Mr. Zizek goes to Paris

Outside of a few random articles, I haven’t read Zizek in several years, so I missed when it was that he finally rounded the bend. has posted a series of his articles on the rioting in New Orleans and France. What’s clear from them–besides the fact that he’s now in the business of regurgitatiang his past concoctions–is that he’s closed whatever ironic distance he had from Lenin. Actually, it might be worse than that.

From “Violence, Irrational and Rational”:

…[W]hat strikes the eye with regard to [comparing the recent riots with] May 68 is the total absence of any positive utopian prospect among the protesters: if May 68 was a revolt with a utopian vision, the recent revolt was just an outburst with no pretense to any kind of positive vision–if the commonplace that “we live in a post-ideological era” has any sense, it is here. Is this sad fact that the opposition to the system cannot articulate itself in the guise of a realistic alternative, or at least a meaningful utopian project, but only as a meaningless outburst, not the strongest indictment of our predicament? Where is here the celebrated freedom of choice, when the only choice is the one between playing by the rules and (self-)destructive violence….

The tongue-clucking call for better consciousness. The finger-wagging accusation of incorrect action. So what should the vision be and where should it come from? Don’t ask Zizek; he’s just a philosopher, and the “philosopher’s task is not to propose solutions, but to reformulate the problem itself, to shift the ideological framework within which we hitherto perceived the problem.” Refusing to issue a program is all well and good, but criticizing the rioters for their lack of solutions is, well, hypocritical. It seems for Zizek, then, that the philosopher’s job is to pillory political actors and, in the process, affirm the (Leninist ) difference between the philosopher and the masses, between intellectual work and “prole” labor (or nonlabor).

But if we want to reformulate the problem, to enact an ideological shift, where do we turn for assistance? Why, to Hollywood, of course: Zizek spends the rest the rest of the essay dissecting violence in The Fugitive, Taxi Driver, Mystic River, and Lone Star.

But first, a formulation for his analysis, and another broadside against the rioters:

The first step in the analysis is to confront each of these modes with its counter-violence: the counter-pole to “terrorist” attacks is the US military neo-colonial world-policing; the counter-pole to Rightist Populist violence is the Welfare State control and regulation; the counter-pole to the juvenile outbursts is the anonymous violence of the capitalist system. In all three cases, violence and counter-violence are caught in a deadly vicious cycle, each generating the very opposite it tries to combat. Furthermore, what all three modes share, in spite of their fundamental differences, is the logic of a blind passage Ă  l’acte: in all three cases, violence is an implicit admission of impotence.

And the summary:

And, perhaps, this is all we can do today, in our dark era: to render visible the failure of all attempts at redemption, the obscene travesty of every gesture of reconciling us with the violence we are forced to commit.

Violence, violence, everywhere. Even without questioning the dubious declaration that burning cars and looting stores constitutes violence (and it certainly is of a much different magnitude than the violence in the Hollywood films), it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Zizek is more horrified by the violence, which is directed against the welfare state, than frustrated by the lack of consciousness or political direction. In this way, his revulsion is identical to the welfare state’s, and the latter’s call for more “control and regulation” finds its mirror in Zizek’s call for a Leninist higher consciousness and utopian project.


6 thoughts on “Mr. Zizek goes to Paris

  1. hi Eric,
    I generally don’t like Zizek, from the very little of him that I’ve read, and so I generally don’t read more of him. Once in a while, though, people I trust make points about why I shoul, which installs a nagging self-doubt in the back of my mind. With that in mind, I really enjoyed your take on Slavoj’s take on the riots. Would you mind speculating at all on whether his take on the riots is indicative of anything else? I want to lump this in with my own knee-jerk anti-Leninism, but I don’t have much that’s interesting to say about that.
    take care,

  2. Nate,

    Thanks. One of the things I was trying to get at above–but which I’m not willing to strictly avow, for various reasons–is that Zizek’s recent articles display much in common with the liberal/welfare state reaction to the rioting. I can’t be sure that I’m not just searching for the similarities, but Zizek does have a history: He supported military action in Kosovo, as a humanitarian venture. I suppose I could draw all sorts of scurrilous conclusions about his change of heart, but it’s significant that he was willing to side with NATO then while protesting against the “double blackmail” (either you’re for NATO and neoliberalism or for Milosevic and nationalism) while now he still protests the double blackmail (which he calls to meaningless violence, without seeing it as political action) but seems unwilling to side with rioters in France and New Orleans.

    Of course, all this is wrapped up in my own knee-jerk anti-Leninism as well.

  3. hi Eric,
    Happy holidays. I don’t know Zizek well, but one of these days I’ll have to really dig in because people I genuinely like and respect seem to take him seriously, I think because they’re not adequately anti-Leninist. I’ll when I finally get around to doing that reading I’ll have to make sure I read some anti-Lenin stuff at the same time, to keep the hate alive. I think it’s in keeping with Leninism to see states as agents (and perhaps states-in-aspiration like parties) and everything else – particularly actors that are antistate – as either nonexistent or pernicious. So it’s not super surprising that he’d end up aping the noises made by other state actors. That said, the point about Zizek sounding like the welfare state and liberal response is quite compelling, I’ve never heard it put that way. That sounds to me like the beginning of a very good argument to use against friends who periodically try to insist I need to read Zizek in order to make my politics make more sense. I’d love to hear more on that. Doug Henwood’s made some very vitriolic and very funny remarks about a conference that Zizek hosted on Lenin, I’m sure it’s online somewhere…
    take care,

  4. But if we want to reformulate the problem, to enact an ideological shift, where do we turn for assistance? Why, to Hollywood, of course: Zizek spends the rest the rest of the essay dissecting violence in The Fugitive, Taxi Driver, Mystic River, and Lone Star.

    heh. i only got that far and laughed. this is why i’ve always disliked zizek. why i always felt like all he ever really wanted to do was justify his love for watching films by pretending that it was about something more than watching a flick.

    he has interesting things to say, but i guess i just never got into him b/c i’d heard it before. ken mackendrick, OTOH, said reading zizek was an eye-opener b/c, in his field, studying popular culture and connecting it to Grand Ideas was unheard of.

    Now, back to reading your post.

  5. Nate,

    Happy holidays to you as well. Zizek is a good read: entertaining, funny, virtuosic. But now that he’s added Lenin to Hegel and Lacan to form his holy trinity, he’s left to endlessly performing the closed loop they allow him. Politically speaking, this means he’s wedded to the state. But he wants to divorce the state from some of its modern characteristics, namely multiculturalism and “postpolitical” ideologies. In this way, the turn to Lenin seems like a wish for a return to a simpler, less mediated state. Certainly it brings out his Hegelianism, in that it posits an ideal-real duality.

    Bitch (I have to say, unlike some people, I don’t get a visceral thrill out of calling you that; I feel more flushed and ashamed), I guess Zizek being an ideology critic, it makes sense that he’d see movies as a good start. Seems kinda limiting to me, though.

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