An Executive Summary of the Recent Žižek Interview

So on the one hand, all these so-called radicals who don’t do anything, or want all their real revolutions elsewhere suck, but on the other hand so do the people who protested the Iraq War cause they “knew” it wouldn’t make a difference just like people who say “if you’re here you’re from here”, but at the same time we have to fight little battles when we can, but those won’t matter unless we change everything and I didn’t understand the thesis of Empire. The beer-goggled night when all souls are beautiful.

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20 Responses to “An Executive Summary of the Recent Žižek Interview”

  1. Alex Says:

    On second reading, I can see what you mean, though I still maintain it is a fun piece particular the critique of Badiou for avoiding political economy and a call to the left to re-engage with the boring work of economics. Can’t theory, waiting for the perfect account of political events before acting, have to potential to be the ultimate beautiful soulism? Thing is that Zizek isn’t really Leninist enough, which is to say, he isn’t looking for what is positive in the current situation and ceasing upon it. I don’t see in his work, and I might be wrong any analysis of positive movements of resistance. I do see this kind of thing in abundance in left wing political theory (as opposed to left wing philosophy).

    There is also the point that his ideology critique is kind of off. When someone like Bush or Blair said to the Iraqi war protesters “see this is what we are fighting for” most of those protesters rightly responded “bullshit”. Is there anyone in those protests taken in by this line? It seems his call for us to return to Marx means you cannot just say these kind of things with a wave of the hand and this makes them true.

  2. Brad Johnson Says:

    I think you’re being a little uncharitable in your summary — except for the part about Z. not understanding the thesis of Empire. Then again, this is perhaps fair, since Z. himself is pretty uncharitable in his interpretation of various peoples’ motivations.

  3. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    It was intentionally if unnecessarily snarky. I do think there is a lot in this piece that shows his worst “contrarian for the sake of it” side. He even kind of admits it when he’s talking about Chavez saying “I pretty much criticize Chavez because it’ll piss these people off”. Yet, if he’s in a situation where it’ll piss off a slightly different group of people, like at the Idea of Communism conference where Negri was speaking of his criticisms of Chavez, he takes the opposite line. The constant abuse, either through willfully misreading him or just not getting, he heaps on Negri and his work is really annoying. Feels like an attempt to be King of Leftist Mountain sometimes. Regarding theoretical positions I’ve never agreed with Zizek, but I used to enjoy his more public intellectual stuff.

  4. Jeremy Says:

    Yeah I just finished his new work, and although I’m not that familiar with Empire, some of his critiques of Negri and Hardt were rather scathing. He also criticized the Multitude because, and I quote, “No wonder Negri’s notion of communism comes uncannily close to “postmodern” digital capitalism” (56).

  5. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Oh no! Negri comes really close to a form of capitalism! What a charge against a Marxist.

    The problem is that Negri’s whole goddamn point is that the development of capitalism is parasitic upon the Multitude. So of course whatever form of capitalism exists now will look like the Multitude! That’s like saying, “No wonder Marx’s notion of the proletariat comes uncannily close to industrial capitalism.”

  6. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    See, to me that isn’t “scathing” because it is predicated on a complete misreading. It is just like his reading of Deleuze, it convinced people who already didn’t like Deleuze that he sucked, but didn’t present any criticisms of his work that I felt I had to deal with because they were so off.

  7. Brad Johnson Says:

    Glad I hit refresh before I typed my comment. Anthony saved me the time.

  8. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Just want to make sure Jeremy knows my ire was directed at Zizek and not him.

  9. Jeremy Says:

    I know I understand. I said I haven’t read any of Negri or Hardt’s (or for that matter much of Deleuze either) work so I couldn’t tell you how accurate his claims might be, but the claims seemed to be hyperbolic and cheap.

  10. Bruce Rosenstock Says:

    If China is Zizek’s example of what the future may be (i.e. authoritarian statist capitalism), then what sort of ideology critique does he think should be undertaken to expose this danger? Would Marx’s Capital help here? Is the problem the state, the authoritarianism, or the capitalism? I think Zizek would like to focus on capitalism, so would he be ok with an authoritarian state that returned corporate profits to all its citizens? Isn’t that just Sarah Palin’s Alaska?

  11. Amish Lovelock Says:

    A friend of mine has a piece coming out in Historical Materialism on the Badiou thing. Argument being: that knowledge of Capital’s movement is exactly what enables people to formulate a political response.

    I wonder how Zz’s recent China stuff is being received in Shanghai and Beijing? Wang Hui’s group and some others must be reading it. I’ll try to find something…

  12. Bryan Klausmeyer Says:

    I think one of Zizek’s more damning critiques (made in the introduction to *The Parallax View*) of Hardt and Negri (and more generally, of Deleuze/Spinoza), aside from his sometimes questionable “public intellectual” hand waving comments, is that—if you agree with Lacan and to an extent Freud, and that might be a big “if” for some people—the very split between “Empire” and “Multitude”—between the Spinozistic One and the immanent plane of extension— exemplifies perfectly the logic of masculine sexuality by positing the uncastrated/undivided One and its subordinate multitude (in other words, the logic of totemism expounded by Freud in *Totem & Taboo* and *Moses & Monotheism* and converted into the graphs of sexuation by Lacan in Seminar XX). This, I think, is Zizek at his cleverest/most dialectical, but I don’t think the point has been given much attention, or as much as it should have.

