Enjoy Your Zizek!

Slavoj Zizek, the prolific cultural philosopher whose last name has accents my blogging interface can’t create, has a thoughtful and well-written essay in the latest issue of the London Review of Books. It’s on the subject of “what to do about capitalism.” After dividing left-wing responses to capitalism into eight different types, he concludes with the following advice:

The lesson here is that the truly subversive thing is not to insist on ‘infinite’ demands we know those in power cannot fulfil. Since they know that we know it, such an ‘infinitely demanding’ attitude presents no problem for those in power: ‘So wonderful that, with your critical demands, you remind us what kind of world we would all like to live in. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, where we have to make do with what is possible.’ The thing to do is, on the contrary, to bombard those in power with strategically well-selected, precise, finite demands, which can’t be met with the same excuse.

Zizek has a reputation as a far-out thinker, but his conclusion strikes me as common sense. Maybe he’s so avant-guard, he gets out in front of all the bad new ideas, and stumbles upon the good old ones again!

2 thoughts on “Enjoy Your Zizek!

  1. Politics is indeed the art of the possible, and almost all of the social progress that has been made in the Western world over the past century or two has come by taking step after incremental step. Having said that, “infinite” demands have their place in marking out (and testing as a kind of thought experiment) a societal destination.

    And by the way, I think it’s far preferable to demand that governments do not torture at all, ever, than that they do so for moderately shorter lengths of time and slightly less frequently. “Infinite” is sometimes not that far away.

  2. Zizek has some fascinating, provocative things to say about Japan – another reason to enjoy him. A sample:

    “What I see in Japan, and maybe this is my own myth, is that behind all these notions of politeness, snobbism etc. the Japanese are well aware that something which may appear superficial and unnecessary, has a much deeper structural function. A Western approach would be: who needs this? But a totally ridiculous thing at a deeper level might play a stabilizing function we are not aware of. Everybody laughs at the English monarchy, but you’ll never know.
    There is another notion, that is popular now amongst American sociologist, the civilizations of guilt versus civilizations of shame: The Jews and their inner guilt and the Greeks with their culture of shame. The usual cliche now is that Japan is the ultimate civilization of shame. What I despise in America is the studio actors logic, as if there is something good in self-expression: do not be oppressed, open yourself, even if you shout and kick the others, everything in order to express and liberate yourself. This stupid idea, that behind the mask there is some truth. In Japan, and I hope that this is not only a myth, even if something is merely an appearance, politeness is not simply insincere. There is a difference between saying ‘Hello, how are you?’ and the New York taxi drivers who swear at you. Surfaces do matter. If you disturb the surfaces you may lose a lot more than you account. You shouldn’t play with rituals. Masks are never simply mere masks. Perhaps that’s why Brecht became close to Japan. He also liked this notion that there is nothing really liberating in this typical Western gesture of stealing the masks and show the true face. What you discover is something absolutely disgusting. Let’s maintain the appearances, that’s my own fantasy of Japan.”

    (From an interview by Geert Lovink)

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