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Ethics of Real
Ethics of Real
Interview with Alenka ZupanCic
Indigo Global Humanities Project Team
Researcher at the Institute
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Indigo: The title of this project is "Toward the Common Good." And what we are attempting reinterpret, to do in this project journey is to explore, or perhaps the true meaning of "the common" and "the good" in our time. Yet here arises the very first wonder: Is there such a thing as the common good? To what extent is it useful to speak of thela common good? Alenka Zupancic: I think first of all we
make it common or shared by anyone. I rather think that one should perhaps turn the perspective around and say it is "what is shared" and "common" that is good. I think the 'good' here appears on two levels: we can speak of some good that exist in society from food to
social care, which of course are very real and
necessary for living, but they are not good in moral or emphatic sense. What is good is precisely when they are part of this general and universal sharing. This also means that they are part of it as also a kind of idea, not simply about having these things but also about thinking in an emancipatory way about sharing them. I think the good in this sense is precisely on the side of the more common and universal paradigm as well as its own belonging to some kind of emancipatory that nothing is good if it happens politics or only for something like this. So one could say indeed some. It could be very good in tale but in certain sense it's not good in this way of having this potential precisely of further opening up and perhaps exploding some kind of a space
should not try to define it in some way. It
can mean many things and sometimes nothing. It's definitely a very complicated notion. The very notion of 'good' in philosophy is not something that's simply defined. But I think what really needs to be defined perhaps can be found precisely along the lines that you've indicated in your question. 1 think the first thing to do is to tum this syntax around and say that it is not that we start from some fully established good or goods and then we try to make them common or try to find out ways to
In striving towards some kind of politically organized common good. People are content with what they have. that I would call the "bad" one that doesn't really lead anywhere. it's simply the way ideological segregation works these days. perhaps more than two. It's always related to some kind of antagonism in society. which is the very principle of being sensitive to such events which are much more important and impacting than anything else. that. is to consider it as a sect. is the immanent process of becoming universal. One. We can try to think of these two levels of the question or project. using the Hegelian term. of course. "This is the only thing that we have in common. I think there's something to be learned from this in how one of the problems today is that we've lost this capacity to rejoice or to have some kind of enthusiasm to recognize something that is really happening outside about of all the spectacles that are put up here and there. accomplished. that has the kind of potential to mobilize and activate further thinking. from the beginning. to the crucial antagonism that defines them and trying to find some kind of realistic relation that is the principle that opens up and tries to address everybody. We could also start from the bottom and say. But the real universal or the concrete universal. totality or some kind minimal common denominator. I do not mean to be moralizing these people. As a perspective on an actual event now. but. to a certain degree. they don't know precisely what is most essential in this common good. So it is a different term of universal than a static. universalIy shared articulation between people in justice that has already taken place there. Jt is something that is very sensitive to the unjust points of SOciety. there is some kind of common. at the same time. I think that this is also. does not exclude anybody. or totalistic one in the sense that although it is addressed to all. we are all satisfied. what comes from it.it is being dose to the crucial divides of a society. a Kantian way of defining the good. not starting with some fully established good that one should then try to apply universally. they have their common good. It's not simply neutral." Then you have this more relative idea of universal as a head that can unite different things.Symposium Interview Ethics of Real that feels unable to change or inaccessible for this kind of common practice or communal practice and so on. it's not about all. Then good is also. It's not simply making the final part of it okay because now that we are all in this train. Egypt is just a case of pursuing the common good in their Own society. I was just thinking on my way here how it's really not simply about having access to something that is common good. or what could come from it. What is going on in Egypt now is a sequence of the common good in itself. It's always INDIGO I POSSIBLE IMPOSSIBILITIES 83 . but two that are quite different. but to try to figure out how there is some kind of universal movement that is good in itself. How can we define this word universality? AZ: I think there are two ways of thinking. Indigo: One question that popped up in my head is this universality.
