Arquivo da tag: Zizek

Terry Eagleton reviews Trouble in Paradise and Absolute Recoil by Slavoj Žižek (Guardian)

Like Socrates on steroids: Žižek is both breathtakingly perceptive and outrageously irresponsible. Is he just out to scandalise?


 A curious mixture of illusion and reality … Slavoj Žižek. Photograph: David Levene

It is said that Jean-Paul Sartre turned white-faced with excitement when a colleague arrived hotfoot from Germany with the news that one could make philosophy out of the ashtray. In these two new books, Slavoj Žižek philosophises in much the same spirit about sex, swearing, decaffeinated coffee, vampires, Henry KissingerThe Sound of Music, the Muslim Brotherhood, the South Korean suicide rate and a good deal more. If there seems no end to his intellectual promiscuity, it is because he suffers from a rare affliction known as being interested in everything. In Britain, philosophers tend to divide between academics who write for each other and meaning-of-life merchants who beam their reflections at the general public. Part of Žižek’s secret is that he is both at once: a formidably erudite scholar well-versed in Kant and Heidegger who also has a consuming passion for the everyday. He is equally at home with Hegel and Hitchcock, the Fall from Eden and the fall of Mubarak. If he knows about Wagnerand Schoenberg, he is also an avid consumer of vampire movies and detective fiction. A lot of his readers have learned to understand Freud or Nietzsche by viewing them through the lens of Jaws or Mary Poppins.

Academic philosophers can be obscure, whereas popularisers aim to be clear. With his urge to dismantle oppositions, Žižek has it both ways here. If some of his ideas can be hard to digest, his style is a model of lucidity. Absolute Recoil is full of intractable stuff, but Trouble in Paradise reports on the political situation in Egypt, China, Korea, Ukraine and the world in general in a crisp, well-crafted prose that any newspaper should be proud to publish. Not that, given Žižek’s provocatively political opinions, many of them would. He sees the world as divided between liberal capitalism and fundamentalism – in other words, between those who believe too little and those who believe too much. Instead of taking sides, however, he stresses the secret complicity between the two camps. Fundamentalism is the ugly creed of those who feel washed up and humiliated by a west that has too often ridden roughshod over their interests. One lesson of the Egyptian revolt, Žižek argues in Trouble in Paradise, is that if moderate liberal forces continue to ignore the radical left, “they will generate an unsurmountable fundamentalist wave”. Toppling tyrants, which all good liberals applaud, is simply a prelude to the hard work of radical social transformation, without which fundamentalism will return. In a world everywhere under the heel of capital, only radical politics can retrieve what is worth saving in the liberal legacy. It is no wonder that Žižek is as unpopular with Channel 4 as he is on Wall Street.

In any case, market freedom and religious fundamentalism are far from mutually exclusive. “Spiritual” values have been enlisted by Asian nations for capitalist ends. The easy opposition between liberal permissiveness and fundamentalist repression must be rethought. The rise of Islamo-fascism, Žižek points out, went hand in hand with the disappearance of the secular left in Muslim countries, a disappearance the west itself did much to promote. Who now recalls that, 40 years ago, Afghanistan was a strong secular state with a powerful Communist party which took power there independently of the Soviet Union? Every emergence of fascism, Walter Benjamin wrote, bears witness to a failed revolution. In the Muslim world, the west has played a major role in stamping on such movements, creating a political vacuum into which fundamentalism was then able to move. It cannot now feign innocence of its predatory past in the face of the Islamist backlash it has helped to unleash. Those who are reluctant to criticise liberal democracy, Žižek suggests, should also keep quiet about fundamentalism.

Stentorian, faintly manic and almost impossible to shut up, Žižek is a man who gets out of bed talking about psychoanalysis and steps back into it holding forth on Zionism. As a frenetic intellectual activist, he always seems to be in six places on the planet at once, like Socrates on steroids. His day may begin with a visit to Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy and end with writing supportive letters to one of the imprisoned Pussy Riot performers. In between, he passes his time antagonising a sizeable chunk of the world’s population. If he is a scourge of neo-capitalism, he is also a sworn foe of liberal pluralism and political correctness. He tells the story of how at an impeccably enlightened US seminar he attended, the chairperson began by asking each participant to state their name along with their sexual preference. Žižek throttled back the urge to announce that he enjoyed bedding young boys and drinking their blood. He also points out how much less forthcoming the participants would have been if asked to state their salaries.

All this may be because he comes from Slovenia. Small nations tend to have a perverse relation to more powerful ones, as anyone acquainted with the Irish can attest. There is a dash of the Dubliner Oscar Wilde in Žižek, a man who couldn’t hear a pious English sentiment without feeling an irresistible itch to reverse its terms, rip it inside out or stand it on its head. Žižek, who has the grim appearance of a hired assassin in a Jacobean tragedy, lacks Wilde’s stylishness and elegance. He also lacks his distinctive brand of humour. Žižek is funny but not witty. He tells some excellent jokes and has a well-honed sense of the absurd, but one couldn’t extract a book of epigrams from his writing, as one can from Wilde’s. Both men, however, are natural-born debunkers and deconstructors, allergic to high moral tones and good clean fun. That Žižek should be a skilled exponent of Jewish black humour, the Woody Allen of Ljubljana, comes as no surprise. Even so, his urge to deface and deflate is a long way from cynicism. Remarkably, he combines the tragic vision of Freud with a Marxist faith in the future.

Like the rest of his work, these two latest volumes are postmodern in form but anti-postmodern in content. Žižek has the eclecticism of the postmodern, along with its mixing of high and low genres. His books are broken-backed affairs which leap erratically from topic to topic. Absolute Recoil, which lurches from ideas of hysteria, art and absolute knowledge to God, death and the Fall, is grandly subtitled “Towards a New Foundation of Dialectical Materialism”, but this is a barefaced deception. There are only a handful of references to dialectical materialism in its 400 pages. Žižek’s books and chapters are rarely about what they say they are about, since he can’t help saying 50 things at once. He is postmodern, too, in his suspicion of originality. A good deal of what he says has been said before, not by others but by himself. He is one of the great self-plagiarisers of our time, constantly thieving stuff from his own publications. Whole chunks of Absolute Recoil reappear in Trouble in Paradise, and whole chunks of Trouble in Paradise appear twice over. He has now told the same jokes, recycled the same insights and recounted the same anecdotes dozens of times over.

Another postmodern aspect of his work is its merging of illusion and reality. For Žižek’s mentor Jacques Lacan, nobody is more self-deceived than the cynic who claims to have seen through it all, ignorant of the Freudian claim that illusion (or fantasy) is built into reality itself. The same applies to Žižek’s own writing. Are his books genuine arguments or public performances? How sincere is he intending to be? If he can be breathtakingly perceptive, he can also be outrageously irresponsible. Can he really be serious when he claims in Trouble in Paradise that “the worst of Stalinism (is better) than the best of the liberal-capitalist welfare state”, or is he just out to scandalise the suburbs? Does he really think that the sexual misconduct Assange is accused of is “minor”? Or take the fact that he has repeatedly argued for the radical potential of Christianity, and does so again in Absolute Recoil, despite the fact that he is a self-proclaimed atheist. It isn’t quite a question, however, of being a Christian in appearance but an unbeliever in reality. Instead, one might claim that he believes and disbelieves in Christianity at the same time. Or what if he thinks he is an atheist but actually isn’t? What if the God he doesn’t believe in knows he is a believer?

Žižek himself is a curious mixture of illusion and reality. In Trouble in Paradise, he speaks of Hamlet as a clown, and he himself is both intellectual and jester. Shakespeare’s jesters are conscious of their own unreality, and Žižek seems to be, too. As a man for whom the adjective “colourful” could have been specially invented, he is a cult figure who sends up his own cult status, a man in deadly earnest who is also an accomplished self-parodist. There is something fictional, larger-than-life, about his constant globe-trotting and flamboyant antics, as though he has strayed out of a David Lodge novel. His gargantuan appetite for ideas is admirable but also faintly alarming. One would not be altogether surprised to hear that he was put together by a committee and consumer-tested on various student focus groups.

When it comes to content, however, nothing could be further from postmodern pluralism than Žižek’s uncompromising revolutionary politics. It is a strange sign of the times that perhaps the most popular intellectual in the world is a dedicated communist. The lesson of Trouble in Paradise, subtitled From the End of History to the End of Capitalism, is plain: “a new Dark Age is looming, with ethnic and religious passions exploding, and Enlightenment values receding”. Žižek’s style is notable for its hardboiled refusal to be emotionally intense, another postmodern feature; but even he can scarcely contain his disgust at the vision of thieving bankers being subsidised by their ruined victims. As Bertolt Brecht inquired: what’s robbing a bank compared to founding one?

Trouble in Paradise, with its unerring ear for political cant, is a book that everyone, not least the Masters of the Universe, would profit from reading. Absolute Recoil, with its intricate reflections on materialism and dialectics, is likely to have fewer takers. There is less on cant and more on Kant. Even so, it contains some fascinating stuff on Kabbala, slave narratives, espionage, atonal music and God as the supreme criminal. No doubt we shall have a chance to read some of this again in his next few books.


