Where, in the standard reading of Hegel, one element comes into conflict with another external to it, in Žižek’s reading, conflict is internal or “immanent” to the first element. The resulting paradox is that an action becomes the result (rather than the cause) of its counteraction. To take the best-known example in Hegel, the master discovers that the slave is not his other but the condition of his status as master – that he is the master only by virtue of his dependence on (or enslavement to) the slave. The precariousness of the master’s identity lies in how he can be master only by virtue of not being master (as Arctic Monkeys put it in an album title, referencing Alan Sillitoe, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not).
The diagnosis of our inertia becomes the basis for a brutally unsentimental politics in which all voluntary commitments are mere ruses of ideology. Following the French philosopher Alain Badiou, his friend and interlocutor, Žižek insists on the revolutionary moment as an unpredictable “Event”. Change cannot be agitated by the active agent of traditional politics. On the contrary, “The change will be most radical if we do nothing.” The attempt to make things happen can only ever entrench the order it claims to be contesting, whereas by waiting passively we open ourselves to being swept up in an authentic event.
“Sometimes doing nothing is the most violent thing to do.” As though to affirm this aphorism, which ended his 2008 book Violence, Žižek takes pains to show how the renunciation of action authorises “Leninist” ruthlessness.
Žižek’s pronouncements on our political predicaments often seem animated by the same fantasies of making and unmaking the world with brazen unconcern for the consequences. Surely it is only in such a spirit of cartoonish indifference that a serious thinker could open a sentence with the phrase: “Even Nazi anti-Semitism . . .” Restoring the phrase to the full sentence does nothing to redeem it. “Even Nazi anti-Semitism, however ghastly it was, opened up a world: it described its critical situation by positing an enemy, which was ‘a Jewish conspiracy’; it named a goal and the means of achieving it.” This is in contrast to the corrosiveness of capitalism, which deprives “the large majority of people of any meaningful ‘cognitive mapping’”. In other words: yes, it may have been ghastly but at least with Nazi anti-Semitism you knew where you were.
I wish that this summary translation were mere flippancy but it is depressingly precise. The grim prospect of “non-eventful survival in a hedonist-utilitarian universe” licenses Žižek to prefer even the most catastrophic political experiment to our current set-up. As he writes: “Better the worst of Stalinism than the best of the liberal-capitalist welfare state.”
Žižek’s contention in Trouble in Paradise is that our liberal-capitalist civilisation, for all its injunctions to enjoy ourselves, is devoid of genuine love and life. Yet there is nothing in Žižek’s brutal and peculiarly thin political vision to persuade his reader that life on the other side of capitalism, for which he lies impassively in wait, will be any more fun.
March 20, 2015 @ 5:36 pm
Wow. The Z man sees something positive in Naziism? Despicable.
March 20, 2015 @ 9:41 pm
Only on a higher, cosmic level, see.
It's like…okay, back in the early 20th century, as a gay man in America, you might have faced overt, direct oppression in the form of beatings, open slurs, and legal discrimination. "However ghastly it was", that was at least out in the open, you see, which allows you to formulate certain strategies of camouflage and resistance. Whereas now, in a day in age where almost everybody realizes they aren't allowed to openly express homophobic feelings, you're even more oppressed by the secret, hidden nature of it.
(At this point, Zizzy would probably invent some pompous, portentous phrase to signify this — mmm, let's just go with, "The substratum guerilla forces of reaction".)
So, you see, you can never be sure where the substratum guerilla forces of reaction are hiding. Any of the smiling faces you encounter during the day could be secretly concealing homophobic rage, ready to unmask itself at the first convenient opportunity. This destabilizing paranoia leaves you feeling permanently exposed to attack and perennially anxious, which is, if you squint and look at it from the right angle, actually worse than having to be aware of your enemies who feel no need to conceal themselves.
If you disagree, well, you've probably just internalized your oppression as a psychological coping mechanism. If you give me a moment, I can probably come up with a phrase for that, too.
March 22, 2015 @ 8:30 pm
I don't know why I didnt see that being rounded up and slaughtered is bettter, all things considered. Some things become obvious after they're pointed out to you.
March 23, 2015 @ 12:28 am
Well, that's why we need professional philosophers like Zizzy to do the heavy thinking for us.
March 23, 2015 @ 5:57 pm
As he writes: “Better the worst of Stalinism than the best of the liberal-capitalist welfare state.”
He really, really believes this?
I'll repeat my trite truism in parallel to HIS trite truism: Better a world run by the Jamie Dimons then one ruled by leftist true believers.
March 24, 2015 @ 2:08 am
Which part of "the coolest, most influential leftist in Europe" are you guys having trouble with?
As a rule, I never waste time wondering what someone thinks deep down in their heart of hearts. If they're willing to stand behind it publicly, that's all I need to know.
To me, it's far more interesting to think about how much work other people are willing to do to convince themselves that he's saying something profound. Faced with glib provocations like "Gandhi was more 'violent' than Hitler" or Better the worst of Stalinism…", his readers would apparently rather attempt to manufacture profound meaning for them than to say, "This guy is a logorrheic clown, and I'm an idiot for actually buying into his shtick!"
I think of him as the embodiment of the Nietzschean aphorism: "Those who know that they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound to the crowd strive for obscurity. For the crowd believes that if it cannot see to the bottom of something it must be profound. It is so timid and dislikes going into the water."
March 24, 2015 @ 10:34 pm
Bear in mind, too, he learned from the best.