Z180: Žižek: Intellectual

I consider the May 12, 2008 Democracy Now program as a gift.

Amy Goodman’s introduction:
Part two of our wide-ranging discussion with Slavoj Žižek, the philosopher, psychoanalyst and cultural theorist. He has been called the “Elvis of cultural theory” and is widely considered to be one of Europe’s leading intellectuals. He has written more than fifty books and speaks to sold-out audiences around the world.
What followed was fresh, vigorous commentary from the left. It was a tall drink of water in this American fascist desert of the mainstream media. For me it gave me some sense of the internal struggle of current progressive tug of war in the US political stage. I immediately felt the sharp criticism of analysis of my voice in my blog here. There is a seriously moralistic tone in my sustainability challenge. He warns, “Don’t get caught in a fake discourse on humanitarian emergency. It is a trap. It is okay in these times to withdraw and think.” Wow. This spoke to me. And this was the last response in the whole interview with Amy Goodman.

(pronounced SLA-voy ZHEE-zhek)

The March 8, 2008 interview with Žižek was part 1 titled, “Everybody in the World Except US Citizens Should Be Allowed to Vote and Elect the American Government.”

Another review from Boston with a toilet metaphor so favored by the press:

But Žižek goes where few chin-stroking, international-affairs pundits dare to venture. He begins with a nod toward Claude Levi-Strauss's famous anthropological "triangle" of "the raw, the cooked, and the rotten," metaphors he used to describe the natural, the cultured, and the taboo. Then he's off and running, with what he calls an "excremental correlative-counterpoint" to the great French anthropologist.

"In a traditional German toilet," writes Žižek, "the hole into which [excrement] disappears after we flush is right at the front, so that [it] is first laid out for us to sniff and inspect for traces of illness. In the typical French toilet, on the contrary, the hole is at the back, i.e. [excrement] is supposed to disappear as quickly as possible. Finally, the American (Anglo-Saxon) toilet presents a synthesis, a mediation between these opposites: the toilet basin is full of water, so that the [excrement] floats in it, visible, but not to be inspected."
In this short article Žižek shows how the popular TV series is essentially a reflection of newly acceptable fascistic behaviour [sic]- torture, expendability of subordinates - in the 'war on terror', concluding that "24's real problem [is] not the content itself but the fact that we are being told openly about it."

And very recently I read this from Žižek and I’m reminded how stimulating his thoughts can be. I don’t pretend to be able to dissect his arguments. I merely appreciate the mental workout that is reading him. This recent article was of particular importance because he is talking of the activism of my youth. I encourage the full read, but this excerpt helped me see environmental crisis and political destruction in the same sentence. I struggle with my blogosphere forays that seem to take me to two different camps with very little crossover.
The Big Outcome of the '60s: The Triumph of Capitalism
By Slavoj Žižek, In These Times. Posted June 27, 2008.

There are (at least) four such antagonisms: the looming threat of ecological catastrophe; the inappropriateness of private property rights for so-called "intellectual property"; the socio-ethical implications of new techno-scientific developments (especially in biogenetics); and, last but not least, new forms of apartheid, in the form of new walls and slums.

The first three antagonisms concern the domains of what political theorists Michael Hardt and Toni Negri call "commons" -- the shared substance of our social being whose privatization is a violent act that should be resisted with violent means, if necessary (violence against private property, that is).

The commons of external nature are threatened by pollution and exploitation (from oil to forests and natural habitat itself); the commons of internal nature (the biogenetic inheritance of humanity) are threatened by technological interference; and the commons of culture -- the socialized forms of "cognitive" capital, primarily language, our means of communication and education, but also the shared infrastructure of public transport, electricity, post, etc. -- are privatized for profit. (If Bill Gates were to be allowed a monopoly, we would have reached the absurd situation in which a private individual would have owned the software texture of our basic network of communication.)

If the principal task of the 19th century's emancipatory politics was to break the monopoly of the bourgeois liberals by politicizing the working class, and if the task of the 20th century was to politically awaken the immense rural population of Asia and Africa, the principal task of the 21st century is to politicize -- organize and discipline -- the "destructured masses" of slum-dwellers.
If we ignore this problem of the Excluded, all other antagonisms lose their subversive edge.

Ecology turns into a problem of sustainable development. Intellectual property turns into a complex legal challenge. Biogenetics becomes an ethical issue. Corporations -- like Whole Foods and Starbucks -- enjoy favor among liberals even though they engage in anti-union activities; they just sell products with a progressive spin.
You buy coffee made with beans bought at above fair-market value.
You drive a hybrid vehicle.

You buy from companies that provide good benefits for their customers (according to corporation's standards).

In short, without the antagonism between the Included and the Excluded, we may well find ourselves in a world in which Bill Gates is the greatest humanitarian fighting poverty and diseases, and NewCorp's Rupert Murdoch the greatest environmentalist mobilizing hundreds of millions through his media empire.

In contrast to the classic image of proletarians who have "nothing to lose but their chains," we are thus ALL in danger of losing ALL. The risk is that we will be reduced to abstract empty Cartesian subjects deprived of substantial content, dispossessed of symbolic substance, our genetic base manipulated, vegetating in an unlivable environment.

These triple threats to our being make all of us potential proletarians. And the only way to prevent actually becoming one is to act preventively.

The true legacy of '68 is best encapsulated in the formula Soyons realistes, demandons l'impossible! (Let's be realists, demand the impossible.)

Today's utopia is the belief that the existing global system can reproduce itself indefinitely. The only way to be realistic is to envision what, within the coordinates of this system, cannot but appear as impossible.

Hey, I am still struggling with this last sentence. The phrasing alone has caused the synapses in my brain to smoke.

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