. Everything that weakened Europe was right for Putin - in this he resembles Trump and Bannon. It is time for Europe to truly unite on a new basis. Yes, the old world order is crumbling, but let's be honest: the emerging new world order looks even worse. A real cyber war, for example, has not yet begun. The superpowers could inflict serious damage on each other through system sabotage. Putin has prepared himself systematically, including materially, for this war. And NATO is already de facto participating in this, although not yet openly. Russia, however, already sees this indirect participation as the beginning of a world war. This can still be stopped or at least limited - but only if we also admit what is already happening.

Profil: The controversial open letter from German intellectuals to Chancellor Scholz calls for Germany to stop supplying war machines and weapons to Ukraine; it implicitly calls on Ukraine to surrender.

Žižek: Why don't you say that quite openly? That's what I find so hypocritical. If peace is our core value, it simply means that Ukraine must give up. But we know from other wars of aggression that surrender will lead to total cultural degradation. One must convince the left that supporting the Ukrainian resistance does not automatically mean defending Western imperialism. Do we really want to leave the defense of an authentic struggle for independence to the right? This is a tragedy, a catastrophe for the left.

Profil: As if the right to resistance was not self-evident.

Žižek: Exactly. We hear all the time how much America is supposedly pushing Ukraine into war. But when Russia announced its invasion, Joe Biden said something very ambivalent: one would first have to consider whether it was a limited or a large-scale intervention. In doing so, he made an offer to Russia: if you only take the Donbass, not the whole of Ukraine, you could think about a deal, as in the case of Crimea. That was an extremely pragmatic offer.

Profil: But was it also wise?

Žižek: No. Every good negotiator knows that you should not announce your concessions in advance. But no one can accuse Biden of excessive sabre-rattling. He also rejected all calls for a no-fly zone, because that would have meant open war between Russia and NATO. I don't see the enormous militarization of the US; they give Ukraine just enough to keep the resistance going.

Profil: Do the sanctions work?

Žižek: No. Russia has enough food and resources, at least for the time being. But it looks like a crisis there as well. It is now crucial not to provoke a clash of civilizations, but to maintain contact with the opponents of the war and dissidents in Russia. Do not write off the Russian resistance! A few weeks ago, I launched an appeal to those Russians who oppose the war. I told them: You are the real heroes, the real Russian patriots. I think that Ukraine is ultimately also fighting for Russian freedom. It must be emphasized!

Profil: And the left is getting bogged down for the time being?

Žižek: The left considered globalization a catastrophe, now it is getting a much worse one. She weighs up, wants to remain impartial. The radical right is at Putin's side. The left is merely opportunistic. Take Sahra Wagenknecht: nothing more than pacifist blah blah came from her. That's where the future of Europe is being decided, and all that People in Germany care about are gas supplies?

Profil: Peter Sloterdijk says that Putin must be "assisted in failure", accompanied so carefully into defeat" "that we do not go down with it" and "that one does not reinforce his tendencies to go crazy".

Žižek: I have a problem with "assisting". Because Putin counts on our mindfulness. By the way, I don't believe in Putin's madness. Acting like a madman is part of his strategy. He and Lavrov are playing a double game, constantly warning of escalation and fueling it at the same time.

Profil: Putin, like Shakespeare's Hamlet, takes revenge in cold blood behind the façade of madness.

Žižek: Absolutely! But in politics there is no madness, only evil tactics.

Profil: Is pacifism at an end?

Žižek: The pacifist left in the West will be the big loser. It will lose its credibility. Because the West is trapped in its own melancholy: we know what we should actually do, but see that we can't do it. If we don't reorganize, we're lost.

Monday, May 9, 2022

It's the Analyst that Resists and the Symptom that Persists...


Jacques Lacan, "Resistance, Persistence, Persistence"
According to seminar 2 (May 19, 1955), resistance is an analyst's illusion, the main issue is the persistence of the symptom/desire in the subject (resistance → insistence).
In the perspective I just opened up to you, you provoke resistance. In the sense you just heard, the only reason resistance, the resistance, is because you stepped on it. There is no resistance to the subject. The point is to release the persistence of the symptom... (p. 284)

There's only one resistance, and that's the analyst's. When he doesn't understand what he's dealing with, he resists, analyst. When he thinks interpreting is to show the subject what he desires in the sexual object, he doesn't understand what he's dealing with. He's wrong. What he thinks to be objective is downright abstraction. He is an analyst in a state of inaction and resistance.

However, it is about teaching the subject to name, express, and bring to existence this desire that is literally in existence and therefore insists on it. If Desire doesn't dare say his name, it's because the subject hasn't revealed it yet. (p. 285, c. War Sword)
According to the seminar "Stolen Letter" (April 26, 1955), there is persistence or persistence in the nucleus of symptomatic persistence (persistence → persistence):
In fact, examples of conservation based solely on the necessities of the symbolic chain (and unidentified suspended), that is, examples as I mentioned above, allow us to conceptualize where the indestructible persistence of unconscious desire is located; As paradoxical as it sounds, this persistence is one of the characteristics that Freud has insisted on in his own teaching. (source)
Notes:
See "The Sisterhood of Humanity" and "Resistance and Persistence: Contempt/Indpitableness and Dishonor"