Thursday, January 14, 2010

Welcome to the Desert of the Ragnarok

The monotonous pastoral-historical apotheosis is what characterizes black metal lyrics, which is more Heidegger than Zizek. Zizek brings the blood, the repetition, and the abstraction, but not a ton of historical and not really the pastoral. He's like one of those West Coast college-boy black metal bands. Wolves in the Throne Room or Unexpect maybe.

Zizek groupies would probably hate Judith Butler's groupies. They would rumble by throwing raw food and B-movie DVDs at each other.

--- On Tue, 1/12/10, Noah Berlatsky
I'd agree that Zizek isn't any more egotistical than the average academic rock star...but that's pretty egotistical. There isn't really a way to be an academic rock star and be faceless and inhabited by form in the way that black metal is, is the thing. He ends up writing a jazz solo to black metal, which can't help but undermine itself, in some sense.
On Tue, Jan 12, 2010 at 8:15 AM, Albert Stabler wrote:
I would never imply that horror movies are meaningless. Rather, I would say that they are apocalyptic, and thus have a complex relationship to intentionality. It's an allegory of the world turned upside down, which can represent lots of fears and desires, as well as beliefs, but it's tricky to read it straightforwardly as, say, satire-- or ironic utopia.

Speaking of reading people straightforwardly, I looked at the section in Puppet and Dward on Chesterton, and Zizek (along with reviling liberatory sexuality) actually says that, in giving up an ideological big Other, we give up ourselves, our truth, and our world (he even quotes "1984"). He compares his liberal poistmodern enemies (who often sound like Dick Cheney) to the "anal character" in Freud, the miser who will not give up anything, and lives a life of fear and alienation.

Which is pretty much the vision of the solipsistic Satan you have Zizek cast as. Which isn't to say you can't defend that version of him, in the admirably Zizekian/Hegelian dialectical funhouse you have going there, but he would reject it completely. And you would really be back to a false consciousness angle-- which is one venomous aspect of humanism that Freud and Marx include in their worldview, but, really, not Christ so much. Nonetheless, I myself am troubled by Zizek extolling Lenin and then denouncing torture-- he is constantly having his cake and eating it too, which does seem like the miserly figure he deplores. But it does also seemn a lot like Chesteronian Christianity-- orhtodoxy is romance, faith includes atheism, civilization needs anarchists.

I still have a lot of sympathy for your decoding of Tabico, though, and I think Zizek and Chesterton might as well-- if it really is a utopia, it is a fascistic one that both those guys could get behind as a critique of modernity. Shulamith Firestone might be the audience to read it as an actual happy ending, but that happy ending is never going to be the primary reading.

I don't think Zizek actually is more egotistical than any other academic rock star-- I prefer to give him benefit of the doubt a lot of the time, and think that, when he says that he believes in environmental crisis, and yet he sees environmrentalism as having a reactionary aspect, I am okay with letting him say those things. I think he worships the Act (revolution, communal effort, the space between people) rather than the sovereign individual. At least most of the time.
Materialist indeed. Materialist Marxist machismo. I wonder if Zizek has an SUV? Just to piss off the Environmental Science grad students?

--- On Mon, 1/11/10, Noah Berlatsky

I think horror movie plots are pretty important myself. I mean, as these things go. More so than Westerns, though that might set Zizek on me. In corpse paint. In that the abject visions are precisely visions of totalizing utopias. Alien is entirely a fantasy about capitalism. You can see it as a parable about the failure of capitalism (coming apart/unable to deal with the primitive other.) But you can also see it as the Malthusian evolutionary final success of capitalism; the aliens as us, and both as capitalist apotheosis in a maelstrom of bloody pleasures.