"I am doing my own good in the world." I don't think it can save us without politics as a participatory practice." At some point one needs to also hear. They try to say. It's not just for them or better jobs or better government. I really think that if we are speaking about common good in society they both need to be extremely related and interconnected. One of the relations is the notion of practice that you mentioned. In this sense. Now we must work out how they are related. live and think on two levels: what am I doing. I would be careful in this general discourse of turning away from politics to ethics. no. so we should now investigate the field of ethics more as a replacement. practicing is something that one can do because practicing concretely exists in the world and keeping faithful to this and trying to expand in this practice which can definitely be a kind of political act. can practically work in this age of war. but it's also some kind of policy emerging and opening spaces so that something can indeed happen. It is also the pure space of politics emerging and it can end in different ways but one cannot deny that it's something of this sort. It is not the same thing as ethics. I think of the notion of universal love as the practice of the common good or the practice of universal revolution. One cannot wash one's hands and say. Not that one can control. but not on the basis of one's own exclusion because they don't want to share in this. and what is to become of this." But it's not reducible to any of these options.() I POSSIBLE IMPOSSIBILITIES . Che Guevara also commented about this strange feeling that love can be related to a revolution. which can be interpreted as a new ethics of this time. it's the mask of authority. of course not. Indigo: In the context of this universality. It also needs to be seen as such because one dimension that makes it political is that one needs to be ready to accept the consequences that follow from this. but there could be some kinds of 84 INDIC. One cannot simply say that in this perspective "ethics can save us. but it can be related.. There will be some kind of a priori rejection of it. It's also political. This also means that there are always some concrete forms that one can then find from one example to another as to how this universality is articulated in particular cases or in societies or struggles.Symposium Interview Ethics of Real something that is built from an event because the antagonisms exclude some people. terrorism and ecological disasters? AZ: Although I did a lot of work on the topic of ethics. Actually. I wonder how this love or compassion or ethical approach to people. It is a kind of empty place and at the same time an exposed place because it cannot be automatically integrated in one of these movements or parts precisely because it's not so easily assignable to some particular horizon that it remains exposed. this is universal. Again we could see this in Egypt. I would not want to play one against the other and say that politics is bad or produces are bad things. But it is at the same time a kind of special opening that is not neutral but a lift off of pre-established parameters that usually divide or structure the symbolic places in society as such. "Oh.
It is what reality needs to constantly cover up in order to function more or less smoothly. It has both dimensions. at this point. It is the point of the infinite precisely because." So it's kind of a transformation that is at the same time ethical and political. There are at least their fruits are preserved or built into the society and are not simply vanishing as a kind of personal act. "I am doing this act and now I've done something. It very often means putting to question some of the principles we take for granted and will remain as such if it is not for this practical engagement. I would define the Real in this sense. So perhaps even more clearly than it is in my book. I think one should reality itself. The other thing that definitely makes this AZ: A crucial notion in the discussion of ethics was precisely the notion of "the Real" that I took mostly in the sense which allows us. which is not the priority of an ethical notion. It is not simply about the helping others. There is a more or less reality but it is or misperceived shift from simply ethical to political is the notion of the cailective. Indigo: One very interesting sponsibility notion precisely to be seen as the very point of contradiction or antagonism of the reality itself. So the first order is to locate these points and then step into the process of trying to do something with them. no society is simply closed in upon itself. It's definitely where these practices exist as practice. Ethics is perceived as something very individual and solitary but there a point also could be a course or some passage to the collective from ethics. first of aiL to distinguish the Real from reality. It's not some kind of a substance else. It's not simply helping them. We can find it more or less ideologically transformed but which is not simply a position to relating the terms of realties always discursively or ideologically mediated perceive the real as the contradiction found somewhere corrupted towards point of some kind of pure reality. it's also about changing some things in the way we act in our societies that are necessarily involved in this other beings such as cities. There are points that can be 'neurological points': the points that are simply not done with but some kind of potential ing something of generatdifferent or new is still pos- sible. So ethics of the Real is attentiveness to these points because they are the points in society that are not finished yet. Some things could be reactivat- of ethics in your work is about the refor this infinite supplement of others.Symposium Interview Ethics of Real political will in trying to organize the society in the way that these kinds of engagements are possible. This could be defined as the ethics of the Real. It can be real and not simply some kind of feeling-good practice and say. It's not something else out there. Not simply the ethics in the sense of going forward in a Real beyond all imaginable political or cultural organizations but precisely as this is possible in reality itself. it is its own inherent contradiction. Not simply that it exists because we are directing it towards the other but also because we are constantly challenging our own standing in this. Would you please tell us a bit more about your approach to ethics which can be a related to the notion of supplement or a surplus of joy? INDIGO I POSSIBLE IMPOSSIBILITIES 85 .
