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April 02, 2007

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NotOften

These are interesting comments that appear to fly in the face of Badiou's reading of 'a' politics. He seems to suggest, in 'Metapolitics' at least, that politics once removed from the state and state legitimation is advantageous. One potential weakness of your reading here Jodi (as you no doubt know), is that this analysis seems to suggest that only politics that seeks state power really 'counts' as authentic political practice. This is similar to the political 'blackmail' that the politicians always use to counter the autonomy and efficacy of social movements, etc. I have friends like this: they continually suggest to me that political struggle in the university is impossible and ultimately futile unless it is done in conjunction with the Social Democrats and their struggle for more seats in the Legislature. In other words, the argument ultimately is that these struggles must take place in the House or they are ineffective and do not effect real change. (comments to which I cringe, revolt against, and then proceed to read more Zizek!)

Quite obviously, your polemic with identity politics is useful and well taken. Once 'the state' enters into our thinking on political practice, however, all sorts of paradoxes emerge. This brings us, once again, back to Schmitt and his completely relevant criticisms of parliamentary democracy and its obsessive concern with procedurism.

Sinthome

I notice that all the political movements you mention are groups of individuals that find themselves faced with significant threats to themselves. Women, other minority groups, and homosexuals find themselves as objects of various forms of discrimination and injustice on a daily basis, both economically and psychologically. Perhaps conservative Christian fundamentalists experience themselves as living in a world that progressively has no place for them, where their beliefs and values are being directly assaulted... At least that is what their own narratives seem to suggest when I read and listen to them.

I bring this up because I have found, in my own experience, that it is tremendously difficult to organize people at all if they do not feel uncomfortable or threatened. In the absence of some compelling threat or disturbance, people seem quite happy to go about their business, recognizing that certain things are horrible, just horrible, but without feeling compelled to do anything about them. History seems to bear this out as well. If we look at broader issues going on during the Civil Rights movement, the great labor movements, women's suffrage, the various revolutions, etc., people's lives were being effected in very direct and negative ways.

Along these lines I find myself increasingly skeptical of both Zizek and Badiou on these particular issues. In both cases it seems to me that abstraction is at work or that concrete social conditions are being ignored. Zizek, of course, is less guilty of this than Badiou, given his analyses of social phenomena... But there is still a tendency in Zizek to focus on symbolic attachments to power and identity, rather than the real of economics and force that directly impacts people's lives and motivates them to act. I find myself filled with the creeping suspicion that as valuable as these modes of analysis are-- and you know I believe them to be very valuable --they are nonetheless *symptoms of revolutionary discontent in an age of prosperity.* That is, they're trying to grapple with the question of how to motivate people to strive for something more politically in an age where social conditions are such that people are disinclined to act by virtue of having just enough wealth and cheap distractions (American Idol anyone? the latest film anyone?), to keep them from taking more drastic measures.

Having written this I'm now cringing, anticipating how others will pile on me for having such a naive view of how very specific social and material conditions are necessary for the fundamental realignment of societies.

Alex

You do like to bring the problems caused by concrete social conditions into all discussions don't you Sinthome olde buddy, olde pal?!? What happened to good olde ungrounded and space-eyed theorising! ;-)

Floyd

I side firmly with Badiou when it comes to the question of how to go about thinking 'politics'. From the perspective of a possible phenomenology of politics, isn't the movement of identity politics insofar as it makes political truth claims slightly absurd in that it makes absolutely no effort to justify itself as a thoroughly partisan and exclusionary movement? On the other hand, advocates of racial, gender, and sexual equality have achieved significant concrete trnasformation in the political realm via (mostly) procedural methods without necessarily thinking equality, justice through (there are of course significant exceptions to this).

One can hardly expect philosphers to be responsible for accounting exactly how much maternity leave constitutes a "just" society for women, these are jobs for sociologists, economists, even doctors.

Sinthome

That's just where I'm at these days, Alex. "I wasn't always this way." ;-) Seriously though, I think continental political theory would benefit from a lot more in the way of "case studies" of political events and how they came to be and how they subsequently unfolded. This, I take it, is one of the things that makes Hallward's recent work, such as his work on Haiti, interesting and exciting, but also highly relevant. I also feel that Bourdieu's critiques of how certain academic class positions can distort questions of this nature are highly apropos.

Jodi

Not Often,
There are advantages to non-state politics. But, I take the position that a politics that refuses the state ultimately refuses to take responsibility for a political program or action and remains, as Z would say, in the position the hysteric. Z's blurb on Ranciere's hatred of democracy is interesting here: '...his writings offer one of the few consistent reconceptualization of how we are to continue to resist.' Exactly--and, as we know from Foucault, resistance is responsive, ultimately reinforcing a particular power formation.

Also, I think Schmitt is absolutely right with respect to parliamentary democracy.