The thing about the gay utopia, and the way it links up with Tabico and horror, is that there's a sense in which it's its own obverse. That's the thing about the Thing; it's an image of gay utopia and a hysterical homophobic reaction to gay utopia. I'm thinking about James Bond a little here, which is very much the capitalism that is about blood and money...but it's also predicated on male/male repressed lust that's almost diagrammatic of how Eve Sedgwick sees the world. Zizek's repeated, really excessive denunciations of multicult identity politics can be seen as just, you know, he's an academic and it irritates him because he's there -- but I think there's also some sort of attraction there, maybe. What is Zizek's writing if not a constant, neurotic assertion of identity? I mean, the whole point of his flirtation with Christianity is essentially that he himself is the Big Other; it's philosopher as Christ, his identity as the only identity. In what way does Zizek, worshipping man as God, get away from the idea of humanism? Wouldn't Chesterton see him as the egotistical devil incarnate, as a kind of reductio ad absurdum of the multicult relativism he claims, via Chesterton, to transcend? Zizek ends up with, "What I say is true!", which is the perfect opposite of "What God says is true!" and not the opposite at all of "There is no truth" or "what anyone says can be true."

Which is why, to come full circle in my wishy-washiness, I'd argue that the gay utopia is arguably both a end result or apotheosis of capitalism and its perfect opposite, in that, unlike Zizek, it's not materialist. The big other in the gay utopia is love, which (re Tabico) is both terrible and beautiful — and also not unrelated to Christ (who, like Tabico, urges the abandonment of family and the following of a (in social context) monstrous morality.) If you believe in the gay utopia, you believe in something. I think Chesterton would really rather work with Tabico or the gay rights movement in a lot of ways than with Zizek, precisely because the gay rights folks are less wrapped up in identity and humanism.

On Mon, Jan 11, 2010 at 10:25 PM, Albert Stabler wrote:
And all of their songs could be about scary multiculturalist toilets.

I don't think the gay utopia is the only shade of capitalism.

Despite what David Brooks may think, there's also a highly weaponized consolidated institutionalized blood-money strain, as opposed to the lovable dispersed entrepreneurial trust-fund swinger variety (their children?) that it uses for ideological cover. Recognizing that those groups are inextricably linked is not the same as claiming that the latter is merely the rarefied version of the former. Gay people being tormented throughout the allegedly free world are under no illusion that their fellow citizens envision the same gay utopia they do.

I'm not sure that you acknowledge that humanism is an ideology among ideologies (although its viral nature makes it a perfect complement to capitalism, it is ideology, just as capitalism, after everything, really is an economic system (that may have cancelled out all others ever). That's the common ground that Foucault and Zizek (and E.M. Cioran and Bataille) all, in some way, are trying to express.

The Tabico story is fantastic, but it is a horror movie plot-- i.e., a myth of abjection. Humanism has no greater fear than the loss of personal identity (pod people and such), and the loss of humanity (turning into bugs)-- which is ingeniously linked up with woman-power (itself a worthwhile humanist trope). It suggests a hellish image of the womb-massacre as the underside of castrating technocracy, which certainly has some irony, but then again isn't all that different from Alien. The protagonist just falls into rather than overcoming the nightmare, like with James Hogg, with a similarly Swifitan connotation of allegorizing the essence of our culture. Zizek would probably just read it as a wry condemnation of Guattari-era Deleuze.

And "false consciousness" is really only a problem when someone is telling me how I've been duped. It's not the same thing as disagreeing with someone, But it is, of course, a way of avoiding having real values, which works fine for humanism in general, and the gay utopia in particular.

Can a virus ever choke on its own emptiness?
--- On Mon, 1/11/10, Noah Berlatsky

There needs to be an Eastern European metal band called Slavoj Zizek. Ideally Serb, since I think that would apocalyptically piss him off.

Yes, it makes sense to oppose the gay utopia and Communism if the gay utopia is capitalism...though, simultaneously, it also makes sense to think of Communism as a kind of end result of the gay utopia/capitalism. Again, Tabico is kind of the ur-text here, with total communitarian mindless assimilation into the big Insect Other as the end product of fetishistic self-aggrandizement. And of course the final result of both communism and capitalism as the destruction of the nuclear family, freeing incestuous jouissance — which is perhaps the Real itself in some sense? The lust for the real is a lust for the destruction of the individual, a subsuming of the individual into the big Other?