The Battle in Philosophy: Time, Substance, and the Void – Slavoj Zizek vs. Graham Harman (Dark Ecologies)

03 Wednesday Dec 2014

In my pursuit to understand poetry and philosophy in our time I’ve found that “time” is the key: there is a great battle that has up till now been perpetrated under the auspices of subtantialist versus process philosophers – as in the recent battle over Graham Harman and Object Oriented Philosophy (a reversion to a substantive formalism, although non-Aristotelian in intent), and the Process philosophers who seem to come out of Whitehead and others. Part of the wars of speculative realism…

In Harman the object is split between a sensual (phenomenal) appendage and a real (noumenal) withdrawn core, etc. For him this real can never be described, or even known directly, but must be teased out or allured from its “volcanic” hiding place, etc. While for those like Zizek there is nothing there, even less than nothing: a void that is the negation of negation: a self-reflecting nothingness. No core, no substance, no big Other.

Graham Harman will tells us that at the heart of our era there lurks a philosophical dogma, an idealism purporting to mask itself under the rubric of deflationary realism. Under the banner of deflationary realism he will align deconstruction (Jaques Derrida), Lacanian/Hegelian dialectics (Slavoj Zizek), and every dialectical philosophy “which tries to undercut any subterranean power of the things by calling this power an “essence,” then claiming that essence is a naive abstraction unless it finds its proper place in the drama of human knowledge about the world.”1 The point he makes is that at the center of this view of the world is the notion of singular gap between the human and its world. (p. 123)

As one reads Harman’s works which on the surface seem a revisionary turn in phenomenological thinking and philosophy – especially as to its central reading of Heidegger’s concept of readiness-to-hand (Zuhandenheit), which “refers to objects insofar as they withdraw from human view into a dark subterranean reality that never becomes present to practical action any more than it does to theoretical awareness” (ibid. 1). This notion of a non-utilitarian realism beyond the human with its attendant swerve from the linguistic turn, dialectical materialism, and the naturalism of scientific physicalism and scientisms sets the tone: an enframing of the withdrawal of objects from the human/world bifurcation or gap ontology of deflationary realism, and a decentering of the anthropocentric world-view that pervades humanistic philosophy and literature, art and aesthetics offers the base approach of Harman’s philosophical outlay.

Objects for Harman are first of all entities as formal cause, as well as the converse notion that “every set of relations is also an entity” (p. 260). Harman will argue against all naïve materialisms and naturalisms, saying: “

What separates this model from all materialism is that I am not pampering one level of reality (that of infinitesimal particles) at the expense of all others. What is real in the cosmos are forms wrapped inside of forms, not durable specks of material that reduce everything else to derivative status. If this is “materialism,” then it is the first materialism in history to deny the existence of matter.(p. 293)

This notion that there is no physical matter, but that everything from the smallest quantum events to the largest structures in the universe are forms within forms: structured entities immersed in relations and the engines of reality. Yet, these very entities can unplug from these relations and enter into new and different engagements. The point here takes up the notion of intervention and the revisionary process of entities in their actual ongoing movements across the tiers or levels of reality. As he will tell it instead of materialism, this is perhaps a new sort of “formalism,” one that sides with Francis Bacon “who lampoons efficient causation as ridiculous.” (p. 293).

Anyone who has read the early works of Harman finds Zizek everywhere in the pages. Harman fights with Zizek from the opposite end, holding to an new or revised substantial formalism. Zizek starts with lack (Void, Gap, Den: Democritus) at the heart of things, while for Harman there is no lack – everything is fully deployed in an almost copy of the Platonic notion of time as vessel (our universe on a flat plane with multilevel tiers or scales). Zizek sticks with the whirlwind of nothings that Democritus termed “Den”: his less than nothing that gives birth to nothing and from there our universe ( a quantum theory of subjectivity as process and emergence out of the void). This is the basic battle between opposing conceptual frameworks of reality.

Harman will openly tell us he likes Zizek, yet he totally disagrees with almost everything he’s written, saying of one of Zizek’s key concepts: “

Among the most central of these ideas is Zizek’s concept of retroactive causation—a theme in one respect very close to the present book, and in another respect diametrically opposed. (p. 205)

He will tell us that Zizek’s retroactive causation brings with it the notion that the Real is not a “real world” outside of the human sphere, but the very gap between appearance and the non-appearing that is first posited by the fantasy of the human subject.(p. 207) Even a cursory reading of Zizek’s latest two magnum opus’s will attest to this continued drift (see Less Than Nothing, and Absolute Recoil). Zizek against all substantial formalisms will tell us:

This last claim should be qualified, or, rather, corrected: what is retroactively called into existence is not the “hitherto formless matter” but, precisely, matter which was well articulated before the rise of the new, and whose contours were only blurred, or became invisible , from the horizon of the new historical form— with the rise of the new form, the previous form is (mis) perceived as “hitherto formless matter,” that is, the “formlessness” itself is a retroactive effect , a violent erasure of the previous form. If one misses the retroactivity of such positing of presuppositions, one finds oneself in the ideological universe of evolutionary teleology: an ideological narrative thus emerges in which previous epochs are conceived as progressive stages or steps towards the present “civilized” epoch . This is why the retroactive positing of presuppositions is the materialist “substitute for that ‘teleology’ for which [Hegel] is ordinarily indicted.”3

The point Zizek makes is that in a dialectical process, the thing becomes “what it always already was”; that is, the “eternal essence” (or, rather, concept) of a thing is not given in advance, it emerges, forms itself in an open contingent process— the eternally past essence is a retroactive result of the dialectical process. This retroactivity is what Kant was not able to think , and Hegel himself had to work long and hard to conceptualize it. Here is how the early Hegel, still struggling to differentiate himself from the legacy of the other German Idealists, qualifies Kant’s great philosophical breakthrough: in the Kantian transcendental synthesis, “the determinateness of form is nothing but the identity of opposites.(ibid.)

As you can see at the heart of the conflict between Harman and Zizek is a notion of causation, a view of time and the implication of time’s determinations in reality. For Zizek the concept or essence does not precede its history or processual movement in time, but is rather a creation of its contingent interactions in the dialectical process of this time itself. For Harman the “essence” is that core depth of every entity. In his discussion of Zubiri on essence he will tell us: “

Zubiri allows common sense to pull off a bloodless coup d’état at the precise moment when he had begun to open our eyes to a zone of incomparable strangeness—- that of the essence withdrawn from all relation, even from brute causal relation (as overlooked by Heidegger, Levinas, and Whitehead alike).(p. 258)

This is a core notion of Harman’s that real objects (essences) can withdraw from all relations. As he will tell us further on “It is not only the case that every entity has a deeper essence—rather, every essence has a deeper essence as well” (p. 258). Realizing this leads to an infinite regress Harman will instead term it an “indefinite regress, and move on to other problems that arise from the emerging concept of substance” (p. 259). Succinctly Harman’s position is stated as follows:

I have offered the model of reality as a reversal between tool and broken tool, with the tool-being receding not just behind human awareness, but behind all relation whatsoever. This duality has been crossed by another opposition of equal power: the difference between the specific quality of a thing and its systematic union. Furthermore, the world is not split up evenly with a nation of pure tool-being on one side and a land of sheer relations on the other—every point in the cosmos is both a concealed reality and one that enters into explicit contact with others. Finally, in the strict sense, there is no such thing as a sheer “relation”; every relation turns out to be an entity in its own right. As a result, there is no cleared transcendent space that gains a distance from entities to reveal them “as” what they are. There is no exit from the density of being, no way to stand outside the brutal play of forces and vacuum-packed entities that crowd the world.(pp. 288-289).

In the above tool-being and the concept of “essence” are interchangeable. So for Harman the essence of real objects precedes its sensual appendages, and in fact for him withdraws not only from human awareness but from all relation whatsoever.

We are here back at the notion of den in Democritus: a “something cheaper than nothing,” a weird pre-ontological “something” which is less than nothing.

– Slavoj Zizek

(Badiou and Zizek from a materialist perspective also opt for a event based, non-substantive notion of time, a time of rupture and newness: an event.

Zizek recounting an Agatha Christie Jane Marple mystery in which a woman sees a murder on another passing train in which the police find no evidence, and only Mrs. Marple believes her and follows up:

This is an event at its purest and most minimal : something shocking, out of joint that appears to happen all of a sudden and interrupts the usual flow of things; something that emerges seemingly out of nowhere, without discernible causes, an appearance without solid being as its foundation.

