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Zizek - First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (2009) - Synopsis

Zizek - First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (2009) - Synopsis

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Published by Mark K. Jensen
Synopsis of Slavoj Zizek, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (London and New York: Verso, 2009). -- Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on February 1, 2010.
Synopsis of Slavoj Zizek, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (London and New York: Verso, 2009). -- Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on February 1, 2010.

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Published by: Mark K. Jensen on Jan 31, 2010
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UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) — Digging Deeper CXII: February 1, 2010, 7:00 p.m. 
Slavoj Zizek,
First as Tragedy, Then as Farce
(London and New York: Verso,2009).
[
Thesis.
The "blatant irrationality" (81)of global capitalism is more and moreevident, requiring the resuscitation of the"communist hypothesis" (87).]
Introduction: The Lessons of theFirst Decade.
The title, which refers to"the attacks of September 11, 2001 andthe financial meltdown of 2008," is fromMarx's
Eighteenth Brumaire
and his "AContribution to the Critique of Hegel'sPhilosophy of Right" (1-3). After the fallof the Berlin Wall an "end of history"(Fukuyama) was envisaged, but this forthe superrich to feel comfortable in theirincreasingly secluded communities theutopian vision "had to die twice" (4-5). Itis not for us to judge communism, but for"the communist idea" (as a Hegelian
concrete universal
) to judge us (6). Today's critical Left engages in "soilingthose in power," nothing more (6-7). Thepresent task is not that of "directclimactic confrontation," but"undermin[ing] those in power withpatient ideologico-critical work, so thatalthough they are still in power, one all of a sudden notices that the powers-that-beare afflicted with unnaturally high-pitched voices" (7).
Ch. 1: It's Ideology, Stupid!
[A"diagnosis of our predicament" (5).]
Capitalist Socialism?
The 2008financial meltdown was in fact widelyanticipated, but was presented as havingcome out of the blue (9-11). Thebehavior of both right and left revealedthat there is no alternative undercapitalism to state intervention; thequestion, rather, is "What kind of stateintervention is necessary?" (16; 11-16). That the Left lacked "a viable globalalternative" stood revealed (16-17).
Crisis as Shock Therapy.
It is naive tothink that financial and economic crisisautomatically gives rise to "a radicalemancipatory politics": reactionarypanic, or shock à la Naomi Klein's
TheShock Doctrine
, is much more likely(17;17-21). Bourgeois ideology insiststhat capitalist social relations are
natural
e.g. Guy Sorman, who speaks of "neuroeconomics" (21-27).
TheStructure of Enemy Propaganda.
 Jacques Alain-Miller invokes a Lacanian"subject supposed to know" (e.g. AlanGreenspan), an illusory "transferentialillusion," as key to the architecture of thefinancial universe (27-30; 31-32). Theparadoxical revival of interest in AynRand (30-31). "T]he
culture war is aclass war 
in a displaced mode" thatencourages people to act against theirown interests (33-34). Now a new, morespiritual and socially responsiblecapitalism is supposedly emerging fromthe crisis (34-35). But instead we shouldconsider whether the Madoff Ponzischeme may not be seen as "an extremebut therefore pure example of whatcaused the financial breakdown itself"(36; 35-37).
Human, All Too Human...
 The denial of ideology at the presentepoch shows we are "more than everembedded in ideology" (37). Theappropriation of Martin Luther King isexemplary in this regard (37-38).Capitalism congratulates itself for beingresponsible for the success of the veryfeatures of society it resisted tooth andnail so as to appear to be non-ideological(38-39). We should reject all narrativehumanizations as ideological disguises(39-44). Their obverse is an interest"toxic subjects," which are used to justifythe normalization of the state of exception (emergency) (44-48). Nixon;Berlusconi (44-51).
The "New Spirit" of Capitalism.
The "new " capitalism'sproducts (e.g. Starbucks coffee) evokethe Lacanian RSI (real-symbolic-
 
