Sunday, March 20, 2011

Žižek: cheat notes

For those who are struggling with the video posted yesterday, it is important to note that Žižek is addressing an audience that he assumes will be familiar with may of the ideas he is discussing and so he doesn't always explain everything. He's quite content to say "And so on" rather than join all the dots. This means that if this is your first introduction to Žižek, it may not be the most accessible piece of communication.

The bottom line of what he's trying to say is that the system is so broken that tinkering around the edges is a distraction from the more radical task at hand. Light green consumerism is still consumerism, ethical consumerism is still consumerism. As such, they are largely a waste of time, since they make us feel like we're doing something while we're still mainly on the problem side of the equation.

Does he have an alternative? Yes, though he doesn't really discuss it in this video. It is hinted at where he says, "It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property." That is, the problem is much deeper than one or two bad apples in the barrel, a few CEOs being too greedy or some missing government regulation. It is knottier than any given new piece of technology, no matter how shiny, can untie. The problem for Žižek is with our economic system as a whole. Does this make him a dangerous radical, a subversive Marxist with an anti-capitalist agenda for world government? Yes, actually it does. And he has no problem with that (having called himself "a communist in a qualified sense").


byron smith said...

Also note that he says, "I am unequivocal here. Twentieth century communist experience was a mega, mega ethical, economic political catastrophe."

Benjamin Ady said...

I've seen the Zizek to which you are referring, I think, and while I certainly had to sit up and pay attention, I was quite able to follow it even though I don't have any background in economics whatsoever. He's compelling, but ... his idea of a solution doesn't seem remotely doable. And yet pushing for that, we reframe the conversation in such a way that we shift it toward where we want it to be, don't we? I love his seeming disregard for social niceties like "proper dress". Can't be bothered. I wish I could get away with that.

byron smith said...

his idea of a solution doesn't seem remotely doable
That's part of his point. That our imaginations have been so colonised by the present way of doing things that alternatives are simply unimaginable.

Chris O said...

"yes but he doesn't discuss it in this video". I got the hint but where does he discuss it?

he refers to the "zero-point" again here - where he seems to be aligning with old marxisty style strikes.

intrigued...but confused

jessica smith said...

Loved the animation.

How does this intersect with your advert for Good Energy two posts later?

byron smith said...

I mentioned Žižek's critique of ethical consumerism in that post in order to remind us that such spending will not save us from ourselves. I also pointed out that, unlike many of our purchases, electricity bills are not a discretionary purchase, meaning that everyone must select some kind of provider (unless you generate your own, or somehow manage to do without). So I'm not sure decisions about power companies fall directly into his critique.

Anonymous said...

Great conversation, glad I stumbled upon this.

Zizek doesn't offer any solution in the sense of an alternative blueprint for arranging society. This is largely a result of his Marxist roots. Marx's writings focus squarely on capitalism; he never ventures offer a vision of an actually existing communist society. Communism, for Marx is the historically necessitated outcome of the process by which the contradictions of capitalism are resolved. While Zizek and other contemporary Marxists no longer see the movement towards communism as historically necessitated, they do inherit Marx's focus of critique. That is to say, they are concerned with unraveling the ideologies that perpetuate the capitalist system. To put it in classical Marxist terms, the aim of this activity is to raise the consciousness of a revolutionary proletarian. As Zizek states in numerous interviews and publications, he considers his job as a philosopher not to give answers, but to re-frame the questions that we ask.

The "zero point" Zizek refers to is what he sees as an impending global catastrophe of capitalism. Two of Zizek's candidates for such a catastrophe are social division and ecological crisis. In the video, he is attempting to unveil the liberal-consumerist ideology that contributes to the the possibility of these impending disasters.

byron smith said...

Hi Anon. Yes, you're right and that's an important point to make. I guess I was being cheeky with my final question, since many thinkers are accused of being communist on a very flimsy basis and with the accuser generally having little idea of what communism is, but here finally is a thinker willing to own the term (at least "in a qualified sense").