It is a manifestation of a circular structure in which the evental effect retroactively determines its causes or reasons.1

As Zizek further qualifies  an event is thus the effect that seems to exceed its causes – and the space of an event is that which opens up by the gap that separates an effect from its causes. Already with this approximate definition, we find ourselves at the very heart of philosophy, since causality is one of the basic problems philosophy deals with: are all things connected with causal links? Does everything that exists have to be grounded in sufficient reasons? Or are there things that somehow happen out of nowhere? How, then, can philosophy help us to determine what an event – an occurrence not grounded in sufficient reasons – is and how it is possible? (Zizek, 5)

Zizek will see this as two approaches or opposing views of reality: the transcendental and the ontological or ontic. The first concerns the universal structure of how reality appears to us. Which conditions must be met for us to perceive something as really existing? ‘Transcendental’ is the philosopher’s technical term for such a frame, which defines the co-ordinates of reality – for example, the transcendental approach makes us aware that, for a scientific naturalist, only spatio-temporal material phenomena regulated by natural laws really exist, while for a premodern traditionalist, spirits and meanings are also part of reality, not only our human projections. The ontic approach, on the other hand, is concerned with reality itself, in its emergence and deployment: how did the universe come to be? Does it have a beginning and an end? What is our place in it?(Zizek, 5-6)

I’ve begun a long arduous process of tracing down this ancient battle between substantial formalists (object oriented) and non-substantive event (process) based philosophers, and have begun organizing a philosophical work around the great theme of Time that will tease out the current climate of Continental thought against this background.

In some ways I want to take up Zizek’s philosophical materialism of non-substantial self-relating nothingness vs. Harman’s substantial formalism where they intersect in the notions of Time and Causality. We’ve seen work on both of these philosophers, but have yet to see the drama they are enacting from the two world perspectives of transcendental vs. ontology and ontic, substance vs. void or gap. I think this would be a worthwhile battle to bring to light what is laying there in fragments.

Stay tuned.

1. Harman, Graham (2011-08-31). Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (p. 1). Open Court. Kindle Edition
2. Zizek, Slavoj (2014-08-26). Event: A Philosophical Journey Through A Concept (p. 4). Melville House. Kindle Edition.
3. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 6322-6330). Norton. Kindle Edition.

On Culture and Other Crimes: An Interview with Slavoj Zizek (Exchange)

Accessed October 28, 2014

By Kerry Chance
University of Chicago

Slavoj Zizek, psychoanalytic philosopher and cultural critic at the Institute of Sociology in Slovenia, has taught all over the world, most recently at the University of Chicago. His first public lecture at Chicago, entitled “The Ignorance of Chicken, or, Who Believes What Today”, looked every bit the rock show. Crowds stretched across the main campus quad, a ‘merch’ table featured his latest book The Parallax View, and as the lecture began with crowds still waiting outside, people climbed through the windows of the packed auditorium. While at Chicago, Zizek also taught a seminar as the Critical Inquiry Visiting Professor on topics ranging from Lacanian ethics, political correctness, habit in Hegel, the Big Other, Stalin, theology, politics and the role of the intellectual. Zizek has written innumerable articles and is the author of more than fifty books, including The Sublime Object of Ideology, The Ticklish Subject, Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?, On Belief andWelcome to the Desert of the RealÑto name just a few that have contributed to his widespread popularity in and outside the academy. Here, Zizek speaks to Exchange about culture, Lacan, cognitive science, neoliberalism and projects for contemporary anthropology.


Chance: In class and in your public lectures here at Chicago, you’ve frequently talked about culture and have done so in two ways: first, in terms of belief as you have theorized it in your earlier work, and secondly in terms of Hegel’s notion of habit. How are you thinking culture in Lacanian terms?

Zizek: Traditionally, Lacanians like to identify culture simply as the symbolic system, within which there is a linguistically limited horizon of meaning, but I think two things should be added.

First, what is for me the zero-sum of culture, if I improvise, is what to do about embarrassing excesses. When somebody does something embarrassing, burps after eating for example, culture is how you react to it in a polite way. To be very vulgar, all seduction rituals are the cultured way of dealing with the fact that people would like to copulate with each other. Now, someone will say, “wait a minute, to feel something as embarrassment, culture must already be there.” No, I don’t think so. Somehow, embarrassment is first. In other words, we have to presuppose an excess, again, embarrassment apropos of something disgusting, non-social, or an excess of obscenity or enjoyment.

So again, this would be the first specification: to put it in bombastic Lacanian terms, first the excess of the real, embarrassment, shock – and culture is how you deal with it. This is why Lacan in a nice, tasteless way put it that one measure of the passage from the animal to the human kingdom is what to do with shit. He always liked this example, that an animal by definition just shits wherever, for humans shit is always an embarrassment. It always amused me when I was a boy that, at circuses, you have animals, horses and especially elephants that take a big shit and usually you see people hidden behind them ready to make the shit quickly disappear. Animals don’t care. The problem with humans is what to do with this embarrassment.

The second thing that interests me, which is a much more concrete historical analysis, is why there is such an obsession with culture today. Why is it that today not only do we have culture studies but everything – and by everything I mean at least the humanities and for some people even the hard sciences – has become a subspecies of cultural studies? In the hard sciences, people will say following Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, their history is the history of culture, of paradigm shifts and so on. Everything becomes culture.

Chance: How is this linked to your notion of belief?

Zizek: Again, this is linked to my notion of belief, to the idea that something is changing in the status of belief. Today, the predominant form is a belief that culture is the name of a belief, which is no longer taken seriously. Culture means, for example, I am a Jew, and although I don’t think there was a stupid god coming down and shouting some stupid things to people on Mount Sinai, I nonetheless say out of respect for my lifestyle or whatever, I don’t eat pork. This is culture.

To complicate things even further, I think two traps should be avoided here. Among other things, I have tried to focus my work on one of these traps in the last few years. First, it is too simple to say, “does this mean once before people were taking culture seriously.” No. Not only conservatives, but even progressives like to criticize the present, evoking, “oh, but once it was different, things were more authentic.” No, it wasn’t. It is not that before people did believe. If anything, they believe more today. It’s just that the modality of distance was different. Before, it wasn’t a matter of belief. Rather, it was a feeling of being more attached to, and having more respect for, the power of appearance of ritual as such. Something changed today at that level, I think. So paradoxically these external signs of belief – “nobody takes anything seriously” – if anything, points to how it’s more difficult today for us to trust the symbolic ritual, the symbolic institution. But again, there is no time when people ‘really meant it.’

What I know from anthropology, I may be wrong, is that all the great errors started with a phenomenological evolutionary illusion. I think when researchers found a certain gap between reality and beliefs or between form and content, they always thought, “ah, we have a later descendent state of evolution, there must have been some point earlier when people meant it.” The dream is that there was an original moment when people really ‘meant it.’ An example I know from my Marxist past, in anthropology you must know him from the 19th century, Lewis Henry Morgan. I remember from my youth that Engels among other classical Marxists relied on him. Morgan found that in some tribes all the men in one tribe referred to the women of the other tribe as their ‘sister wives.’ From this he deduced, that this is the linguistic remainder of some primordial form of marriage. The incest prohibition already in place, you were not allowed to have sex with women in your tribe, but only with the women in another tribe. The women were exchanged in a block, collectively. It was basic incest, but regulated. The way I heard it, anthropologists later proved that there never was this nice regulated collective orgy. That is to say, the wrong conclusion was that from this name ‘sister wives’ you conclude that there was a point when it was really meant. No, the gap is here from the very beginning.

What fascinates me in this example also is the logic of institution. By institution, I mean how, in order for something to function as a belief, you cannot simply say, “okay, let’s pretend.” In my book, I think the Ticklish Subject (Verso, 1999), I have a wonderful anecdote, which for me again tells about what culture is as an institution. It is a crazy story about elections some fifteen years ago in my country, Slovenia. An ex-friend of mine, who was a candidate told me – okay, he had to do these democratic games like kissing the asses of local constituents – an old lady came to him and said if he wanted her vote he would have to do her a favor. She was obsessed with the idea that something was wrong with her house number (number 24, not even 13), that this number brings misfortune. There was a burglary twice, lightning struck the house, and she’s convinced that it’s because of the number. She said, can she arrange with the city authorities to change the number, to 23a or something, just not 24. He said to her, “But lady, why even go through all this mess? Why don’t you simply paint a new number and change it yourself?” She said, “No, it must be done properly.” Though it was only superstition, to be effective it must be done properly through the institution. The must be a minimum reification to take the game seriously.

Chance: Is this a project for anthropology?

Zizek: This returns to another aspect of your question. That is, another lesson of all these notions of culture is the irreducibility of alienation. We should abandon this old phenomenological – and for some people, Marxist motive – that every institutionalization means reification in two directions, the past and the future. For the past, it is the idea that we should try to reconstitute a moment when it was not alienated, when it was ‘meant seriously.’ For the future, it is to isolate the moment, to dream or to work toward the moment when this transparency and authenticity of meaning will be reinstalled. No, we should also see the liberating aspect of it.

To return here to what I know of anthropology, when anthropology about half a century ago shifted from “let’s observe the mating rituals in Southern Samoa or South Pacific” or whatever, to focusing on our daily life rituals. You remember Florida, the scandal elections and the first Bush victory. A guy somewhere from Africa wrote an article imitating that sort of journalistic report, you know, an enlightened Western journalist goes to Africa, where they allegedly have some election and he mocks the election, “ha, ha, what corruption.” Well, this guy wrote about Florida in the same way, saying there are votes disappearing, the brother of the candidate is the local government, you know, describing Florida as a provincial Banana Republic case of cheating. It was a wonderful result. It was anthropology at its best.

