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Conceptual Cluster Bombs Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? Five Interventions in the (Mis)Use of a Notion by Slavoj Zizek Review by: Brendan Duffin Fortnight, No. 397 (Jul. - Aug., 2001), pp. 29-30 Published by: Fortnight Publications Ltd. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25560336 . Accessed: 21/07/2012 08:03
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BOOKS

U

Conceptual

cluster

bombs

DID SOMEBODY SAY TOTALITARIANISM? Five Interventions in the (Mis)Use of a Notion Slavoj Zizek
Verso 2001 HB?16

ISBN 1-85984-792-7

Brendan Duffin
Like John Lennon Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek believes in strategic intervention. Did Some body Say Totalitarianism? Five Interventions in the (Mis)Use of aNotion is the latest missal in a prolifi totalitarian cally ostentatious output. Targeting aspects the contrary critic ism's five mythological aims copious conceptual cluster bombs at Liberal elitism crafted with his usual dandyish dialectical and materialism, hedonistic Hegelian mediation pedagogical use of popular culture. For Zizek totalitarianism's ideological function provides the strategic periphery against which the liberal centre can be positioned. Just as the fear of the Sinn Fein/DUP other sustains a fragile and rather contradictory civic centre. For Zizek the notion that Leftist critiques are but the converse twin of Fascism is a counterfeit common sense the desire for radical engage notion. Denouncing ment as ethnically dangerous and unacceptable, resuscitating the ghost of totalitarianism merely allows hypocritical liberal scoundrels tojustify their conformism. As this avowal typically exploits the horror of the Holocaust and Gulag Zizek returns to in order to their specific historical conjunctures Was theHolocaust diabolical Evil?Whatwas the ask; nature of Stalinistjouissance? As new evidence exposes the support given by Western capitalists such as Ford and IBM toHitler's regime the argument thatwe should treat the Holo caust historically is timely. Allowing this undoubted obscenity to be mystified and depoliticised as the ultimate, diabolical evil elevates a particular instant onto a plane against which no other can be com pared. This cynical manipulation has specific politi cal implications namely allowing violence carried out by capital in the Third World or inflicted by Western States to be disqualified asminor in com parison. Zizek's critique particularlyfocuses on how Zionist aggression against Palestinians ispresented as somehow reasonable. As he suggests the banality of evil has in turn licensed a banal litany of morality subverting and averting concrete analysis of politi cal dynamics. Zizek's examination of Stalinism extends this theme by exposing the philosophical fallacy of post modern decontructionists who argue that the truth of any revolutionary project is inevitably the Gulag. Unmoored by the collapse of communist states those who once crudely identified with them have ceded toCold war myth. The October Revolution is no longer explored through broad and competing perspectives allowing the judicious investigation of competing claims. Debate has congealed into a crude representation of Stalinism. Yet as Zizek humorously highlights through close reading of show trial records Stalinism's specific character resulted from the cal culated betrayal of its foundational socialist ideals. The violence inflicted by the Communist Power on its own members, bears witness to the radical self the fact that at the contradiction of the regime-to origins of the regime there was an authentic revolu tionary project. The paranoia behind the purges were a symptom, a return of the repressed, an at tempt to efface the guilt of this wider betrayal. The farcical aspect of the show trials promoted a debili tating cynicism that perversely aided the regime. The destruction in the belief in politics meant that Soviet citizens retreated into the private sphere where they negotiated compromises posing as reflections of "universal consensus". A strategy now presented as constituting the post-political Third Way. A similar pretension lies behind multi-cultural tolerance placed in opposition to the totalitarianism of ethnic and religious fundamentalism. Zizek cor ability to rectly emphasises that the much-praised maintain an ironic distance to one's ethnic roots is the obverse of the melancholic attachment to those roots. Using the Yugoslavian crisis to illustrate his point Zizek argues the point is not that the conflict is due to complex ethnic, reli gious reasons but that liberals take too seriously all the babble about hundred-year-old ethic myths and passions, and did not see that the Serbs and Albanians themselves, farfrom being caught in these myths, manipulate them. The idea that certain subjects are ; simply tribal betrays a naive no tion ofrealityasontologicallyself sufficient and purely positive.; Against such naivete Zizek ar gues for recognition of the onto; logical incompleteness of reality, that this common field within. which multiple identities thrive, already relies on certain exclu sions, is already sustained by anX

Slavoj Zizek-contrary critic

JULY/AUGUST 2001

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indivisible antagonistic split . The fact that the storm of subjectivity holds an absent centre should make us aware of an inescapable ontological/epis It is this ambiguity that temological ambiguity. typically exploits time/change through ideological mediators. Instead of being afraid of totalitarian thought as Post-modernists suggest Zizek argues for a dialectical engagement that seeks to understand the social totality in all its internal relations in order
throats of

to understand how the liberal contradictory consen sus emerges. However, although putting the case for universality Zizek's digressions evade the work of do not actually doing this work. His meditations seem to articulate a coherent concept of agency which would shore up the imagining needed to orientate fundamental social change. Yet thisjaunty little rantwith its infectious enthusiasm at leastmakes you look in this direction.
lizards. Then the remains by Pontius life of of Pilate. the Ro and the who up with works They have ity of older took me their up the Orinoco or down extreme longer what to meet the Andes find travel ex I want. but all they is the extrem that I am nicer with like learn

the watchful to examine built to the

IN THE STEPS

OF

he This man

stops

Ameridians who shot hallucinogens
noses, a pair of broken that describe are no may legs. I now