I agree that Zizek wouldn't admit to inegalitarianism — but that's what's so great about false consciousness, right? We know what he wants better than he does, he knows what we want better than we do, and everyone gets to pleasurably enjoy their knowing superiority. And you know what? That's a kind of gay utopia too.
On Mon, Jan 11, 2010 at 4:15 PM, Albert Stabler wrote:
To bring home my oppostion of the gay utopia and Mao; he once said "IA revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery." Not to mention, "Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer which we use to crush the enemy." Which was apparently most of China.

He also felt strongly about power coming from the barrel of a gun. Although, he was a feminist, and distrusted the wealthy almost as much as Jesus.

Is the reinserted-ethical revolution a Chestertonian move because it's ironically counterintuitively intuitive and unironic? Or did Chesterton have a macropolitical vision, other than "conservative?"

Do you think that, as more of a pragmatic pacifist than Chesterton, you are less of a radical? That would be quite the badge of honor.

I don't know that Zizek is willing to admit that his egalitarian political ideology has truly inegalitarian results. I think that's part of his weird coked-up Eastern Bloc grampa vibe: "We only had toilet paper once a year. And we LIKED it!" Having privilege of any kind would put a dent in his plainspoken bearded cranky sage shtick.

And his charisma almost makes it all worth it. But then you end up with a beautiful argument for God with no God at the end, Lacanian flashes of glory without a frame of political reference, a cultural-studies Marxist who hates cultural studies. He is truly the empty chocolate egg of which he writes.

He admires Lenin for following through on his abstract principles, although he admores Heidegger, in the same way, for being a Nazi. There's the lust for the Real of which you spake. Or, if you like, nostalgia for the Act.

Nonetheless, your sensibility for his maneuvers is great. I think you probably could summon your black-metal roar and do a pretty awesome Evil Slavoj Zizek call-in show/ lecture circuit.
--- On Mon, 1/11/10, Noah Berlatsky

Yeah, I think gay utopia= capitalism is pretty much the equation.

In re an earlier point about Zizek getting rid of ethics and then reintroducing ethics and that not being revolutionary; I think the actual Zizekian move there (via Chesterton) would be to argue that that is exactly the essence of revolution. That is, the purpose of revolution is precisely to reinscribe inegalitarian hegemony, but harder, and in blood.
On Mon, Jan 11, 2010 at 8:00 AM, Albert Stabler wrote:
Sorry that last thing was a bit incoherent. I was trying to multi-task. Fortunately I wasn't driving.

The good things Communism did was to industrialize the Thiurd World and check Western expansionism, Nazis included. Alternately, one could argue that the Communists marooned their subject economies with backward technologies, encouraged Western expansionism (and many related ugly little wars), and provoked fascistic resistance.

But the pleasure-seeking "desring machines" of the gay utopia are a Euro-American humanist export for whom economics means bartering boutique handicrafts to pay the property taxes they caused to escalate. Who are they NOT scapegoats for?
--- On Sun, 1/10/10, Albert Stabler

I'll give you the gay-utopia bloodbath. I guess we're sort of living it. There are serious problems with the idea of sex supplanting violence.
Maybe the dirty underside of teh gay utopia is more or less the same as that of capitalism. Since the gay utopia is sort of "hot" embodied capitalism, rather than "cold" disembodied capitalism, In particular, maybe it makes sense to oppose it to "cold" institutionalized Third World autocracy, as opposed to the "hot" theocracies which seem more like obverses than inverses.

So maybe the Asian autocracies are the bloodbath, the 9.11, of gay utopianism-- the flip side of the groovy Buddhist community mind expansion. And, as such, their isolationism made them autonomous and strong, at the same time it produced a stain on world history that cannot be wiped clean.

--- On Sun, 1/10/10, Noah Berlatsky
I don't think it's exactly right to say that the gay utopia is necessarily not a bloodbath. Remember Tabico or Shivers or the Thing. I think those folks are all onto something — though, I agree, too, that there is definitely a vision of gay utopia which is pacifist.

That's interesting about Jesus; somebody should pay you to write something about that. Or give you tenure, or something.

Your examples of situations in which pacifism seems problematic are reasons why I"m such a wishy-washy pacifist, as well as being wishy-washy everything else.

