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Slavoj !i"ek: what is an authentic political event?

In December 2013 I visited Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy located just behind the Harrods store in London. It was a rather depressing experience, in spite of the kindness of the embassy personnel. The embassy is a six-room apartment with no garden attached, so that Assange cannot even take a daily walk in fresh air. He also cannot step out of the apartment into the house's main corridor – policemen are waiting for him there. A dozen or so of them are all the time around the house and in some of the surrounding buildings, one even beneath a tiny backyard toilet window, in case Assange will try to escape through that hole in the wall. The apartment is bugged from above and below, its internet link is suspiciously slow... so how come the British state decided to employ around 50 people full time to guard Assange and control him under the legal pretence that he refuses to go to Sweden and be questioned about a minor sexual misconduct (there are no charges against him!)? One is tempted to become a Thatcherite and ask: where is austerity politics here? If a nobody like myself were to be wanted by the Swedish police for a similar interrogation, would the UK also employ 50 people to guard me? The serious question is here: where does such a ridiculously excessive desire for revenge stem from? What did Assange, his colleagues, and whistle-blowing sources do to deserve this? Jacques Lacan proposed as the axiom of the ethics of psychoanalysis: “Do not compromise your desire.” Is this axiom also not an accurate designation of the whistleblowers’ acts? In spite of all the risks their activity involves, they are not ready to compromise on it – on what? This brings us to the notion of event: Assange and his collaborators enacted a true and authentic political event – this is what one can easily understand the violent reaction of the authorities. Assange and colleagues are often accused of being traitors, but they are something much worse (in the eyes of the authorities) – to quote Alenka Zupan#i#: Even if Snowden were to sell his informations discreetly to another intelligence service, this act would still count as part of the ‘patriotic games’, and if needed he would have been liquidated as a ‘traitor’. However, in Snowden's case, we are dealing with something entirely different. We are dealing with a gesture which questions the very logic, the very status quo, which for quite some time serves as the only foundation of all ‘Western’ (non)politics. With a gesture which as it were risks everything, with no consideration of profit and without its own stakes: it takes the risk because it is based on the conclusion that what is going on is simply wrong. Snowden didn't propose any alternative. Snowden, or, rather, the logic of his gesture, like, say, before him, the gesture of Bradley Manning – is the alternative. This breakthrough of Wikileaks is nicely encapsulated by Assange's ironic self-designation as a “spy for the people”: “spying for the people” is not a direct negation of spying (which would rather be acting as a double agent, selling our secrets to the enemy) but its self-negation, ie, it undermines the very universal

new digital media confront us with the impasse of “intellectual property”. a gigantic venture of presenting in a systematic way to broad public all available knowledge – the addressee of this knowledge was not the state but the public as such. we should answer: what Wikileaks is doing is the practice of Communism. The World Wide Web seems to be in its nature Communist. Assange effectively is today’s d’Alembert. millions are simply downloading music and videos. In doing this. T S Eliot remarked that there are moments when the only choice is the one between heresy and non-belief. when the only way to keep a religion alive is to perform a sectarian split from its main corpse. On the one hand. Our axiom should be that Snowden and Pussy Riot are part of the same struggle – which struggle? Our informational commons recently emerged as one of the key domains of the class struggle in two of its aspects. economical in the narrow sense and socio-political.principle of spying. It is into this struggle that Wikileaks intervened in such an explosive way. The goal of Wikileaks should be to make this knowledge available to all of us with a simple click. redefining the coordinates of what counts as possible or admissible in the public space. It may seem that Wikipedia already is today’s encyclopedia. the organiser of this new encyclopedia. so that the humiliating game of playing one big state against another (like Snowden having to look for protection in Russia) will be constrained to a minimum. tending towards free flow of data – CDs and DVDs are gradually disappearing. In his Notes Towards a Definition of Culture. since its goal is to make secrets public. but something is missing from it: the knowledge which is ignored by and repressed from the public space. It is crucial that this new encyclopedia acquires an independent international base. of course): as an imminent self-negation of the very principle of dictatorship. the principle of secrecy. Wikileaks simply enacts the commons of informations. digital media (especially with the almost universal access to the web and cell phones) opened up new ways for the millions of ordinary people to establish a network and coordinate their collective activities. repressed because it concerns precisely the way state mechanisms and agencies control and regulate us all. This is what Wikileaks did: its activity is based on the insight that the only way to keep our democracy alive is to perform a sectarian split from its main institutional corpse of state apparatuses and mechanisms. the true people’s encyclopedia for the twenty-first century. the rise of bourgeois modernity was exemplified by the French Encyclopedia. when a political act does not only violate the predominant rules but creates its own new rules and imposes new . Wikileaks did something unheard of. This is why the business establishment is engaged in a desperate struggle to impose the form of private property on this flow. To those who continue to paint the scarecrow of Communism. while also offering state agencies and private companies unheard-of possibilities of tracking down our public and private acts. mostly for free. On the other hand. I wrote a book on the notion of “event” precisely to create the space for the proper understanding of phenomena like Wikileaks. It thus functions in a way similar to how the Marxian “dictatorship of the proletariat” was supposed to function (but rarely ever did. In the struggle of ideas.