I think this is what interests me, the anthropology of our lives. Not only is this a politically correct procedure – in this exceptional case, I use the term ‘politically correct’ in a positive way – but also I find it always a subversive procedure. The starting point is always the implicit racism of the anthropologist: you look at a foreign culture, you study them with this detachment, “oh what strange rituals” and so on. The phenomenological humanist temptation would be to say, “No, in this engaged participating fieldwork, we should immerse ourselves, become one of them to really understand them.” This series of presuppositions we should reject. What does it mean that we should be one of them to understand them? They usually don’t understand themselves – isn’t it the basic experience that people as a rule follow rituals that are just a part of tradition, which they themselves don’t get? I think the anthropology of our lives is the true breakthrough from this implicitly racist attitude of studying the eccentricity of others, to adopt the same view of ourselves. It is much better as a double alienation.

This is connected to another central motive of my work, this obsession with not only rules but also habits, which tell you how to obey or disobey rules. Especially social prohibitions never mean what they appear to mean. This is an incredibly wealthy topic of ideology for contemporary anthropology. Why is it so important? Precisely because we live in an era of so-called post-ideology. I claim that at precisely this level, ideology has survived.

My interest in anthropology, what always fascinated me was people never mean what they say and in order to be a part of a culture you have to get this gap. There is an important role of obscenities here. Let me tell you a comic adventure. This weekend, I was with Fred Jameson at Duke and there Fred invited an old, very distinguished Argentine gentleman – I will not tell you the name it’s too embarrassing – because of my wife, who is also Argentinean. This gentleman, you would be afraid of using the f-word in front of him, so I said to myself, okay, can I make him say something dirty? And I did seduce him, you know how? The specificities of Argentine Spanish are very different from say Venezuelan Spanish or Mexican Spanish. So, I told him how I tried to learn Spanish, and then I made my first step into obscenity. I told him I knew the word ‘cojo,’ which in Spanish simply means ‘to catch’ something, like “how do I catch a taxi?” Now, this word will be important because I told him I heard somewhere in Argentina there is a series of jokes, where a stupid Spaniard comes to Argentina and asks, “Where do I catch a taxi?” In Argentinean Spanish, ‘catch’ here means the f-word. Then, the distinguished gentleman smiled briefly and I saw that he knew a really dirty example. And I like it how he broke down. After two or three minutes, he broke down and said, “It’s against my nature but I must tell you Argentines have an even more dirty joke…” which is that a Spanish guy says, “How do you catch a cab?,” which means to fuck a taxi, and the Argentine says, “Well, the only practical way I can imagine is the exhaust pipe.” I was so glad that this distinguished gentleman, that I made him say this joke. For me, this is culture. For me, it is not a violation, but the closest you can get to authentic communication.


Chance: I wanted to talk about Lacanian ethics and about Lacan’s injunction to be consistent with your desire –

Zizek: The thing about Lacan’s injunction is what if your desire is not consistent? In other words, the way I read Lacan is that more and more in his late work he devalues desire, desire itself as not an ethical category. The Lacan of the fifties and sixties, it is the ethics of desire to not compromise your desire. But later, more and more he emphasizes that desire is a priori something hypocritical, inconsistent. In this sense, desire mostly thinks with a secret code that you will not get, the whole economy is to avoid the realization of desire, which is why Lacan understood that fantasy is a realization of desire. He doesn’t mean realization of desire in the sense of getting what you desire, like I want to eat strawberry cakes and I in the fantasy imagine myself realizing it. For Lacan, it is to stage a scene where that desire as such emerges. What would be a nicer example, let’s say I have a desire to eat strawberries but as always with desires, you have this suspicion, what if I will be disappointed. A fantasy would be, for example, I am there sleeping and somebody brings me strawberries, then I taste one, then I stop and it goes on. This ‘going on’ – I never fully have the strawberries – is fantasy. You don’t realize desire – getting your dirty mouth full of strawberries – you just stage this scene on a pleasant, hopeful state of desire, on the verge of satisfaction but not yet there. There is a pleasant obstacle preventing it all the time. This is fantasy.

Chance: How does this ethical injunction, both in the early and late Lacan, play out in the political realm, specifically thinking about it in relation to the cartoon depictions of Mohammad, a debate that opposed unlimited freedom of the press to respect for the other?

Zizek: Do you see the piece I wrote – not in The New York Times, which was censored – but “Antinomies of Tolerant Reason”? (See HYPERLINK “”

You know, many leftists were mad at me there. They thought I made too many compromises with Western liberals, too much anti-Muslim compromise. But the reason I did it was that I got a little bit sick and tired with these politically correct Western liberals – didn’t you notice this hypocrisy? I noticed it was the same people, who in the West are so sensitive – like I look at you and it already can be harassment – and all of sudden, they say it is a different culture, blah, blah, blah. I hate that even some feminists now are turning to culture as one of the standard defenses of Islam. In the West, we at least have formal equality of women. I am very sorry but there, you have a culture, at least in the predominant mode that is so openly anti-feminine. My god, but they are openly doing what we here are trying to unearth as the anti-feminism beneath the emancipated feminine. My god, are we now even prohibited from stating the obvious?

Do you know this famous, eternal politically correct example of clitoridechtomy? This example is not Islam – it is a ritual independent of Islam. But I remember some Muslim women claiming: isn’t it that in the West in order to be attractive to men, women have to remain slim, seductive; isn’t this a global clitoridechtomy; isn’t it much worse? There, it’s only the clitoris, here, it’s as if your entire body is clitoridechtomized. I hate this – I remember when I was a youth what the facts were about the Gulag. People would say: but at least here, you are in or out of the Gulag; isn’t it that the whole United States is one ideological Gulag? You know, this cheap counter universalization. I don’t buy it – this is what I try to say in that text. The first thing is to admit a genuine deadlock and to stop this hypocrisy.

In that text, I hope it is obvious this fury I have at this logic of respect. Sometimes, respect is the most disrespectful category. Respect here is like telling a child false things so not to hurt him. Here, respect means not taking him seriously. I think a lot of the people who preach, “you should show restraint, show respect to Islam,” are enacting the worst sort of patronization. Paradoxically, violent critics of Islam, on the most elementary level, show more respect for Islam than those who, out of respect, do not attack it. I am not saying we should turn to this, but at least those critics take people seriously as believers.


Chance: What does it mean to return to big theory?

Zizek: You remember, years ago it was fashionable to say big theory overlooks its own historical, concrete, anthropological conditions and presuppositions. That it is na•ve. Foucault has this attitude in its utmost when he says, before asking what’s the meaning of the universe, you should ask in what historical context is it even possible to ask this question. So direct truth questions become questions about the concrete historical conditions in which one can raise such a question. I think this was a deadlock.

Today’s big theory is no longer a na•ve big theory. It’s not saying “let’s forget about historical context and again ask, does god exist, or are we free.” No, the point is that concrete theory – the idea that we cannot ask metaphysical questions, only historical questions – had a skeleton in the closet: it has its own big theory presuppositions. Usually, even some rather primitive historicist, relativist ideas, for example, everything depends on historical circumstances or interactions, there are no universalities, and so on. So for me, it’s about not forgetting from where one speaks. It’s about including into reflection, into historical reflection, the very historicism, which was unquestioned in this eternal, Foucauldian model. I find it so boring. It’s so boring to say, “no, you shouldn’t ask are we free, the only question is what does it mean in our society to ask the question are we free.”

Chance: The presence of cognitive science is increasingly felt in anthropology. What particular problems does cognitive science pose for social sciences?

Zizek: Big theory brings us nicely to cognitive science because what it so tickling about them is precisely this question of freedom – does it mean we are not free? It’s interesting that all the debates about cognitive sciences – the image of the human being emerging from all these interactions, from the brain sciences or more abstract mind sciences – is about are we free.

I don’t know about social sciences, but I know about my field, psychoanalysis. I dealt with cognitive sciences extensively in my last book (SeeThe Parallax View, MIT Press 2006). I think firstly, they should be taken seriously. They should not be dismissed as just another na•ve, naturalizing, positivist approach. The question should be seriously asked, how do they compel us to redefine the most basic notions of human dignity, freedom? That is to say, what we experience as dignity and freedom is it all just an illusion, as they put it in computer user terms, a user’s illusion. Meaning, for example, when you write a text on a computer, you have this user’s illusion scrolling up or down that there is text above or below. There is no text there. Is our freedom the same as a user’s illusion or is there a freedom?

The thing to do – and I’m not saying I did it, I’m saying I am trying to do it – is to take these sciences very seriously, and find a point in them where there is a need for an intervention of concepts developed by psychoanalysis. I think – I hope – that I isolated one such point. I noticed how, when they tried to account for consciousness, they all have to resort to almost always the same metaphor of this autopoesis, self-reflexive move, some kind of self-relating, self-referring closed circuit. They are only able to describe it metaphorically. What I claim is that this is what Freud meant by death drive and so on.