will and readiness to assume this action. first certitude that comes to mind in certain situation is usually good that says this is absolutely wrong. So I think one should look at this not in terms of some kind of evolution or moving towards the ethical. but in a more synchronized way. In this respect this is the whole discussion of Kantian moral rule. you know what to do. these things are already established and. It is not simply something that can guarantee ethics for me. to say we cannot know exactly if this is it. to say that we should first tally all the consequences." One could even put this more radically that it only produces elitist subjectivity as such. Because when things come to the point of the knife. and try to make something there. to be responsible for this. and then you are also responsible for this decision.. instead of this. It's not something that can guarantee ethics. More or less it's a politically correct ground on which you are safe to move because you know that some things are already established and they are good or are generally supposed to be good. that is the exact the opposite of ethical questioning and re-questioning on a certain recognition. I think one should really not ask this question of what to do too much because usually it's quite clear. This is the other problem. "Here. Indigo: How can a person or a collective gathering of people be transformed as ethical subjects? AZ: One should not look for a recipe where one could try to define the mechanism or how this thing could work.. It's something that existed all the time-the not be gradually way in which I can In this sense. to say. So. So it's not simply that I will then once become subject to a certain extent. "Let's produce ethical subjects. There is some kind of leap that can never be fully accounted for by the history or the life of the individuals.Symposium Interview Ethics 01 Real ed perhaps very surprisingly. the eternal question: How do we go around to find these points and work with them? Sometimes something simply needs to happen for them to become visible. if I look at the other way then it will be okay . This is the very paradox of 86 INDIGO I POSSIBLE IMPOSSIBILITIES . nobody can guarantee that your reflex or decision was right. Usually. 'Perhaps. act as an ethical subject is something that candeduced from my being in the world. and then we know what to do. You are fundamentally responsible for the rule. based Kantian philosophy." You decide it. One of the things where I think ethics is misused or very much used in the negative way in the contemporary discourse is to produce all kinds of dilemmas and to raise fear. then this method makes you think. I recognize this and I will fight for it. everybody already is the subject. but I don't think much can be gained from further insisting on this. as the could we just claim that exempt us from responsibility famous Eichmann. for some. ' It only serves the purpose that nothing really happens at this point where something could happen. It's the other way we did something because law commanded it? Of course not. Could it and. it's really relevant. One should not take this and say. But look for the point where this is in no way clear. Of course.