imaginary) in an experience of totalmeaningfulness (51-55). The critique othe Cartesian subject in favor of, forexample, Dennett's conception of competing multiple agents, is in harmonywith the thrust of "'postmodern' digitalcapitalism," which "recuperated" thecritiques of capitalist society of theSixties (55-56). Hence Che Guevara hasbecome the quintessential postmodernicon, signifying "whatever one wants himto signify" (57). A shift from politicalengagement to "the post-political Real"has been effected by granting new"permissions masked as rights" (57-61).In a "society of choice" we are "forced tolive as if we were free" (61-65). "Thehegemonic ideology directly mobilizes[the] lack [of a fixed identity] to maintainthe endless process of consumerist 'self re-creation'" (65).
Between TwoFetishisms.
Thus ideology presentsitself "as its own opposite, as non-ideology" (65). This is possible because"in our allegedly 'post-ideological' era,ideology functions more and more in a
fetishistic
mode as opposed to itstraditional
symptomal
mode" (65). Suchfetishisms can cover up either "bad"content or "good" content, but the "bad"is much harder to counter (66-70).Reflections on Islamism: its anti-Semitism cannot be ignored, but wemust also be conscious of itsemancipatory aim vis-à-vis classstructure (70-75). The radical Left needsto lose its fear of crisis (75-76).Liberalism needs the radical Left topreserve its core values (76-77).
Communism, Again!
Ideologicalnaturalization has produced anunprecedented scarcity of utopiandreams; but showing how the ideal of theliberal-democratic-capitalist order is itself utopian is a way to critique the "blatantirrationality of global capitalism" (77-85).
Ch. 2: The Communist Hypothesis.
["[L]ocal aspects of our situation whichopen up the space for new forms of communist praxis" (5).]
The NewEnclosure of the Commons.
Therevolutionary process is not continuous,but rather a repetitive process of beginning again, over and over; thereforeeverything about the Left "has to besurpassed, and everything has to berethought" (87; 86-87). The communisthypothesis" (Alain Badiou) is not an"ideal" but a "movement" responding tocapitalism's antagonisms (87-88).Rejects the notion that clinging to thishypothesis is "an exemplary case of thenarcissism of the lost cause" (88). It isthe wrong approach to wait fortheoreticians to say what to do (88).Revolutionaries have been facedhistorically with the problem of "the lackof a revolutionary subject or agent," andsuccessful revolutionaries have beenthose who have located other forms of "rage capital" (peasants' desire for land;nationalism) (88-90). Yugoslav historyexemplifies this (90). "The only
true
question today is: do we endorse thepredominant naturalization of capitalism," or reject it because of fourantagonisms: 1) ecological catastrophe;2) privatization of intellectual property;3) developments of science andtechnology, especially biogenetics; 4)creation of new forms of apartheid (90-91). The first three amount to a new"enclosure of the commons" and they justify "the resuscitation of the notion of communism" (91-92). But we need "amore radical notion of the proletariansubject, a subject reduced to theevanescent point of the Cartesian
cogito
"(92). We all can claim this status (92). This may sound apocalyptic, but "we livein apocalyptic times" (92-94).
Socialismor Communism?
Capitalism willinevitably develop into a form of socialism to resolve its antagonisms;therefore the real alternative before usis: socialism or communism? (94-96).Anticapitalists like Bolivian President EvoMorales promote a return to a"prelapsarian substantial unity," butcommunism favors modern subjectivityand remains resolutely modern
 
(Rimbaud) (96-97). The key antagonismis the fourth, the creation of new classesof "the Excluded": it involves not survivalbut
 justice
(98). These groups "standdirectly for universality": this is "theproletarian position" upon whichcommunism insists (99-104).
The"Public Use of Reason."
It is in thepublic use of reason, not our claims toethnic roots, that our Kantian "singularuniversality" lies (104-07). Despite thelikelihood that he is merely anotherembodiment of American imperialism,Obama's election generates "authenticKantian enthusiasm" by demonstratingthe possibility of it happening (107-10).
...in Haiti.
"Hegel and Haiti" (cf. SusanBuck-Morss,
Hegel, Haiti, and UniversalHistory 
[University of Pittsburgh Press,2009], an elaboration of an essaypublished in 2000) is perhaps "the mostsuccinct formula of communism" (111)because it makes universal humanity"visible at the edges" (111-15). "In short,one should never forget that the Westsupplied the very standards by which it(and its critics) measures its own criminalpast," and even when it loses, it winsbecause "when colonial countriesdemand independence and enact a'return to roots,' the very form of thisreturn (that of an independent nation-state) is Western" (115). Zizek endorsesMarx's claim of positive effects of colonialism in India in his 1853 articles"The British Rule in India" and "TheFuture Results of British Rule in India"(115-17). Frantz Fanon also embraceduniversality of reason in
Black Skin,White Masks
(117-18). Immigration (118-20). The Haitian Revolution of 1804 was,as Buck-Morss, says, "a defining momentin world history" because it was the onlyplace where "the declaration of humanfreedom [was] universally consistent"(120-21). The same universality can befound in Islamic movements, includingthe 2009 opposition, in which Mousaviembodied "the genuine utopia of the[1979] revolution itself" (121-24).
TheCapitalist Exception.
Revolutions fail,the Haitian Revolution included, but "thecommunist Idea persists" and "[n]ow,more than ever, one should insist onwhat Badiou calls the 'eternal' Idea of Communism, or the communist'invariants'—the 'four fundamentalconcepts' at work from Plato through themedieval millenarian revolts and on to Jacobinism, Leninism and Maoism: strict
egalitarian justice
, disciplinary
terror 
,political
voluntarism
, and
trust in the people
. This matrix is not 'superseded'by any new postmodern or postindustrialor post-whatever-you-want dynamic"(125). The Chinese experience may be"the end of that very process in whichegalitarian-emancipatory projectsexplode and then reverse into the'normal' run of things"; we shouldabandon the struggle for state power andinstead "to make the state itself work ina non-statal mode" (128; 130; 125-31).
Capitalism with Asian Values...inEurope.
Democracy (which should notbe fetishized, since it involves in itsrepresentational form "a passivization of the popular Will") is now losing groundaround the world to authoritariancapitalism à la Lee Quan Yew of Singapore (131-38).
From Profit toRent.
Formal freedoms should not bediscounted, for they are necessary if thesubject is to experience itself as free; thisis genuinely liberating (138-43). In"'postmodern' capitalism" the veryinstitutions targeted in 1968—thefactory, the school, the family—havebeen invaded, commodified, and madethe sphere of new enclosures (144).Rent is replacing profit in postindustrialcapitalism as the form of exploitation(145-46). The three components of theproductions process—planning,production, resources—"are increasinglyautonomized, emerging as separatespheres" (147-48).
"We Are the OnesWe Have Been Waiting For."
The leftshould abandon the notion that history ison its side in favor of an "open" history(148-50). "Choice by lot is the only trulydemocratic choice" in order to separate

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