But it’s not that we psychoanalysts know it and can teach the idiots. I think this is also good for us – and by us I mean, my gang of psychoanalytically oriented people. It compels us also to formulate our terminology, to purify our technology as it were.


Chance: What, if anything, is neoliberalism?

Zizek: You must know, and it has often been noted, that the big shift in the study of the human mind from traditional approaches to modern cognitivism mirrors perfectly the shift from bureaucratic capitalism to neoliberal capitalism with its flexibility and plasticity. It’s so interesting to notice how many cognitivists that I’ve read even say this openly. They say that traditional science of mind was production oriented, organizing up and down, like traditional bureaucratic capitalism. Today, it’s like this digital, flexible capitalism – you don’t have one central deciding point, you have free interaction, nomadic plasticity and so on. I found this very interesting.

Catherine Malabou wrote a wonderful book called What to Do With the Human Brain. She develops, in a very nice way, that plasticity can have two meanings. One meaning is this neoliberal plasticity. Basically, it’s an accommodating plasticity: how to succeed on the market, how to adopt new identity. But there is a more radical plasticity, where the point is not just an adaptive plasticity. It’s a plasticity that not only adapts itself to existing circumstances but also tries to form a margin of freedom to intervene, to change the circumstances.

The same would go for me for neoliberalism. My point would be first, there obviously exists something like neoliberalism. That is to say, it is a fact that at the level of relations between the states, within singular economies new rules of capitalism are emerging today.

But my first doubt would be about the process of describing the fact that something new is emerging. I don’t think it is adequately described by the way neoliberalism describes itself. For example, saying “the rule is no longer state intervention, but free interaction, flexibility, the diminishing role of the state.” But wait a minute, is this really going on? I mean, take Reagan’s presidency and Bush’s presidency today. While bombasting against big spending Democrats – that is to say, big state – the state has never been as strong as it is today and there is an incredible explosion of state apparatuses. State control today is stronger than ever. That would be my automatic reaction: yes, there is something new but, when covered by the label neoliberalism, it is not adequately described. The self-perception of today’s era as neoliberal is a wrong self-perception.

Even leftist critics all too often accept this self-description on its own terms and then proceed to criticize it, saying, “no, we can’t leave everything to the market.” Wait a minute, who is leaving everything to the market? If we look at today’s American economy, how much support there is for American farmers, how much intervention, military contracts, where is there any free market? I mean, sorry, but I don’t see much free market here.

Just look at this paradox, which I think is the nicest icon of what goes on today. You know the problem of cotton in the state of Mali I think, which is the producer of cheap cotton far better than the United States’ cotton. The country is going to ruin because, as you know, the American cotton producers get more state support than the entire Gross Domestic Product of the state of Mali. And they say there, we don’t want American help, what we want is just when you preach about corrupt state intervention and the free market, you play by your own rules. You know, there’s so much cheating going on here.

So that would be the kind of anthropological study that’s needed: what neoliberalism really means. That’s what we have to do.

Zizek PicksMost important book published in the last six months: On Creaturely Life by Eric Santner

It will sound hypocritical but really, I would say On Creaturely Life. If you go further back to 2005, it would be The Persistence of Subjectivity by Robert Pippin.

Most important film released in the last six months: Manderlay directed by Lars Von Trier

My god, this is a tough question. My problem is, as much as I love even commercial Hollywood, I really don’t remember one in particular. It’s a weird film but I like it, the last Lars Von Trier, Manderlay. Need I add that I haven’t seen it, but a priori I don’t deal with empirical things.

Favorite obscure text: Sex and Character by Otto Weininger

Sex and Character. It’s obscure today but remember that this book was published in 1903 and was reprinted like fifty times. Then, it was a megabook. It’s vicious – radically anti-feminist, anti-Semitic, anti-whatever-you-want but I think it’s shattering.

Most underrated philosopher: Hegel

It will sound crazy because he is one of the most overrated philosophers, but I think, Hegel. Because for the last two hundred years, every philosopher defines himself as somehow wanting to go over Hegel. He’s this universal punching bag. Known as he is, he is still the most underrated.

Favorite politician of all time? Lenin and Cromwell

My answer is so boring. It’s boring, it’s stupid, it’s provocative, I’m ashamed to pronounce it: Lenin. You know, many na•ve leftists, who want to maintain their democratic credentials, would say some tragic victim like Allende. I think there is no perspective there. I have a cynical idea that Pinochet’s coup d’etat came at the right point. Imagine what would have happened if someone like Clinton and not that stupid Nixon-Kissinger gang were in power. Someone like Clinton would have gotten the formula: annoy him economically, wait for the true economic crisis to explode and then Allende would either have to opt for a three-way neoliberalism and play all those emancipatory welfare games. Or, he would have to turn Castro, get really tough and lose. Don’t you think they struck at the right point to redeem him? So I don’t respect this kind of person.

I would love to have somebody else – I have such traditional tastes. Okay, again, it’s traditional but if you go back further, Freud loved him: Oliver Cromwell. I like it the way he ruthlessly went from first using the Parliament to cut off the head of the king, to then disbanding Parliament.

What surprises me is this myth that Cromwell was this cruel Puritan. Not only did he have personal integrity, but contrary to royalist myth, he was not revengeful. To put it naively, he was even personally kind. It may also come as a surprise how religiously tolerant he was. This is a myth, you know, this pale-lips Puritan just killing all the Catholics and everybody else. No, he was striving very much, for his vision was a kind of secular plurality of religions. He was a genuine tragic, tragic figure, I think.

Zizek: a caminho de uma ruptura global (Outras Palavras)

POR SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK – ON 30/06/2013


Brasília, junho de 2013

Chegada dos Protestos ao Brasil e Turquia revela: há mal-estar generalizado contra lógicas e ideologia do capitalismo. Desafio é construir alternativas e nova democracia

Por Slavoj Žižek, no London Review of Books | Tradução Vila Vudu

Em seus primeiros escritos, Marx descreve a situação na Alemanha como uma daquelas na qual a única resposta a problemas particulares seria a solução universal: a revolução global. É expressão condensada da diferença entre período reformista e período revolucionário: em período reformista, a revolução global permanece como sonho que, se serve para alguma coisa, é apenas para dar peso às tentativas para mudar alguma coisa localmente; em período revolucionário, vê-se claramente que nada melhorará, sem mudança global radical. Nesse sentido puramente formal, 1990 foi ano revolucionário: as muitas reformas parciais nos estados comunistas jamais dariam conta do serviço; e era necessária uma quebra total, para resolver todos os problemas do dia a dia. Por exemplo, o problema de dar suficiente comida às pessoas.

Em que ponto estamos hoje, quanto a essa diferença? Os problemas e protestos dos últimos anos são sinais de que se aproxima uma crise global, ou não passam de pequenos obstáculos que pode enfrentar mediante intervenções locais? O mais notável nas erupções é que estão acontecendo não apenas, nem basicamente, nos pontos fracos do sistema, mas em pontos que, até aqui, eram percebidos como histórias de sucesso. Sabemos por que as pessoas protestam na Grécia ou na Espanha; mas por que há confusão em países prósperos e em rápido desenvolvimento como Turquia, Suécia ou Brasil?

Com algum distanciamento, pode-se ver que a revolução de Khomeini em 1979 foi o caso original de “dificuldades no paraíso”, dado que aconteceu em país que caminhava a passos largos para uma modernização pró-ocidente, e era o mais estável aliado do ocidente na região.

Antes da atual onda de protestos, a Turquia era quente: modelo ideal de estado estável, a combinar pujante economia liberal e islamismo moderado. Pronta para a Europa, um bem-vindo contraste com a Grécia mais “europeia”, colhida num labirinto ideológico e andando rumo à autodestruição econômica. Sim, é verdade: aqui e ali sempre viam-se alguns sinais péssimos (a Turquia, sempre a negar o holocausto dos armênios; prisão de jornalistas; o status não resolvido dos curdos; chamamentos a uma “grande Turquia” que ressuscitaria a tradição do Império Otomano; imposição, vez ou outra, de leis religiosas). Mas eram descartados como pequenas máculas que não comprometeriam o grande quadro.


E então, explodiram os protestos na praça Taksim. Não há quem não saiba que os planos para transformar um parque em torno da praça Taksim no centro de Istambul em shopping-center não foram “o caso”, naqueles protestos; e que um mal-estar muito mais profundo ganhava força. O mesmo se deve dizer dos protestos de meados de junho no Brasil: foram desencadeados por um pequeno aumento na tarifa do transporte público, e prosseguiram mesmo depois de o aumento ter sido revogado. Também nesse caso, os protestos explodiram num país que – pelo menos segundo a mídia – estava em pleno boom econômico e com todos os motivos para sentir-se confiante quanto ao futuro. Nesse caso, os protestos foram aparentemente apoiados pela presidente Dilma Rousseff, que se declarou satisfeitíssima com eles.