a country in deep economic crisis. The first initiative brought to a big square in Zagreb a couple of hundred people. an act of betrayal – disclosing state secrets – now appears as a heroic ethical act. etc. From this brief description. a new Dark Age is coming. bemoaning the loss of traditional values. democratic rights.ethical standards. advocate torture. since anyone who openly advocates racism is immediately perceived as a weird eccentric who cannot be taken seriously. these achievements are undone. on what ideological interpretation or story will impose itself and determine the general perception of the crisis. the conservative one. a deep economic crisis – can no longer be included into a consistent narrative. Problems arise when an unexpected shattering turn of events – an outbreak of war. say. When the normal run of things is traumatically interrupted. it all depends on how this catastrophic turn will be symbolised. with high unemployment rate and a deep sense of despair among the population: trade unions tried to organise a rally in support of workers’ rights. the second one succeeded in mobilising hundreds of thousands. The important lesson of this example of Fascism is that there are also what one could call negative events. in Germany in the late 1920s. in France in 1940 it was Marshal Petain’s narrative which won in explaining the reasons for the French defeat. one can openly propagate racism. racism. equality. advocating radical emancipatory politics? The event is the successful imposition of a new narrative which makes a historical situation readable again to those caught in it. the field is open for ideological competition – for example. Did Hitler not do something like this? Was his message to the German people not “Yes. And the same goes for the ongoing financial and economic crisis: which narrative will prevail? Will it be the neoliberal one. Imagine a society which fully integrated into its ethical substance the great modern axioms of freedom. But then. ie. squash democracy. from central Africa to India. the duty of a society to provide for education and basic healthcare of all its members. what we hitherto perceived as something criminal. we can already see how an event is located within a narrative field. etc. What we hitherto took as self-evident – the right of the state to monitor and control us – is now seen as deeply problematic. two public protests were announced in Croatia. Croatia is far from being an exception in this regard: from Balkan to Scandinavia. we always locate real occurrences within a narrative which makes them part of a meaningful storyline. the same as with a fundamentalist movement against gay marriages. while right wing nationalists started a protest movement against the use of cyrillic letters on public buildings in cities with Serb minority. Hitler won in the competition for the narrative which will explain to Germans the reasons for the crisis of the Weimar republic and the way out of it (his plot was the Jewish plot). Our historical experience is formed as a narrative. we can…” – kill the Jews. and which rendered racism or sexism simply inacceptable and ridiculous – there is no need even to argue against. blaming the strong state. and the Enlightenment . act in a racist way. attack other nations? And are we not witnessing signs of a similar process today? In the middle of 2013. with ethnic and religious passions exploding. or the radical Leftist one. At that point. from the US to Israel. step by step.

each jumping with as much force as possible. Close to the children’s museum in Seoul. if anyone from any team falls to the floor. So what about the “realist” argument: torture was always going on. without any need for argumentation. but what is new now is the outright shamelessness of their display. so that anyone who argues for it appears an eccentric idiot. claiming that one should avoid cheap moralism and start to think about rape in all its complexity? Our guts tell us that there is something terribly wrong here: I would like to live in a society where rape is simply considered unacceptable.values receding. The debate about water boarding being torture or not should be dropped as an obvious nonsense: why. while the first boy is standing in front of the queue and has the head of the first boy who is leaning pushed into his crotch. This ongoing process of undermining the very fundamentals of our emancipatory achievements takes place at different levels. There are two teams. if anything even more in the (near) past. . we don’t even stand but just lean forward in a very specific way. a fun game that both Korean girls and boys play till high school. When we inquire. why not. there is a weird statue which.” one should note that we are dealing here with an extension of the Politically Correct logic: in exactly the same way that “disabled” becomes “physically challenged. team A has one person stand up against the wall and the rest of the team have all their heads up in someone else’s butt/crotch area to form what looks like a large horse. And it is crucial to see this ethical regression as the obverse of the explosive development of global capitalism – they are the two sides of the same coin. to lower our ethical standards. Team B then jumps up onto the human horse one by one. One should insist on this parallel between torture and rape: what if a film were to show a brutal rape in the same neutral way. to the non-initiated. So where do we stand today? Maybe. not in a society where one has to argue against it – and the same goes for torture: a sign of ethical progress is the fact that torture is “dogmatically” rejected as repulsive.” “torture” becomes “enhanced interrogation technique” (and. These passions were lurking in dark all the time. if not by causing pain and fear of death. cannot but appear as staging a scene of extreme obscenity: it looks as if a group of young boys leaning forward behind each other are sticking their heads into the rectum of the boy in front. “rape” could become “enhanced seduction technique”). that team loses. exactly. ie. we are informed that the statue is simply the staging of malttukbakgi. so is it not better to at least talking publicly about it? This. is the problem: if torture was always going on. does boarding make hardened terror suspects talk? As to the replacement of the word “torture” by “enhanced interrogation technique. why are those in power now telling us openly about it? There is only one answer: to normalise it.

and our idea of who is our Master is the guy in front whose penis and/or balls the first guy in the row appears to be licking – but the real Master. the autonomous movement of the Capital. are we to proceed in such a messy situation? There is a wonderful common Scottish verb tartle which designates the awkward moment when a speaker temporarily forgets someone's name (usually the name of his/her partner in a conversation) and the verb is used to avoid that occasional embarrassment.99 . priced £8. How. I tartled there for a moment!” Were we all not tartling in the last decades. common people. for our predicament in today’s global capitalism? Our view is constrained to what we can see with our head stuck into the ass of a guy just in front of us. Event by Slavoj !i"ek. the second in Penguin’s Philosophy in Transit series by leading philosophers. forgetting the name “Communism” to designate the ultimate horizon of our emancipatory struggles? The time has come to fully remember this word – its full public rehabilitation would have been in itself an authentic political event. invisible to us.Is this statue not a perfect metaphor for us. is out now in paperback. is the one freely jumping on our back. then. as in: “Sorry.