November 24, 2005

Philosophers have interpreted the world...

I think Jodi Dean is right to lose patience with some of the positions Zizek adopts in his recent 'writings' on the French riots. (The inverted commas are Jodi's, but well-merited for a mode of textual production that is best described as word processor remixology. I wonder how different Zizek's later texts would be if he had to write or type out passages again, rather than being able to cut and paste them.) The failure to articulate a positive vision has long been a major problem with Zizek's work, so it is hard not to find the following extremley frustrating:

'One should bear in mind that the philosopher's task is not to propose solutions, but to reformulate the problem itself, to shift the ideological framework within which we hitherto perceived the problem.'

Weeeell, a few proposed solutions wouldn't go amiss, actually. Partly the problem here is Zizek's positioning of himself as a 'philosopher' rather than, say, a Leninist, or a political theorist. By opposing philosophy to action, he confirms Marx and Engels' famous excoriation of the discipline in The German Ideology. But his dodging of the task - admittedly a forbiddingly difficult task, but the difficulty is part of what makes it so pressing - is symptomatic of a wider malaise on the Left. The Left's presence today remains predominantly a negative one, a consequence, no doubt, of the 'cultural turn' - the retreat from economics into cultural criticism, the Left's pre-eminence in which is a kind of consolation prize for wider geo-political marginalization. Permanent Oppositionalism is the vice of the impotent, a luxury in which the disempowered can indulge. (As is amply demonstrated In Britain by the current status of a formerly hegemonically dominant Right wing party: the irrelevance of the Tories is confirmed by their recline into reactive sniping. Peversely, the effect of such carping is often to reinforce the status quo. As the Independent noted today, it's impossible to believe anything the government says... until the Tories oppose it.)

One benefit of Karatani's Transcritique is that it is prepared to get down and dirty by considering an actual economic alternative to capitalism, namely LETS (the Local Exchange Trading System). Neither Zizek nor Steven Shaviro, in his second post on Transcritique, are persuaded by LETS, for what are no doubt good reasons. Steven can't envisage LETS bringing capitalism down all by itself. But neither is he convinced by what he characterizes as 'Zizek and Badiouís hyperromantic fantasy of a Leninist Event of radical rupture'. Perhaps the failure of each of these scenarios is their exclusion of the Other: Badiouian Eventalism lacks a reference to economics, while a purely economic model like LETS is in need of a vision of radical (political and ideological) alterity. Wasn't one of Marx's most important innovations his invention of the concept of political economy, after which we can no longer legitimately see politics and economics discretely? (Hence the idiocy of attacking Marxism as if it were a failed economic theory.)

Permanent Oppositionalism certainly contributes to capitalism's self-fulfilling discourse of Inevitability, about which Tim Wrong Side of Capitalism has a few interesting things to say. '[M]aybe we need to introduce an extra detail into this analysis. Unlike Thatcherís claim that There Is No Alternative (a modernist position of a sort, in that it posited the inevitability of progress, albeit Ďprogressí only on capitalís terms), the Third Way claims precisely to be the alternative (and thus is postmodernist; rather than asserting what the future will be, it simply abolishes the future by claiming to instantiate it).

More newish Zizek material here

And perhaps better than any of Zizek's recent cut and pastisms is this brilliantly observed pre-emptive parody (so effective, as Tim says, that it actually works as a powerful commentary on the French riots).

Posted by mark at November 24, 2005 11:57 PM | TrackBack