Zizek seems to be bracketing Stalin when I read him. If not...I don't really see how he's an alternative to capitalism, really. But I don't see how communism is an alternative to capitalism; as we've discussed, it really seems more like an extension. And while it's clear to me how feminism has done some good in the world, I just don't see the upside of communism in practice (as distinct from socialism) pretty much at all. I mean, can you really lay any full scale atrocities at the feet of feminism? Wheras I was just reading a little about Cambodia... I don't know. I know you have some sympathy for Mao, and I'm willing to say I've missed something, but it's hard for me to get behind celebrating Stalin for any reason, really.

On Sun, Jan 10, 2010 at 9:41 PM, Albert Stabler wrote:
The MCA deal is going to be super short, but the InCUBATE people invited me. I'm kind of thrilled. It's based on the pragmatist Metaphysical Club, of William James and Dewey and Holmes and all those other zany bearded snuff-huffers.

It's been occurring to me that Jesus defined modern social relations-- defining a private sphere apart from state interference, rejecting traditional value systems and extended and even nuclear family relations in favor of abstract inner pursuits, extolling radically egalitarian values, dying for his principles. He despised work and ownership. And, strangely, he was completely the ideal for which our civilization continues to strive. He was a humanist, without the solipsism, nihilism, and hubris.
Armed resistance can certainly seem necessary in certain situations. It's hard to imagine being a resident of the Belgian Congo under King Leopold and not wanting to kill every white man in sight. Or a Plains Indian, or an Australian aborigine, or any number of indigenous people, for that matter.

But it seems like very little comes of that kind of resistance-- as the example of the post-Jesus Messiah character Bar-Kochba who got the Jewish insurgents slaughtered by the Romans. It could be argued that monarchies would have crumbled in Europe without violent overthrow-- which is why the overthrow was more successful, and less violent, than it might have been.

Communists and feminists-- they're both modern universalist ideologies, and thus ripe for imperialist exploitation. I don't think Zizek brackets Stalin, though. I think he celebrates him, much like Bataille does, as an appealingly brutal and comic bulwark against the ruthless alienation of capitalist life.

Feminism finds its most radical ideological stance in the gay utopia, on the other hand, which is not a bloodbath of any kind-- and not even a demand for individual or social perfection. And, while we certainly have an extended critical discussion documented online regarding said gay utopia, it never should be overlooked that, despite its unremittingly capitalist polymorphous jouissance, or maybe because of it, the gay utopia may be a more achievable vision than any workers' paradise. Or any church-based theocracy. Karl Barth's post-church religiosity is the sort of reverence that makes sense for a range of endlessly hybridized cosmopolitan identities.

--- On Sun, 1/10/10, Noah Berlatsky

How'd you get the Whitehead gig? And yeah, I'd love to come.

You have me dead to rights on the feminism, alas. I guess, backing and filling, I'd say that I think that as a resistance movement, and in comparison with Communism, feminism has done a much better job of achieving its domestic goals without being coopted for imperial ends. It's true that feminist arguments are often martialled on behalf of invasions...but they're rarely the main arguments, and there are pretty much always feminist voices speaking out against that cooptation. It's probably in part because of feminism's links to pacifism, which I'm sure Zizek would hate. But it just seems extremely dicey of Zizek to essentially bracket Stalin in reference to Communism and then claim that MacKinnon, with her much more minor sins, should be used to utterly void feminism.

Right; anti-tax mobs should be demonstrating against schools, just like they should be demonstrating against prisons. I can agree with that. (And I didn't think you were anti-democratic.)

I guess I, personally, am not sold on revolutions being all that great an idea. They seem to end up with lots of folks dead so that some different group of people can get a chance to do the oppressing. I mean, yes, there are lots of things in society and the world I would like to change — but to the extent that I'm a pacifist and to the extent that I'm a conservative, I really would rather change slow and kill fewer people than change fast and have some sort of apocalyptic bloodbath, no matter how cathartic. And I think that's pretty much where Barack Obama is coming from too (except, you know, he's not a pacifist, unfortunately.)

The New Testament advocates urbanization? In what sense?

On Sun, Jan 10, 2010 at 5:23 PM, Albert Stabler wrote:
Hopefully I will be talking about Whitehead in the context of American pragmatism. You're welcome to come!

