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Zizek Multiculturalism

Zizek Multiculturalism

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Published by Punam Khosla

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Punam Khosla on Jan 13, 2011
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28
Slavoj Žižek
Multiculturalism, Or, the CulturalLogic of Multinational Capitalism
Those who still remember the good old days of Socialist Realism, are wellaware of the key role played by the notion of the ‘typical’: truly progressive lit-erature should depict ‘typical heroes in typical situations.’ Writers who pre-sented a bleak picture of Soviet reality were not simply accused of lying; theaccusation was rather that they provided a distorted reflection of social realityby depicting the remainders of the decadent past, instead of focusing on thephenomena which were ‘typical’ in the sense of expressing the underlying his-torical tendency of the progress towards Communism. Ridiculous as thisnotion may sound, its grain of truth resides in the fact that each universal ideo-logical notion is always hegemonized by some particular content which coloursits very universality and accounts for its efficiency.
 
29
Why Is the Single Mother ‘Typical’?
In the rejection of the social welfare system by the New Right in the
us
,for example, the universal notion of the welfare system as inefficient is
sustained by the pseudo-concrete representation of the notorious African-
American single mother, as if, in the last resort, social welfare is a pro-
gramme for black single mothers—the particular case of the ‘single black
mother’ is silently conceived as ‘typical’ of social welfare and of what is
wrong with it. In the case of the anti-abortion campaign, the ‘typical’ case
is the exact opposite: a sexually promiscuous professional woman who
values her career over her ‘natural’ assignment of motherhood—although
this characterization is in blatant contradiction to the fact that the greatmajority of abortions occur in lower-class families with a lot of children.This specific twist, a particular content which is promulgated as ‘typical’of the universal notion, is the element of fantasy, of the phantasmaticbackground/support of the universal ideological notion. To put it inKantian terms, it plays the role of ‘transcendental schematism’, translat-ing the empty universal concept into a notion which directly relates andapplies to our ‘actual experience’. As such, this phantasmatic specifica-tion is by no means an insignificant illustration or exemplification: it isat this level that ideological battles are won or lost—the moment weperceive as ‘typical’ the case of abortion in a large lower-class familyunable to cope with another child, the perspective changes radically.
1
This example makes clear in what sense ‘the universal results from a con-stitutive split in which the negation of a particular identity transformsthis identity in the symbol of identity and fullness as such’:
2
theUniversal acquires concrete existence when some particular contentstarts to function as its stand-in. A couple of years ago, the English yel-low press focused on single mothers as the source of all evils in modernsociety, from budget crises to juvenile delinquency. In this ideologicalspace, the universality of ‘modern social Evil’ was operative only throughthe split of the figure of ‘single mother’ into itself in its particularity anditself as the stand-in for ‘modern social Evil’. The fact that this linkbetween the Universal and the particular content which functions as itsstand-in is
contingent 
means precisely that it is the outcome of a
 political 
struggle for ideological hegemony. However, the dialectic of this strug-gle is more complex than in its standard Marxist version—of particularinterests assuming the form of universality: ‘universal human rights areeffectively the rights of white male property owners...’ To work, the rul-ing ideology has to incorporate a series of features in which the exploitedmajority will be able to recognize its authentic longings. In other words,each hegemonic universality has to incorporate
 at least two
particularcontents, the authentic popular content as well as its distortion bythe relations of domination and exploitation. Of course, fascist ideology‘manipulates’ authentic popular longing for true community and socialsolidarity against fierce competition and exploitation; of course, it ‘dis-torts’ the expression of this longing in order to legitimize the contin-uation of the relations of social domination and exploitation. However,
1
Another name for this short-circuit between the Universal and the Particular is, of course,
‘suture’: the operation of hegemony ‘sutures’ the empty Universal to a particular content.
2
Ernesto Laclau,
Emancipation(s)
, Verso, London
1996
, pp.
14–15
.
 
30
3
See Etienne Balibar,
 La crainte des masses
, Paris
1997
.
in order to be able to achieve this distortion of authentic longing, it hasfirst to incorporate it...Etienne Balibar was fully justified in reversingMarx’s classic formula: the ruling ideas are precisely
not 
directly theideas of those who rule.
3
How did Christianity become the ruling ideol-ogy? By incorporating a series of crucial motifs and aspirations of theoppressed—truth is on the side of the suffering and humiliated, powercorrupts, and so on—and rearticulating them in such a way that theybecame compatible with the existing relations of domination.
Desire and its Articulation
One is tempted to refer here to the Freudian distinction between thelatent dream-thought and the unconscious desire expressed in a dream.The two are not the same: the unconscious desire articulates itself, in-scribes itself, through the very ‘perlaboration’, translation, of the latentdream-thought into the explicit text of a dream. In a homologous way,
there is nothing ‘fascist’ (or ‘reactionary’ and so forth) in the ‘latent dream
-thought’ of fascist ideology (the longing for authentic community andsocial solidarity); what accounts for the properly fascist character of fas-cist ideology is the way this ‘latent dream-thought’ is transformed andelaborated by the ideological ‘dream-work’ into the explicit ideologicaltext which continues to legitimize social relations of exploitation anddomination. And is it not the same with today’s right-wing populism?Are liberal critics not too quick in dismissing the very values populismrefers to as inherently ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘proto-fascist’?Non-ideology—what Fredric Jameson calls the utopian moment presenteven in the most atrocious ideology—is thus absolutely indispensable:ideology is in a way
nothing but the form of appearance, the formal distortion/displacement, of non-ideology
. To take the worst imaginable case, was Nazianti-Semitism not grounded in the utopian longing for an authenticcommunity life, in the fully justified rejection of the irrationality of capitalist exploitation? Our point, again, is that it is theoretically andpolitically wrong to denounce this longing as a ‘totalitarian fantasy’, thatis, to search in it for the ‘roots’ of fascism—the standard mistake of theliberal-individualist critique of fascism: what makes it ‘ideological’ is itsarticulation, the way this longing is made to function as the legitimiza-tion of a very specific notion of what capitalist exploitation is (the resultof Jewish influence, of the predominance of financial over ‘productive’capital—only the latter tends towards a harmonious ‘partnership’ withworkers) and of how we are to overcome it (by getting rid of the Jews).
The struggle for ideological and political hegemony is thus always thestruggle for the appropriation of the terms which are ‘spontaneously’ expe-rienced as ‘apolitical’, as transcending political boundaries. No wonder thatthe name of the strongest dissident movement in the Eastern EuropeanCommunist countries was Solidarity: a signifier of the impossible fullnessof society, if there ever was one. It was as if, in Poland in the
1980
s, whatLaclau calls the logic of equivalence was brought to an extreme: ‘Com-munists in power’ served as
the
embodiment of non-society, of decay andcorruption, magically uniting everyone against themselves, including the

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