    Then again, I’ve always kind of identified with Zizek’s contrarian position against Left-wing platitudes, insincere moralisms, and empty posturing (this is at least one thing that’s always baffled me about critics of Zizek’s who say he wants to be “King of the Left-wing Mountain” or “out-radicalize” his opponents—the guy has barely any radical cred, considering how many seemingly “conservative” sounding points he makes, and I think this view of Zizek as either a crypto/neoconservative or as a hyper-radical basically boils down to an inability to understand Zizek or grasp what is essential about dialectics as such).

  13. Bryan Klausmeyer Says:

    (That last point goes as well for the “Zizek contradicts himself!” pseudo-argument. Clearly anyone making this argument—and thankfully I don’t think it’s anyone in this thread—has no idea what the hell Hegel is about at all.)

  14. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    “Then again, I’ve always kind of identified with Zizek’s contrarian position against Left-wing platitudes, insincere moralisms, and empty posturing”

    Sure, but choosing Negri as your target for this? Really?! I mean, really!?! (Setting aside the Freud thing which, as you say, is kind of a big if.) And, I think this kind of position of judgment from on high leads to its own beautiful soulism, to say nothing of the question of just how Zizek knows the motives of activists.

    As for the out-radicalize point, I see his contrarian positions (advocating seemingly conservative options with a twist) as part of that move. I’m not saying he always does it or that it ruins everything he has ever written, I’m saying it is a bad habit that in this interview pretty much obscured anything interesting. So, no, I wasn’t saying so much that Zizek contradicts himself, but that he has more interesting contradictions and less interesting ones. This was bottom of the barrel.

    On another note, we need a new goddamn post.

  15. Bryan Klausmeyer Says:

    I don’t think it’s really at all that surprising that he targets Negri. I mean, no one is spared from the negativity of the dialectic, not even Badiou (criticisms of Badiou are found in practically every book Zizek has published since his first engagement with Badiou’s work.)

    Also, I think the larger point I was getting at was that it isn’t really “contrarianism,” since that kind of suggests that it’s just contradictoriness for its own sake, and not stemming from some prior, more fundamental (theoretical) commitment. Maybe it is… but I do think the dialectic is plays a bigger role with this, and that Zizek’s work is motivated by something more fundamental rather than simply an unfettered urge to negate (in the sense that the negation comes from a theoretical commitment and that his critiques abide by this, rather than simply a need to feel idiosyncratic—it’s a thin line I suppose.)

    Finally, although I’m not at all familiar with Negri’s theoretical work to any great extent, I do find his practical political suggestions to be somewhat unconvincing, if I understand them right. The whole problem I find with “autonomism,” or any anarchistic-oriented politics, is that it essentially mirrors the postmodern/late capitalist belief in the autopoeisis of human deeds, much like the belief in the efficiency of free markets and the rationality of individual actors. If I were a more committed Leninist, I would accuse Negri of “subservience to spontaneity.” Then again, this could all be a big misunderstanding, which I admit the possibility of.

  16. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I think we just have to disagree on the contrariainism/dialectic as I don’t know how we would ever finally decide. I do find your suggestion interesting though.

    I’m not sure how to convince you of Negri’s practical political project without knowing what specific ones you are unconvinced. It does seem to me that your understanding is a bit overcoded by Zizek though. Negri’s autonomism isn’t “anarchic” in the sense that it arises from spontaneity and it isn’t a mirror of late capitalism, late capitalist belief is a distorted mirror of the reality of productive forces. There is a weird moralism in Zizek’s critique that seems to suggest anything that looks to share something in common with capitalist ideology must fail to be a good ideology. Yet, Negri isn’t going any further than Marx’s methods here in his analysis which is not an unfettered belief in autopoietic revolution, but an analysis of the situation that would allow for the virtual or underlying revolution in the means of production to become actualized as a political and social revolution.

  17. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I will say, Negri is a much less fun author to read than Zizek, but I think he’s more grounded in the history of revolution and struggle. So it is an even trade.

  18. Bryan Klausmeyer Says:

    Fair enough on the autonomism point—and I don’t think I really know enough about Negri’s position to make any further remarks. Admittedly, I’ve had a strong desire to read *Empire* and *Multitude* for quite some time now, but sadly haven’t gotten around to it.

  19. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Wow — flagrant comment policy violation (at least in spirit)!

    I will say, since my silence on this thread might seem odd, that it is difficult to discern a consistent argument in this interview and that it appears that Zizek’s tendency toward contrarianism for its own sake has gotten the better of him in this instance.

    I got a review copy of Commonwealth — may start it this week (i.e., on the plane back and forth from AAR).

  20. Alex Says:

    The argument at the anarchist position (which Negri and Hardt are close to) ‘looks a bit like capitalism’ is mostly false. No version of anarchism other than those radically individualistic types in the wake of Max Stirner have a particularly similar social ontology to neoliberalism. Plus, a bit like the way Zizek polemics against ‘Western Buddhism’ which have little understanding that geographically Western Buddhists have made precisely the same point about capitalist versions of their religion, anarchists have been making precisely the same point about versions of anarchism that are opposed to organisation and that are individualist in such a way that reflects the mores of contemporary liberalism. The classic text here is Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism – An Unbridgeable Chasm by Murray Bookchin which is to my mind both convincing and has currency within activist (‘actually existing anarchist’) circles.


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