Now I've gone and lost the clip-montage I watched on Youtube. Here's another one, "Barack Obama Versus Religion": But it includes Abraham. It is noteworthy that, based on Youtube video titles I searched, both faithful and atheist folks seem to consider him an atheist.

Feminism is usually applied to Western contexts? Is that right? Because I seem to recall Elie Wiesel beating the drums of war with the Muslim state on Oprah's decidedly feminist TV show. Feminist arguments have been used to decry the Taliban, and other brutal Islamist theocracies, for over a decade, as well as genital mutilation in Africa. The intersection of feminism and colonialism could potentially look like the encouragement of women's suffrage, which just happened in Kuwait, or it could look like the image of white women providing an excuse for lynching. It's a real debate-- but Zizek could certainly be more perspicacious in decrying relativism in one breath and then advocating for a certain amount of toleration of oppression in the next (which I would advocate as an isolationist)..
And I wouldn't call myself anti-democratic. I don't have a utopian vision. Zizek believes in dictatorship because he believes in false consciousness. I'm a populist. I am far more able to put up with anti-tax mobs than an expiring public education infrastructure-- the links between those things are not as simple as some might think.

Zizek is totally black metal. That is a delicious insight. Both are so blindingly Calvinist it's amazing they don't recognize it in themselves. And there is certainly something deeply troubling about Calvinism, as James Hogg illustrates so amazingly. But it should be noted that in England Calvinism was a revolutionary position, literally. What's so amazing about revolutions, after the English, French, and American ones of the Enlightenment, is that they have been not elitist but populist, not bourgeois but agrarian, not deist but nationalist. That's the part Barack Obama needs to deal with.

The ideologies today's masses reject are from the distant centers of power, but if the New Testament is a model for anything, it would seem to advocate urbanization, separation of church and state, justice being promoted over tradition. Zizek needs a different lens to examine this. Merely rejecting ethics and then re-introducing ethics in the back door is not revolutionary. But deploring biopower and colonialism is a relevant political starting point.

--- On Sun, 1/10/10, Noah Berlatsky

Barack Obama talks about Abraham losing his son to DCFS? Holy crap that's amazing. Do you have a link?

To be fair, Zizek was attacking MacKinnon for her racism — she said something about Serb's being rapists by genetics. And sneering at that is obviously fine. But pretending that that's some kind of summary of feminism in general, or even a metaphor for it, is ridiculous. The thing about western feminism mainly is that it doesn't really care all that much about the third world; never has. It's much more focused on Western culture...which is probably for the best, ultimately.

In what context are you talking about Whitehead? That sounds great.

I think I've thought this before, but one of the things that really seems to be a major weak point in Zizek's theology is original sin. He just doesn't have anything to say about it — and, in fact, it cuts against most of his major insights. He sees the incarnation as the death of God, but also as man taking the place of God, which can only be inspirational (as he sees it) if there's some kind of faith in a this-world perfectionism. That's also important if you're going to put people up against the wall for liking the wrong Westerns — Zizek's attack on wishy-washy liberals is predicated on the belief that somewhere out there (like in the mirror) there stands someone without sin.

Your point about individuals organizing is well-taken — but it's a democratic argument, isn't it? And I don't have a problem with that myself; democracy isn't a cure-all, because cure-alls don't exist, but it's kind of amazing system for allowing (some) change without revolutionary bloodshed. Revolutionaries often sneer at if because it doesn't allow enough change — but also, and not even all that surreptitiously, for not involving bloodshed. It's the lust for the real that Zizek talks about, and then seems to forget when it's him doing the lusting — in a lot of these discussions, hurting and killing people is the point, not a bug — it's what lets you know that the speaker is serious and ethically sound. That's definitely where Zizek is coming from; at some point, the problem with liberals is not that they prevent change, but simply that they're unwilling to kill. In fact, the willingness to kill becomes the sign of sinlessness; you end up worshipping force. Which is more or less the definition of demonic — and thereby not, actually, transcendent, but just kind of stupid and pitiful. You can see Zizek putting on corpse paint and burning down some random church, explaining that it's in the interest of world revolution as he's carted off to spend the rest of his life cared for by the liberal state while music reporters write slightly amused articles about how nuts he is.

