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May 06, 2007

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love and terrorism

I’m not sure of the relevance of your references to the essay under discussion, because there Zizek momentarily abandons his familiar observation regarding the superego injunction to ‘Enjoy!’ as converse to the Law, and relies on an opposition between discipline and hedonism. That essay doesn’t only argue that politics requires discipline, but establishes its own political-economy in which discipline is valued over hedonism.

At the same time as Zizek forgets the Law-superego argument that you describe, to do so he also abandons his consistent argument that theory must work to establish a privileged position as epistemological work that continually raises the political stakes of its objects. Instead, when the essay does more than describe the film as a potential anti-American allegory, Zizek applauds its nascent communism.

To offer this intervention, he decides that his essay will end in identity with the film’s Law-hedonism split, as he interprets it; before he contradicts his position regarding the Law-superego relation, he contradicts his meta-position regarding the demands of theory. This indicates that, even if he argues that the disciplined enforcement of normal values is politically imperative, for him theoretical practice is an exception.

Joseph Kugelmass

"But why shouldn't leftists value discipline and organization?"

They should. I agree with you about Zizek's value overall as a philosopher, and we agree that his review was lame. So let's not immediately lose sight of how deeply lame it is -- the problems with it are threefold.


1. Zizek is making basically the same points as Athenians like Plato, who thought disciplined Sparta was superior to debauched Athens. As a result, he's locating problems and solutions supposedly immanent to capital within a debate that preceded modern capitalism. That is why, to K-punk and others, the account of discipline appears strangely, perhaps worryingly, abstracted.

2. Second, the way he compares the cultures:

"And is Xerxes's court not depicted as a kind of multiculturalist different-lifestyles paradise? Everyone participates in orgies there, different races, lesbians and gays, cripples, etc.? Are, then, Spartans, with their discipline and spirit of sacrifice, not much closer to something like the Taliban defending Afghanistan against the US occupation (or, as a matter of fact, the elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard ready to sacrifice itself in the case of an American invasion?"

If we are looking at an actual image of paradise in a fictional work, complete with multiculturalism, then it is not susceptible to the same critique as that image being used to justify a real hell. It starts to be, by analogy, an actual paradise.

The idea that we have to choose between "discipline" and "orgies" is a ridiculous, Puritanical fever dream.

The Taliban were not a force of indigenous, disciplined men resisting debauched foreign invaders. They were a vicious totalitarian government that arose in the wake of two separate occupations, and years of international meddling. The US should not have invaded, but that's no reason to valorize the regime.

3. The fact that he tries to de-historicize Sparta:

"There is an emancipatory core in the Spartan spirit of military discipline which survives even when we subtract all historical paraphernalia of Spartan class rule, ruthless exploitation of and terror over their slaves, etc."

The 'even' is intentionally misleading. All of those things have to be subtracted for one to believe that Sparta was an admirable state, or that emancipation was its 'core,' or that it could have achieved such discipline without slavery and inequalities of class.

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