It's not about trying. If you practice or are involved in practice.o 1 POSSIBLE IMPOSSIBILITIES 87 . That it is only bor- INDIC. This is how things are influenced and also how the whole ethical configuration can change. if security itself is the condition. Not all ideologies are the same. security should not be the ultimate ground on which activism can expand. It is not because they are ideologically deluded.Symposium Interview Ethics of Real around. In some societies. but because it is a certain set of values that are different. Activism for others without wanting to reflect our own position in societies involves introducing the others whom we want to help. to a certain extent. Somehow this is also why you have also various kinds of criticism on how we are enormously guilty. So in this sense. which forces you only to see the immediate. to your previous project in the question of values. Before asking. "What can I do to improve?" one should always look at the present situation and look at the places where something is happening. if you have a space of security that can make this moment a little bigger and more productive/ this is not bad. but it's me and you that can be a figure of a space of something different. To a certain extent. Even ethics sometimes has to start on the outside not simply by trying to find out our innermost ethical parties and trying to force it to become more apparent but by changing the newspapers and the way the things are articulated. Itis true in a certain context where the minimum of activism can cost your life and there is not much space for it to exist because you could get imprisoned or killed immediately. We can be made just by combining our nature with culture and our surroundings. But at the same time. and then I think being able and ready to take risks for it. These are related. I don't think one should wait for the event. Activism is about strongly believing in something and making it concrete in the world. It's not important as part of the subject but as the part of the subject that is most alive. There's a leap to something that is not a direct result of all these natural and cultural processes but can exist for itself. This is another question. something that cannot simply be reduced to this immediate interest. Indigo: When does this activism or movement take place? When people become secure enough to take risks? Or when the capital of rage is high enough to make change? AZ: About people feeling secure. mere survival is not such an achievement as it is perhaps in ours. For example. It can also be ideological. Values are also about those certain things that certain societies acknowledge as available. then this kind of activism has obvious limits. So it's not simply because they are suicidal that people can think about risking their life for freedom. There are certain ideologies accompanying a resistance and there is one that one could be promoting this distance between not the center of the world. this is the one point that actually explores this part and makes it alive in the world-or not. It's simply about the present position that on a certain level we are always more than what we think. Peter Hallward are all places around always says there is the world-Europe not about guilt. I don't think this is any case fundamental.
Of course this is true. But it is a way of functioning. I think this is much surer way for improvement to take place. Indigo: There's an interesting point from your book about fear. There's something about this question that could be reduced to a very banal level. The time of red brigade where there was a possibility of saying say there was a doubt in denouncing it as evil. It could be true but it could be selfish to say this or that terrorist attack is evi I. How to define it is always a very difficult question. Things are happening differently and this should be the starting point of every ethical or political examination or questioning. Although Kantian ethics is often seen as some kind of going beyond all human endurance and capacity and living some kind of impossible war. perhaps and to see where something is really and then building more on that. Fear is simply a fact of life.Symposium Interview Ethics of Real ing here or there are bad politics doesn't mean it's like that everywhere. or accepting to be reduced to just nature in thyself. It's the resignation of saying we are just people and we have our faults and so on. But of course I am not saying this is what we seek today in most cases of terrorism. it's not simply obvious. How can this notion of fear be related to make ethics more constructive? Or does fear kill ethics somehow? AZ: No. but one should not perceive it as something else that exists in this world. to any empirical bigger or lesser evil. I think. the whole question of what is good and evil is something There is a certain transcendental where this kind of designation to be constantly. But this 88 INDIGO I POSSIBLE IMPOSSIBILITIES . one should not forget that of how evil is defined in present society is. How could we define this word 'evil' in the 21'1 century? AZ: I think the very useful way of doing this here is via Kant because he has this very interesting notion of evil which is not at all related. At the same time. It's not simply recognizing evil as such. One could say that is evil politics. So it's one way of approaching this very difficult question it remains a little bit of an abstract but nevertheless on a philosophical the whole question level or ethical level. in an empirical perspective. which abandons all striving for ethical or political emancipation. and perhaps it has some short comings on this account. question and there is also this empirical level part of some kinds of antagonism and needs to be seen as such. I think definitely the second one. not only reinvented but fought for. Indigo: People start activism toward something good and it also takes place when they think there are something evil. of course. happening but to forget ourselves much related to certain political decisions. For him the radical evil is the act of giving up. Nevertheless it's possible recognize some potential of a simple evil. At the same time the notion of evil or the axis of evil exists as a game where the use of reactionary politics uses ethics or ethical fear as a pretext. Not simply wondering what to do for ourselves. always very level to this needs to be a and fight.
