Buddhism

a Western BuddhistThe Wednesday quotation, part XI: Slavoj Zizek on the fetishistic mode of ideology.

“Western Buddhism” [. . .] perfectly fits the fetishist mode of ideology in our allegedly “post-ideological” era, as opposed to its traditional symptomal mode, in which the ideological lie that structures our perception of reality is threatened by symptoms qua “returns of the repressed,” cracks in the fabric of the ideological lie. Fetish is effectively a kind of envers of the symptom. That is to say, symptom is the exception which disturbs the surface of the false appearance, the point at which the repressed truth erupts, while fetish is the embodiment of the Lie which enables us to sustain the unbearable truth. [. . .] In this sense, a fetish can play a very constructive role of allowing us to cope with the harsh reality: fetishists are not dreamers lost in their private worlds, they are thorough “realists,” able to accept the way things are – since they have their fetish to which they can cling in order to defuse the full impact of reality. (Slavoj Zizek, <a href="
http://www.ubishops.ca/BaudrillardStudies/vol5_1/v5-1-article3-zizek.html&#8221; target=”_blank”>”The Prospects of Radical Politics Today”. International Journal of Baudrillard Studies 5.1 [January, 2008])

referendum

I suspect that this will be the place for all your Venezuela referendum news: Radio Venezuela en vivo. They promise full coverage in multiple languages.

Otherwise, the best source for Venezuela analysis remains venezuelanalysis.com.

And I’m looking forward to reading Greg Wilpert’s Change Venezuela by Taking Power, not least for its implied polemic with John Holloway’s How to Change the World without Taking Power. Anyone serious about the issues raised by Zizek’s “Resistance is Surrender” should probably read these two books. Sadly, too much of the hoo-ha around Zizek’s article has been far from serious.

Slavoj?

The Giant of Ljubljana was giving a talk on campus today.

In advance, some lack of coordination was obvious, in that his lecture clashed with one by Simon Schaffer. The two events were organized by people who one would otherwise have thought should have been in some kind of communication with each other.

I went to the first thirty minutes of Schaffer’s talk. Entitled “Single Vision and Newton’s Sleep,” it was good: on the politics of optics, Blake, Newton, Hobbes, and so on. The argument revolved around scientific and political attempts to make one appear many, and many to appear one. Sadly, I had to miss his conclusion, as I sloped off, making my way to the theatre where Zizek was to be speaking.

On arriving, ten minutes early, I find a group of disgruntled intellectual types milling around. Apparently the place is already full, and nobody more is to be admitted. I chat to a couple that I know.

Then, seeing a fairly dissolute figure in the middle distance jog up to the building and start peering into the windows, seeking access, I comment “Actually we seem to be in the right place, as Zizek is also shut out.” “Who? Where?” they ask. And I point to the man himself, trying to catch the attention of somebody inside so that he can enter and give his talk.

A minute or so later, from another door, nearer us, one of the so-called organizers emerges and asks if anyone has seen Slavoj. “Yes,” I say, “he’s over there.” “Where?” I am asked, again. “Which one is he?” “The guy at the end there,” I reply, “who’s trying to get in.”

So the so-called organizer goes up somewhat nervously and asks “Slavoj?” With this interpellation presumably successful, the two head back in to the theatre.

And still the rest of us remained outside, unhailed.

ZizekZizek in happier times. He’s the one in white.

inversion

Over at I cite, Jodi Dean has posted about Nazism and neoconservatism. Not to conflate the two, but to present a possible homology between them.

In brief, Jodi takes from Zizek the notion that Nazi anti-semitism should be read as a displaced class politics. And she goes on to suggest that the contemporary neoconservative discourse on class could be read similarly, but as a displaced politics of race.

There are various ways one could take this. Foucault’s discussion of a primary race conflict in “Society Must Be Defended” also comes to mind. But as I suggested briefly in the comments to Jodi’s post, it’s tempting to see it as an instance of (perhaps posthegemonic) inversion.

The Nazi substitution of race for class is, then, a classic ideological substitution. Rather than admit the threat of working class disruption to capital accumulation, a populist cross-class alliance is constructed through opposition to the figure of the Jew as scapegoat. Obviously, pinning the blame for Germany’s economic woes on the Jews is a fantasy (ultimately genocidal, but still a fantasy), yet to the extent that this fantasy encodes some aspect of real economic conditions and struggles, then it secures popular consent. Hegemony.

(After all, ideology is never purely arbitrary. Think of Roberto Schwarz’s definition of ideology as a system of representation “well grounded in appearances” [Misplaced Ideas 23]. It is the fact that ideology is a displaced account of some real struggle that makes it a description of reality, albeit a “false” description.)

But in neoconservatism, in Jodi’s account, this relationship between ideology and economy, base and superstructure, has been inverted. Class politics is out in the open: there’s no attempt to hide the ways in which the Bush regime favours the rich; everyone knows that the Iraq war, for instance, was driven by economic interests. There is, apparently, no ideology… Posthegemony. Except that, Jodi suggests, there is. But it is hidden. Indeed, the reason why capital can flaunt its workings so openly is that this “true” description of reality stands in for the false one, stands in for the ideology of racial hatred.

So, where once ideology stood in for the real interests of the dominant, securing the consent of the dominated by obscuring the fact of their domination, now the truth of domination is out in the open, because only thereby can (the dominated’s?) ideological fantasies remain hidden.

Now, frankly, I’m not sure how much of this I buy. It definitely goes against the grain of what I’m trying to elaborate as posthegemony theory. But I thought it was worth sketching out because it is at least neat, and allows for a Zizekian enjoyment of the counterintuitive.

history

The discussion over at I cite of Zizek’s essay “Objet a as the Inherent Limit to Capitalism” raises a number of difficult issues:

If the multitude is not simply a function of capitalism, then surely it must also precede capitalism.

Is the relation between multitude and modernity the same as that between multitude and capitalism?

In any case, surely it is not capitalism per se that is at issue, but rather the state. Which certainly precedes both capitalism and modernity.

But what is meant by “preceding” here? Is the relation best cast as one between virtuality and actuality?

What’s at stake is the historicity of the multitude, and of constituent power. But also (as Zizek points out) the possibility of Revolution.

And if we don’t accept the possibility of Revolution, then we can and should reject Negri tout court. A “Negri lite” really is a celebration of the service economy, McJobs, contemporary capitalist globalization, etc. etc.

Anyhow, I’ll have to return to these questions anon.