Which isn't to say that I don't like either Zizek or black metal...but if there's an election, and either one is running against Barack Obama, I know who I'm voting for.

On Sun, Jan 10, 2010 at 3:08 PM, Albert Stabler wrote:
The thing about bad movie taste getting you lined up against the wall is genius. Zizek is sort of like George Lucas, in an appropriately creepy way. Lack of humility is a very real problem.

I definitely remember that book -- I think it was the third one of his I read-- giving me the uneasy feeling that this guy I found all inspiring and profound was actually sort of a repressive fascistic crank. Still, in his artless way, he deserves some slack.

I mean, Catherine MacKinnon is not the greatest spokesperson ever for feminism on a philosophical/theoretical angle-- obviously it would make much more sense for Zizek to take on Shulamith Firestone, who is interested in Marx and Freud and revolution and biopower, or Julia Kristeva, who really really cares about Lacan. On the practical side, did you support U.S. intervention in Bosnia? I think it's chalked up as a Clintonian success story. It is undoubtedly an example of what colonialism consists of in our era. Eastern Europe is being gentrified, just as, in America, Eastern European neighborhoods have been, and the descendants of Eastern Europeans have been. This certainly means something to Zizek.

Radical academics deserve critique from anyone with a platform, even if it is other radical academics. Like, the Foucault-Chomsky debates aren't moot just because they're both radical academics and neither is self-aware. Your point is taken, though.

There is just something about politics that is untheorizable. It may be the inherent incompatibility of justice and earthly power (which Christ was on top of). Zizek, falling into the false-consciousness trap, thinks that there is some kind of end run around ideology-- and, to be a responsible Marxist, that end run must be force. Bataille's appreciation of Stalin is much like Zizek's appreciation of terrorism; the dark side of our system must yield some glimmer of hope. I would argue that capitalism is not fragile in that way. The hope for the wretched of the earth is not going to either be the triumph or the collapse of capitalism, both of which the Marxists have covered. It is their own ability to organize, through institutions both economic and ideological.

Alfred North Whitehead (who I need to read a lot more of, since I'm going to be talking about him at the MCA in February) is someone who is perhaps tainted to Zizek fans by his preference of William James over Hegel, but he's also an contra-Kantian who sees all knowledge as embodied, and all embodiment as incomplete-- he spoke, in a nice simplification, of civilization moving from force to persuasion-- the rise of modernity for which Christ was the model. Salvation in the future is to come about through free will, the initial source of mankind's suffering.
Barack Obama spoke in 2006 on the role of religion in democracy, saying that the arguments of the religiously motivated must be amenable to reason-- his pragmatism is absolutely about persuasion, and thus capitalist ethics, and he cites Abraham losing his son Isaac to DCFS. It's really compelling. But it brings up the issue of what is a principle so valuable that force is required to protect it?

--- On Sun, 1/10/10, Noah Berlatsky

I see why you dislike this desert of the real 9/11 book. It's prettyinsufferable. Honestly, Zizek taking a strong stand against thehypocrisy of radical academics — he didn't notice how ridiculous thatwas?Basically, he's a better theologian and cultural analyst than he is acommentator on the current political situation. There's just howlerafter howler. Feminism is a joke because Catherine McKinnon gotreally pissed off at rape during the Serbian conflict; democracy isnot to be trusted because Democrats are more corrupt than Republicans,so we should set up a radical leftist Communist government, because,like, *those* aren't corrupt at all; it makes sense politically tocomplement the statement "if you save one life you save the world"with the statement "If you kill one evildoer, you save the world;"fascism stole everything from communism, so don't criticizeproto-fascism because you might end up criticizing communism; It's alla farrago of self-serving nonsense, the basic point of which is"relativism is bad, so let's have a bloody revolution right now — andI'll pick who will die! Like all my fellow radical academics, who arenot quite as radical as me because they don't like the rightWesterns!"I mean, there are worthwhile insights throughout, of course, butoverall it's not an impressive performance. Maybe people reallyshouldn't talk about 9/11 at all; it seems to just be mostly an excuseto say "my dumbest prejudices — they are all proven true! Let me goforth and spew dumb shit!"

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