So it could be simply said that the great fear of losing something trans- we are living now. Fear is definitely part of the subjective composition of an ethicalor political subject. and then something absolutely beyond imagination today can become real option. subjective entities that affect the world around us. this fear is much bigger or much more paralyzing if put in this kind of way. ethics means. This is how Kant's statement. but I think what his perspective enables us to say and conceptualize is why what you perceive as great loss changes with an act of this kind of praclical engagement on a set of values. it's not simply about heroic deeds. I don't think one should use psychoanalysis change-but here to prove how people they will never will never change-perhaps nowadays they can change as a species perhaps. This is not the ultimate horizon of what we know about humanity. not this track or will to go and accomplish something even if it means the ultimate sacrifice. We are not simply some kind of foolish. What we lose is no longer perceived as a loss when it happens. It's not simply going and accomplishing something extraordinary. So it does not necessarily block ethics because it's not about ethics. It's not that it's always in looking ahead. but at the same time what is good in Kant is that he tries to make us see how. It could be this. In this way. I think this is the good ethical mobile.Symposium Interview Ethics of Real is not what I read in Kant. but perhaps you risk losing or respect or having a certain position. but that what we do also changes us and the way we look at things. this kind of risk is not necessarily perceived as such. There are often risks. In some sense one should think of ethics as acting through which one changes as in respect to what one was before. but something can happen where the whole background. But that does not mean that it's impossible. the whole point of the departure changes. and labor." happens. in what he would call ethi- forms. but it also could be certain ethics of fidelity to a certain practice of persisting in it although you risk. which is quite different from his own notion of perpetua 1 peace? How could this notion of perpetual peace be translated global capitalism? AZ: It's a difficult question. I don't know. I would say this is not possible today. Indigo: Can we be optimistic about It's not the most productive way towards thinking of what real politics or Kant's notion of perpetual peace which can be related to global justice in 21" century. "Through an ethical act one is no longer the same person. I think this is a little bit too Hollywood-like. There's something really impossible from the constellalion that's that into this time of cal constitution of the subject. not necessarily your life. I think we get bad Kantian. Here I would very much agree with you but ethics is often simply about very common work. But perhaps one way to answer your question discussion would be to relate it to the initial of the common good because I think perhaps one should act in a way that it INDIGO I POSSIBLE IMPOSSIBILITIES 89 . Of course this is not some kind of mystical transformation but there's something.
I don't think one can go beyond this familiar founding that one always starts when everything is over. the problem is bigger. In this kind of a system. something could eventually be used for common good. in a system where the only production parts of humanity of more or less common good always depends also on some being excluded. which is more than all these and what one could do starting from this. Relating the two huge questions. Indigo: What is the most urgent theoretical question you would like to bring about? AZ: I think perhaps the question of what is a collective and how does it function? I mean. it's not something to ask to people. perhaps we can have another several centuries without II. but at what price?" If this means a systemic violence of this kind. It can play some part in also some kind of collective organization of course. I think this is god and there is also the question. In this respect I am not so optimistic immediately. any wars but there could be real violence and suffering on other level. part of that. But I think this is not enough if the very system of producing whatever surplus we have is constructed in such a way that it needs to deplete for its own perpetuation. when the question of sharing is asked on the level of what we already have. It is a solitary practice that at the same time can concern everybody. But it's not immediately already it. So my urgent question would be" what is a collective capable of?" This can actually be read on two levels: one is empirical (to say we already have the good and now we need to share with everybody) and other is the question of inequality and uncommon (this is necessary for these goods to be produced. not only from sharing in it but in the very production. It's not only the war that is violent. if a system needs this kind of inequality and exploitation in order to function. what is more. Because of course wars are also mostly politico-economic systematically categories. It's not only excluding some people from using. but this satiated body. perhaps we should redistribute it so that people in Africa will have more. But this does not mean that it doesn't recognize one or can't say something about it. But I would not say that this is the general demotion that nothing could ever happen otherwise. Systematic exclusions of some part of the world or in layers of society or classes could never become a ground for a perpetual peace. At certain level philosophy is not a collective moment in this immediate sense. So something would have to change in the very way that this antagonism is organized now. but it's actually should exist there in people. then I think we could never enter any possible discussion of a perpetual peace. "Peace is good. At the same time this is relating to this strange thing that is collective which is not simply a sum of all the individuals that are gathered there. the very system to function).Symposium Interview Ethics of Real is not good unless it happens to everybody. it's also exploiting some people in order to produce this good. So.!IllIlIl 90 INDIGO I POSSIBLE IMPOSSIBILITIES .
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