THEMASTER H.V.Morton
Methuen ?9.99
ISBN 0-413-75420-0

the aqueduct leads him Governor

post-Crucifixion story regarding body Pilate's Instead the waters. again. the Swiss Caligula

the extraordinary disposal mitted Emperor. flung of Pilate's suicide when First, in the Tiber. taken into to

periences

after he com became was of floating The corpse the it was Pilatus, the where Finally, lake, corpse

be well written at the end, think Now

to offer, I can

the experience. around great-uncle isbecause

of nothing Palestine figure I actually

away ithaunted This book was written The author venerated I'd often houses, I believed, of complacent and Greene they wrote they in 1931. This isH.V. Morton, travelwriter. his books read against in one them. to the and in the is was a re-issue. amuch Though country before. Morton, school that Waugh against which travel thirties. lics. On Yes, the strength the book of In the Steps and Impe a of it the Master reflects and book I can now the pieties say Iwas wrong. books same happened thrown where white

than pottering a donnish Morton. This

to the Rhone

English seen I'd never

something.

this day

(apparently)

figure of Pilate

is to be seen each returns

Carlo Gebler BRING EVERYTHING Peter Sirr
The Gallery Press ?7.95 ISBN 1 85235 273 6

Ihad a prejudice

night washing From date. The to Bethlehem

his hands. during the British Man are the descend he cave the man is

belonged detested

this folk tale, Morton inhabitants

travel literature the brilliant Angli Catho

ants of Crusaders visits hewn ager the birthplace under shown a house

and he believes of Christ-a and not

published curious

can see this in every face he passes. He

He was

a complacent

can, while

they were

on Christmas of a wake he sat in one

cards. He room while behind

reminded animals a wattle From sewn

in a Connemara Music, considered by the Platonic power. Bring phi in another

cabin, where wall. here

is conventional of inter-war

mooched

losophers collection Peter Sirr, in

to be the highest of poems by way out

of the arts, In his new Everything

has a transforming he segues women their veils) speculates to the dowries (silver which coins he of the she

rial Britain, deeply

but it is beautifullywritten informative. and It is also in a subject of a interest, at least

of Bethlehem inside turn connects Lost Coin. He coin the woman lit the

of a fluid musical into the world, "the havoc from of the

that re-vivifies this for me, exhausted, think one than can

it's done I thought I don't

words, sends the hungry tourdeforceof
imagination east to west, through

to the parable lost. No wonder

the life of Christ. say higher

itwas a dowry

travel book Morton's Jesus simply Palestine ated with and after Christ.

that. in this is very sim conceit of the title is of course The narrative travelling places consists around associ Palestine is

and the house lamp, swept to corner. it from corner searched Then to Ascalon Ayub, Arabs the he leaves Bethlehem to watch ritual the Feast cleansing and goes of Nebi by by local thou of

... madly Singing market . . looking for Carthage, Atlantis", Realism, what we are, REAL restlessness become and ultimate it seems, it only because from We

looking

in the City. for show us a to failure

transformation. does not serves of our are, to create

ple. The Master

of the writer and

visiting

of their camels

in the sea. This and women the coast thinks, he has a cer so far

the life of Christ. Christ in this and

is followed

by sea bathing

the drowning". ing, exiledwithout the "huge

"the foundation/ in fact, Miss of Lazarus/ the though denying the gen Fernando in is for

had a rich and complex interested solution lem-where follow histories through of the and

historybefore the author Morton's prob line to multiple breathtak

sands of naked Arab men on points (at different course.) emonial dates encountered Morton's It is,Morton cleansing everything

the insightbutwith in the bone". is universal, heroic; with poet

hunger

as well.

Atlantis Sirr's esoteric;

trapped poetry

to the chronological to start and what the complex area-is

process

that pre

intelligently fascination created in Sirr's engineer [is] smoking self whilst the domiciled the light.

in Palestine. style is fluid.

the ego. His Pessoa order Alvaro character homeless wards is writing celebrated "the unquiet the returning (who

ingly simple. He the present holysites on goes and ceeds

in starts injerusalem visits the principle Christ, moves the birth, pro for

In one para over graph he will tell you something in the next he will offer an heard, unusual most beautiful Flinders cavating observation but Petrie, Ascalon. (for instance, girls that Palestinian are ravishingly and in the of Sir

ius of the Portuguese to depersonalise de Campos',

heteronyms his poetry) own of 'Lines in which poem

associatedwith to Nazareth

to Bethlehem on to Galilee However,

for the childhood, for the adulthood, for the Cru ever he feels his Christian gives He a when from

cross-eyed),

indefinite on the to are

third he will give you his opinion

life away/ a journey we

returns

toJerusalem

cifixion. trajectory. The

ex the archaeologist He appears courtly, there is sharp He need travel figures learning.

liner", extinguishing on

like it, he departs Bethlehem

but behind intelligence also

the facade and huge feels

self, "the smoke . .". Perhaps

sequence

so confident you.

of what

he believes

of the good measure starts with a wonderful the Bethlehem heat, where road nothing

technique.

that he never to convert writers In myyounger

the slightest

from the a descent living a bathos is and the poet's function sublime to entreat a resurrection of a 'longing the latent slantingly, imagi as a other' by employing "the life met/ nation:

of description in the baking moves but the

days, I liked my exotic

to be hard-living

30

FORTNIGHT

JULY/AUGUST 2001