O que une protestos em todo o mundo — por mais diversos que sejam, na aparência — é que todos reagem contra diferentes facetas da globalização capitalista

É crucialmente importante não vermos os protestos turcos meramente como sociedade civil secular que se levanta contra regime islamista autoritário, apoiado por uma maioria islamista silenciosa. O que complica o quadro é o ímpeto anticapitalista dos protestos. Os que protestam sentem intuitivamente que o fundamentalismo de mercado e o fundamentalismo islâmico não se excluem mutuamente.

A privatização do espaço público por ação de um governo islamista mostra que as duas modalidades de fundamentalismo podem trabalhar de mãos dadas. É sinal claro de que o casamento “por toda a eternidade” de democracia e capitalismo já caminha para o divórcio.

Também é importante reconhecer que os que protestam não visam a nenhum objetivo “real” identificável. Os protestos não são, “realmente”, contra o capitalismo global, nem “realmente” contra o fundamentalismo religioso, nem “realmente” a favor de liberdades civis e democracia, nem visam “realmente” qualquer outra coisa específica. O que a maioria dos que participaram dos protestos “sabem” é de um mal-estar, de um descontentamento fluido, que sustenta e une várias demandas específicas.

A luta para entender os protestos não é luta só epistemológica, com jornalistas e teóricos tentando explicar seu “real” conteúdo: é também luta ontológica pela própria coisa, o que esteja acontecendo dentro dos próprios protestos. É apenas luta contra governo corrupto? É luta contra governo islâmico autoritário? É luta contra a privatização do espaço público? A pergunta continua aberta. E de como seja respondida dependerá o resultado de um processo político em andamento.

Em 2011, quando irrompiam protestos por toda a Europa e todo o Oriente Médio, muitos insistiram que não fossem tratados como instâncias de um único movimento global. Em vez disso, argumentavam, haveria uma resposta específica para cada situação específica. No Egito, os que protestavam queriam o que em outros países era alvo das críticas do movimento Occupy: “liberdade” e “democracia”. Mesmo entre países muçulmanos, haveria diferenças cruciais: a Primavera Árabe no Egito seria contra um regime autoritário e corrupto aliado do ocidente; a Revolução Verde no Irã, que começou em 2009, seria contra o islamismo autoritário. É fácil ver o quanto essa particularização dos protestos serve bem aos defensores do status quo: não há nenhuma ameaça direta à ordem global como tal. Só uma série de problemas locais separados…

O capitalismo global é processo complexo que afeta diferentes países de diferentes modos. O que une todos os protestos, por mais multifacetados que sejam, é que todos reagem contra diferentes facetas da globalização capitalista. A tendência geral do capitalismo global é hoje expandir o mercado, invadir e cercar o espaço público, reduzir os serviços públicos (saúde, educação, cultura) e impor cada vez mais firmemente um poder político autoritário. Nesse contexto, os gregos protestam contra o governo do capital financeiro internacional e contra seu próprio estado ineficiente e corrupto, cada dia menos capaz de prover os serviços sociais básicos. Nesse contexto, os turcos protestam contra a comercialização do espaço público e contra o autoritarismo religioso. E os egípcios protestam contra um governo apoiado pelas potências ocidentais. E os iranianos protestam contra a corrupção e o fundamentalismo religioso. E assim por diante.

Nenhum desses protestos pode ser reduzido a uma única questão. Todos lidam com uma específica combinação de pelo menos dois problemas, um econômico (da corrupção à ineficiência do próprio capitalismo); o outro, político-ideológico (da demanda por democracia à demanda pelo fim da democracia convencional multipartidária). O mesmo se aplica ao movimento Occupy. Na profusão de declarações (muitas vezes confusas), o movimento manteve dois traços básicos: primeiro, o descontentamento com o capitalismo como sistema, não apenas contra um ou outro corrupto ou corrupções locais; segundo, a consciência de que a forma institucionalizada de democracia multipartidária não tem meios para combater os excessos capitalistas. Em outras palavras, é preciso reinventar a democracia.


A causa subjacente dos protestos ser o capitalismo global não significa que a única solução seja “derrubar” o capitalismo. Nem é viável seguir a alternativa pragmática, que implica lidar com problemas individuais enquanto se espera por transformação radical. Essa ideia ignora o fato de que o capitalismo global é necessariamente contraditório e inconsistente: a liberdade de mercado anda de mãos dadas com os EUA protegerem seus próprios agronegócios e agronegociantes; pregar a democracia anda de mãos dadas com apoiar o governo da Arábia Saudita.

Essa inconsistência abre um espaço para a intervenção política: onde o capitalista global é forçado a violar suas próprias regras, ali há uma oportunidade para insistir em que ele obedeça àquelas regras. Exigir coerência e consistência em pontos estrategicamente selecionados nos quais o sistema não pode pagar para ser coerente e consistente é pressionar todo o sistema. A arte da política está em impor demandas específicas as quais, ao mesmo tempo em que são perfeitamente realistas, ferem o coração da ideologia hegemônica e implicam mudança muito mais radical. Essas demandas, por mais que sejam viáveis e legítimas, são, de fato, impossíveis. Caso exemplar é a proposta de Obama para prover assistência pública universal à saúde. Por isso as reações foram tão violentas.

Um movimento político começa com uma ideia, algo por que lutar, mas, no tempo, a ideia passa por transformação profunda – não apenas alguma acomodação tática, mas uma redefinição essencial –, porque a própria ideia passa a ser parte do processo: torna-se sobredeterminada.* Digamos que uma revolta comece com uma demanda por justiça, talvez sob a forma de demanda pela rejeição de uma determinada lei. Depois de o povo estar profundamente engajado na revolta, ele percebe que será preciso muito mais do que a demanda inicial, para que haja verdadeira justiça. O problema então é definir, precisamente, em que consiste esse “muito mais”.

A perspectiva liberal-pragmática entende que os problemas podem ser resolvidos gradualmente, um a um: “Há gente morrendo agora em Rwanda, então esqueçam a luta anti-imperialista e vamos impedir o massacre”. Ou: “Temos de combater a pobreza e o racismo já, aqui e agora, não esperar pelo colapso da ordem capitalista global”. John Caputo argumenta exatamente assim em After the Death of God (2007):

Eu ficaria perfeitamente feliz se os políticos da extrema-esquerda nos EUA fossem capazes de reformar o sistema oferecendo assistência universal à saúde, redistribuindo efetivamente a riqueza mais equitativamente com um sistema tributário [orig. Internal Revenue Code (IRC)] redefinido, restringindo o financiamento privado de campanhas eleitorais, autorizando o voto universal, para todos, tratando com humanidade os trabalhadores migrantes, e levando a efeito uma política externa multilateralista que integrasse o poder dos EUA dentro da comunidade internacional etc. Ou seja, intervindo sobre o capitalismo mediante reformas profundas, de longo alcance… Se depois de fazer tudo isso, Badiou e Žižek ainda reclamarem de um monstro chamado Capitalismo a nos assombrar, eu estaria inclinado a receber o tal monstro com um bocejo.

Não se trata de “derrubar” o capitalismo. Mas de construir lógicasde uma sociedade que vá além dele. Isso inclui novas formas de democracia

O problema aqui não é a conclusão de Caputo: se se pode alcançar tudo isso dentro do capitalismo, por que não ficar aí mesmo? O problema é a premissa subjacente de que seja possível obter tudo isso dentro do capitalismo global em sua forma atual. Mas e se os emperramentos e mau funcionamento do capitalismo, que Caputo listou, não forem meras perturbações contingentes, mas necessários por estrutura? E se o sonho de Caputo é um sonho de ordem capitalista universal, sem sintomas, sem os pontos críticos nos quais sua “verdade reprimida” mostra a própria cara?

Os protestos e revoltas de hoje são sustentados pela combinação de demandas sobrepostas, e é aí que está a sua força: lutam por democracia (“normal”, parlamentar) contra regimes autoritários; contra o racismo e o sexismo, especialmente quando dirigidos contra imigrantes e refugiados; contra a corrupção na política e nos negócios (poluição industrial do meio ambiente etc.); pelo estado de bem-estar contra o neoliberalismo; e por novas formas de democracia que avancem além dos rituais multipartidários. Questionam também o sistema capitalista global como tal, e tentam manter viva a ideia de uma sociedade que avance além do capitalismo.

Duas armadilhas há aí, a serem evitadas: o falso radicalismo (“o que realmente interessa é abolir o capitalismo liberal-parlamentar; todas as demais lutas são secundárias”), mas, também, o falso gradualismo (“no momentos temos de lutar contra a ditadura militar e por democracia básica, todos os sonhos de socialismo devem ser, agora, postos de lado”).

Aqui, ninguém se deve envergonhar de acionar a distinção maoista entre antagonismo principal e antagonismos secundários, entre os que mais interessam no fim e os que dominam hoje. Há situações nas quais insistir no antagonismo principal significa perder a oportunidade de acertar golpe significativo, no curso da luta.

