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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: . Accessed: 21/07/2012 08:03
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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


FO T I H 29 R NG T




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.
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