Só uma política que tome plenamente em consideração a complexidade da sobredeterminação merece o nome de estratégia. Quando se embarca numa luta específica, a pergunta chave é: como nosso engajamento ou desengajamento nessa luta afeta outras lutas?

Praça Tahrir, Egito 2011

Praça Tahrir, Egito 2011

A regra geral é que quando uma revolta contra regime semidemocrático começa – como no Oriente Médio em 2011 – é fácil mobilizar grandes multidões com slogans (por democracia, contra a corrupção etc.). Mas muito rapidamente temos de enfrentar escolhas muito mais difíceis. Quando a revolta é bem-sucedida e alcança o objetivo inicial, nos damos conta de que o que realmente nos perturbava (a falta de liberdade, a humilhação diária, a corrupção, o futuro pouco ou nenhum) persiste sob novo disfarce. Nesse momento somos forçados a ver que havia furos no próprio objetivo inicial. Pode implicar que se chegue a ver que a democracia pode ser uma forma de des-liberdade, ou que se pode exigir muito mais do que apenas a mera democracia política: que a vida social e econômica tem de ser também democratizada.

Em resumo, o que à primeira vista tomamos como fracasso que só atingia um nobre princípio (a liberdade democrática) é afinal percebido como fracasso inerente ao próprio princípio. Essa descoberta – de que o princípio pelo qual lutamos pode ser inerentemente viciado – é um grande passo em qualquer educação política.

Representantes da ideologia reinante mobilizam todo o seu arsenal para impedir que cheguemos a essa conclusão radical. Dizem-nos que a liberdade democrática implica suas próprias responsabilidades, que tem um preço, que é sinal de imaturidade esperar demais da democracia. Numa sociedade livre, dizem eles, devemos agir como capitalistas e investir em nossa própria vida: se fracassarmos, se não conseguirmos fazer os necessários sacrifícios, ou se de algum modo não correspondermos, a culpa é nossa.


Istambul, maio de 2013

Em sentido político mais direto, os EUA perseguem coerentemente uma estratégia de controle de danos em sua política externa, recanalizando os levantes populares para formas capitalistas-parlamentares aceitáveis: na África do Sul, depois do apartheid; nas Filipinas, depois da queda de Marcos; na Indonésia, depois de Suharto etc. É nesse ponto que a política propriamente dita começa: a questão é como empurrar ainda mais adiante, depois que passa a primeira, excitante, onda de mudança; como dar o passo seguinte, sem sucumbir à tentação “totalitária”; como avançar além de Mandela, sem virar Mugabe.

O que significaria isso, num caso concreto? Comparemos dois países vizinhos, Grécia e Turquia. À primeira vista, talvez pareçam completamente diferentes: Grécia, presa na armadilha da ruinosa política de austeridade; Turquia em pleno boom econômico e emergindo como nova superpotência regional. Mas e se cada Turquia contiver sua própria Grécia, suas próprias ilhas de miséria? Como Brecht diz em sua Elegias Hollywoodenses (orig. Hollywood Elegies’ [1942]),

A vila de Hollywood foi planejada segundo a ideia
De que o povo aqui seria proprietário de partes do paraíso. Ali,
Chegaram à conclusão de que Deus
Embora precisando de céu e inferno, não precisava
Planejar dois estabelecimentos, mas
Só um: o paraíso. Que esse,
para os pobres e infortunados, funciona
como inferno.

Esses versos descrevem bastante bem a “aldeia global” de hoje: aplicam-se ao Qatar ou Dubai, playgrounds para os ricos, que dependem de manter os trabalhadores imigrantes em estado de semiescravidão, ou escravidão. Exame mais detido revela semelhanças entre Turquia e Grécia: privatizações, o fechamento do espaço público, o desmonte dos serviços sociais, a ascensão de políticos autoritários. Num plano elementar, os que protestam na Grécia e os que protestam na Turquia estão engajados na mesma luta. O melhor caminho talvez seja coordenar as duas lutas, rejeitar as tentações “patrióticas”, deixar para trás a inimizade histórica entre os dois países e buscar espaços de solidariedade. O futuro dos protestos talvez dependa disso.

* Em seu prefácio à Contribuição à Crítica da Economia Política, Marx escreveu (no seu pior modo evolucional) que a humanidade só se propõe problemas que seja capaz de resolver. E se invertermos a ganga dessa frase e declararmos que, regra geral, a humanidade propõe-se problemas que não pode resolver, e assim dispara um processo cujo desdobramento é imprevisível, no curso do qual, a própria tarefa é redefinida?

[1] Não encontramos tradução para o português. Aqui, tradução de trabalho, sem ambição literária, só para ajudar a ler [NTs].

A tinta vermelha: discurso de Slavoj Žižek aos manifestantes do movimento Occupy Wall Street (Boitempo)

Oct 9, 2011

Não se apaixonem por si mesmos, nem pelo momento agradável que estamos tendo aqui. Carnavais custam muito pouco – o verdadeiro teste de seu valor é o que permanece no dia seguinte, ou a maneira como nossa vida normal e cotidiana será modificada. Apaixone-se pelo trabalho duro e paciente – somos o início, não o fim. Nossa mensagem básica é: o tabu já foi rompido, não vivemos no melhor mundo possível, temos a permissão e a obrigação de pensar em alternativas. Há um longo caminho pela frente, e em pouco tempo teremos de enfrentar questões realmente difíceis – questões não sobre aquilo que não queremos, mas sobre aquilo que QUEREMOS. Qual organização social pode substituir o capitalismo vigente? De quais tipos de líderes nós precisamos? As alternativas do século XX obviamente não servem.

Então não culpe o povo e suas atitudes: o problema não é a corrupção ou a ganância, mas o sistema que nos incita a sermos corruptos. A solução não é o lema “Main Street, not Wall Street”, mas sim mudar o sistema em que a Main Street não funciona sem o Wall Street. Tenham cuidado não só com os inimigos, mas também com falsos amigos que fingem nos apoiar e já fazem de tudo para diluir nosso protesto. Da mesma maneira que compramos café sem cafeína, cerveja sem álcool e sorvete sem gordura, eles tentarão transformar isto aqui em um protesto moral inofensivo. Mas a razão de estarmos reunidos é o fato de já termos tido o bastante de um mundo onde reciclar latas de Coca-Cola, dar alguns dólares para a caridade ou comprar um cappuccino da Starbucks que tem 1% da renda revertida para problemas do Terceiro Mundo é o suficiente para nos fazer sentir bem. Depois de terceirizar o trabalho, depois de terceirizar a tortura, depois que as agências matrimoniais começaram a terceirizar até nossos encontros, é que percebemos que, há muito tempo, também permitimos que nossos engajamentos políticos sejam terceirizados – mas agora nós os queremos de volta.

Dirão que somos “não americanos”. Mas quando fundamentalistas conservadores nos disserem que os Estados Unidos são uma nação cristã, lembrem-se do que é o Cristianismo: o Espírito Santo, a comunidade livre e igualitária de fiéis unidos pelo amor. Nós, aqui, somos o Espírito Santo, enquanto em Wall Street eles são pagãos que adoram falsos ídolos.

Dirão que somos violentos, que nossa linguagem é violenta, referindo-se à ocupação e assim por diante. Sim, somos violentos, mas somente no mesmo sentido em que Mahatma Gandhi foi violento. Somos violentos porque queremos dar um basta no modo como as coisas andam – mas o que significa essa violência puramente simbólica quando comparada à violência necessária para sustentar o funcionamento constante do sistema capitalista global?

Seremos chamados de perdedores – mas os verdadeiros perdedores não estariam lá em Wall Street, os que se safaram com a ajuda de centenas de bilhões do nosso dinheiro? Vocês são chamados de socialistas, mas nos Estados Unidos já existe o socialismo para os ricos. Eles dirão que vocês não respeitam a propriedade privada, mas as especulações de Wall Street que levaram à queda de 2008 foram mais responsáveis pela extinção de propriedades privadas obtidas a duras penas do que se estivéssemos destruindo-as agora, dia e noite – pense nas centenas de casas hipotecadas…

Nós não somos comunistas, se o comunismo significa o sistema que merecidamente entrou em colapso em 1990 – e lembrem-se de que os comunistas que ainda detêm o poder atualmente governam o mais implacável dos capitalismos (na China). O sucesso do capitalismo chinês liderado pelo comunismo é um sinal abominável de que o casamento entre o capitalismo e a democracia está próximo do divórcio. Nós somos comunistas em um sentido apenas: nós nos importamos com os bens comuns – os da natureza, do conhecimento – que estão ameaçados pelo sistema.

Eles dirão que vocês estão sonhando, mas os verdadeiros sonhadores são os que pensam que as coisas podem continuar sendo o que são por um tempo indefinido, assim como ocorre com as mudanças cosméticas. Nós não estamos sonhando; nós acordamos de um sonho que está se transformando em pesadelo. Não estamos destruindo nada; somos apenas testemunhas de como o sistema está gradualmente destruindo a si próprio. Todos nós conhecemos a cena clássica dos desenhos animados: o gato chega à beira do precipício e continua caminhando, ignorando o fato de que não há chão sob suas patas; ele só começa a cair quando olha para baixo e vê o abismo. O que estamos fazendo é simplesmente levar os que estão no poder a olhar para baixo…

Então, a mudança é realmente possível? Hoje, o possível e o impossível são dispostos de maneira estranha. Nos domínios da liberdade pessoal e da tecnologia científica, o impossível está se tornando cada vez mais possível (ou pelo menos é o que nos dizem): “nada é impossível”, podemos ter sexo em suas mais perversas variações; arquivos inteiros de músicas, filmes e seriados de TV estão disponíveis para download; a viagem espacial está à venda para quem tiver dinheiro; podemos melhorar nossas habilidades físicas e psíquicas por meio de intervenções no genoma, e até mesmo realizar o sonho tecnognóstico de atingir a imortalidade transformando nossa identidade em um programa de computador. Por outro lado, no domínio das relações econômicas e sociais, somos bombardeados o tempo todo por um discurso do “você não pode” se envolver em atos políticos coletivos (que necessariamente terminam no terror totalitário), ou aderir ao antigo Estado de bem-estar social (ele nos transforma em não competitivos e leva à crise econômica), ou se isolar do mercado global etc. Quando medidas de austeridade são impostas, dizem-nos repetidas vezes que se trata apenas do que tem de ser feito. Quem sabe não chegou a hora de inverter as coordenadas do que é possível e impossível? Quem sabe não podemos ter mais solidariedade e assistência médica, já que não somos imortais?

Em meados de abril de 2011, a mídia revelou que o governo chinês havia proibido a exibição, em cinemas e na TV, de filmes que falassem de viagens no tempo e histórias paralelas, argumentando que elas trazem frivolidade para questões históricas sérias – até mesmo a fuga fictícia para uma realidade alternativa é considerada perigosa demais. Nós, do mundo Ocidental liberal, não precisamos de uma proibição tão explícita: a ideologia exerce poder material suficiente para evitar que narrativas históricas alternativas sejam interpretadas com o mínimo de seriedade. Para nós é fácil imaginar o fim do mundo – vide os inúmeros filmes apocalípticos –, mas não o fim do capitalismo.

Em uma velha piada da antiga República Democrática Alemã, um trabalhador alemão consegue um emprego na Sibéria; sabendo que todas as suas correspondências serão lidas pelos censores, ele diz para os amigos: “Vamos combinar um código: se vocês receberem uma carta minha escrita com tinta azul, ela é verdadeira; se a tinta for vermelha, é falsa”. Depois de um mês, os amigos receberam a primeira carta, escrita em azul: “Tudo é uma maravilha por aqui: os estoques estão cheios, a comida é abundante, os apartamentos são amplos e aquecidos, os cinemas exibem filmes ocidentais, há mulheres lindas prontas para um romance – a única coisa que não temos é tinta vermelha.” E essa situação, não é a mesma que vivemos até hoje? Temos toda a liberdade que desejamos – a única coisa que falta é a “tinta vermelha”: nós nos “sentimos livres” porque somos desprovidos da linguagem para articular nossa falta de liberdade. O que a falta de tinta vermelha significa é que, hoje, todos os principais termos que usamos para designar o conflito atual – “guerra ao terror”, “democracia e liberdade”, “direitos humanos” etc. etc. – são termos FALSOS que mistificam nossa percepção da situação em vez de permitir que pensemos nela. Você, que está aqui presente, está dando a todos nós tinta vermelha.

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Slavoj Žižek speaks at Occupy Wall Street: Transcript (Impose)

BY SARAHANA » Don’t fall in love with yourselves

Posted on October 10, 2011

slavoj zizek speaking at occupy wall street

Yesterday at noon, this blog’s trusty mentor, the Slovenian philosopher-scholar Slavoj Žižek, spoke at Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street protests are being held. Here is a full transcript of his speech. Update: Transcript of the Q&A portion of the talk has been posted as well.

Made some corrections, Oct 25, 6:30PM EST


They are saying we are all losers, but the true losers are down there on Wall Street. They were bailed out by billions of our money. We are called socialists, but here there is always socialism for the rich. They say we don’t respect private property, but in the 2008 financial crash-down more hard-earned private property was destroyed than if all of us here were to be destroying it night and day for weeks. They tell you we are dreamers. The true dreamers are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are. We are not dreamers. We are the awakening from a dream that is turning into a nightmare.

We are not destroying anything. We are only witnessing how the system is destroying itself. We all know the classic scene from cartoons. The cat reaches a precipice but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is nothing beneath this ground. Only when it looks down and notices it, it falls down. This is what we are doing here. We are telling the guys there on Wall Street, “Hey, look down!”

In mid-April 2011, the Chinese government prohibited on TV, films, and novels all stories that contain alternate reality or time travel. This is a good sign for China. These people still dream about alternatives, so you have to prohibit this dreaming. Here, we don’t need a prohibition because the ruling system has even oppressed our capacity to dream. Look at the movies that we see all the time. It’s easy to imagine the end of the world. An asteroid destroying all life and so on. But you cannot imagine the end of capitalism.

So what are we doing here? Let me tell you a wonderful, old joke from Communist times. A guy was sent from East Germany to work in Siberia. He knew his mail would be read by censors, so he told his friends: “Let’s establish a code. If a letter you get from me is written in blue ink, it is true what I say. If it is written in red ink, it is false.” After a month, his friends get the first letter. Everything is in blue. It says, this letter: “Everything is wonderful here. Stores are full of good food. Movie theatres show good films from the west. Apartments are large and luxurious. The only thing you cannot buy is red ink.” This is how we live. We have all the freedoms we want. But what we are missing is red ink: the language to articulate our non-freedom. The way we are taught to speak about freedom— war on terror and so on—falsifies freedom. And this is what you are doing here. You are giving all of us red ink.

There is a danger. Don’t fall in love with yourselves. We have a nice time here. But remember, carnivals come cheap. What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal lives. Will there be any changes then? I don’t want you to remember these days, you know, like “Oh. we were young and it was beautiful.” Remember that our basic message is “We are allowed to think about alternatives.” If the taboo is broken, we do not live in the best possible world. But there is a long road ahead. There are truly difficult questions that confront us. We know what we do not want. But what do we want? What social organization can replace capitalism? What type of new leaders do we want?

Remember. The problem is not corruption or greed. The problem is the system. It forces you to be corrupt. Beware not only of the enemies, but also of false friends who are already working to dilute this process. In the same way you get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice cream without fat, they will try to make this into a harmless, moral protest. A decaffienated protest. But the reason we are here is that we have had enough of a world where, to recycle Coke cans, to give a couple of dollars for charity, or to buy a Starbucks cappuccino where 1% goes to third world starving children is enough to make us feel good. After outsourcing work and torture, after marriage agencies are now outsourcing our love life, we can see that for a long time, we allow our political engagement also to be outsourced. We want it back.

We are not Communists if Communism means a system which collapsed in 1990. Remember that today those Communists are the most efficient, ruthless Capitalists. In China today, we have Capitalism which is even more dynamic than your American Capitalism, but doesn’t need democracy. Which means when you criticize Capitalism, don’t allow yourself to be blackmailed that you are against democracy. The marriage between democracy and Capitalism is over. The change is possible.

What do we perceive today as possible? Just follow the media. On the one hand, in technology and sexuality, everything seems to be possible. You can travel to the moon, you can become immortal by biogenetics, you can have sex with animals or whatever, but look at the field of society and economy. There, almost everything is considered impossible. You want to raise taxes by little bit for the rich. They tell you it’s impossible. We lose competitivity. You want more money for health care, they tell you, “Impossible, this means totalitarian state.” There’s something wrong in the world, where you are promised to be immortal but cannot spend a little bit more for healthcare. Maybe we need to set our priorities straight here. We don’t want higher standard of living. We want a better standard of living. The only sense in which we are Communists is that we care for the commons. The commons of nature. The commons of privatized by intellectual property. The commons of biogenetics. For this, and only for this, we should fight.

Communism failed absolutely, but the problems of the commons are here. They are telling you we are not American here. But the conservatives fundamentalists who claim they really are American have to be reminded of something: What is Christianity? It’s the holy spirit. What is the holy spirit? It’s an egalitarian community of believers who are linked by love for each other, and who only have their own freedom and responsibility to do it. In this sense, the holy spirit is here now. And down there on Wall Street, there are pagans who are worshipping blasphemous idols. So all we need is patience. The only thing I’m afraid of is that we will someday just go home and then we will meet once a year, drinking beer, and nostaligically remembering “What a nice time we had here.” Promise yourselves that this will not be the case. We know that people often desire something but do not really want it. Don’t be afraid to really want what you desire. Thank you very much.


Here’s Astra Taylor, who made the documentaries Zizek! and An Examined Life. (She also happens to be married to Jeff Mangum, who performed earlier in the week for the protestors.)

Free training included how to undo a handcuff:

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