Sinthome--I'm not convinced that there are not Symbolic--or imaginary, for that matter--motivations for political action. But, the real (Real) matter is, as you know, that the Act isn't a matter of motivation--it comes from outside, compelling us against our inclinations. So, I actually don't think that the question of motivation is significant for Zizek. More important is the object, or how we are as objects. This provides the impetus for an Act. Then, that can be narrativized, presented as an Event. And, here, I'm not sure that motivation matters either. What matters is truth.

Floyd--your last para is kinda weird. I say that as a political theorist and a mommy who is involved in working out maternity and parental leave policies for faculty and staff at my colleges. So, even a philosopher (or a political theorist) is not just a philosopher, and good policies may often have a locational specificity.

Sinthome

"Sinthome--I'm not convinced that there are not Symbolic--or imaginary, for that matter--motivations for political action."

I certainly would be the last to deny this. I'm just wondering if there isn't a substantial part of the picture missing here. I think there's a sort of occupational hazard among academics to speak as if all things can be accomplished through the symbolic and then wonder why nothing is changing.

"But, the real (Real) matter is, as you know, that the Act isn't a matter of motivation--it comes from outside, compelling us against our inclinations."

Well yes and no. The Act isn't something that comes from nowhere, at least in the clinical setting. There's already a tremendous amount of clinical work that is done leading up to the act. Thus, while the Act can never be deduced prior to, well, the Act, it's wrong to suggest-- as Zizek often seems to imply --that these prior things have nothing to do with it. For instance, Zizek's theoretical engagement can be understood, I think, as a *praxis* designed to at least render Acts more likely among his readers. If his various ideological critiques aren't geared towards this and if the Act is the genuine site of the political, I'm not sure why anyone would bother reading him at all.

"So, I actually don't think that the question of motivation is significant for Zizek. More important is the object, or how we are as objects. This provides the impetus for an Act."

Right, but we're not talking about Zizek but what can genuinely produce change. That is, Zizek can be mistaken right? Your second sentence here, about the object, gets far closer I think to what I'm talking about.

Jodi

I don't think Zizek provides the setting or for or praxis preparatory for an Act. Rather, I think his emphasis on retroactive determination lets his readers know that we can interpret events and make them events, or cast actions as Acts. A 'genuine site' of the political thus combines Act, interpretation, and with Badiou, fidelity. That said, I think Z is also useful for analyzing institutions, practices, and attaches that are part of politics and constitutive of contemporary power/ideological formations even as they remain inadequate to the Political.

Sinthome

My take is that the manner in which he dislodges established oppositions that occupy a given an ideological field is aimed at furthering something like the subjective destitution you allude to. Very often Zizek begins by outlining a "standard reading" of some situation, whether a film or political situation, then its contrary reading put forward by someone else, and then presenting some twist that rather dramatically undermines the entire constellation. In doing so the coordinates of the readers identifications and attachments are [ideally] exploded precipitating something like a destitution. This parallels what takes place in an actual analysis, where an analytic intervention both [ideally] hits the real around which the analysand is revolving and catches the analysand by surprise, furthering a traversal of the fantasy and detaching the analysand from the identifications that govern their symbolic. Zizek outlines this pretty directly and clearly in his recent essay on Mao that you've commented on here, where he speaks about making the "bad choice" as a way of undermining the options governing the entire ideological field. I don't think Zizek's writing is analytic in the sense that you describe, but is through and through a praxis [ideally] composed of analytic acts. Every analysis is a strategem in a broader ideological field designed to displace the coordinates of that field, not to describe or represent. Or that's my take and way of explaining his apparent inconsistencies.

I do think Zizek believes there's an opposition between Badiou's conception of fidelity and Lacanian death drive which he advocates... At least on the basis of what I've been able to gleen from his writings on Badiou which are far from straightforward.

Jodi

You give Z more credit than I do--I see the readings as ideology critique, primarily. A reader's investment in a certain initial reading is called into question, confronted. Does that lead to something like destitution? I don't think so--unless we think that any critique shatters the coordinates within which the subject attempts to stabilize itself. Few critiques have this sort of efficacy, although some might. More common, I think, is the build up of critique or a line of critique over time, such that all of sudden one is: oh, I am other than I was! or, oh, I knew this all along.

So, yes to displacing coordinates, but I don't think that this, when applied to arguments in texts, is well described as producing subjective destitution.

I agree that fidelity is not the same as death drive--but specifying this difference is important. I think it has to do with the status of objet a. Nonetheless, in Z's discussions in the Lenin book, he emphasizes a politics of truth, discussing it in terms of a certain fidelity. Perhaps the key here is determining less Z's respond to Badiou than the details of his account (or maybe that's just the kind of thing I find interesting).

Sinthome

"You give Z more credit than I do--I see the readings as ideology critique, primarily. A reader's investment in a certain initial reading is called into question, confronted. Does that lead to something like destitution? I don't think so--unless we think that any critique shatters the coordinates within which the subject attempts to stabilize itself. Few critiques have this sort of efficacy, although some might. More common, I think, is the build up of critique or a line of critique over time, such that all of sudden one is: oh, I am other than I was! or, oh, I knew this all along."

Actually I think we're pretty close here; though I think I'm using the term "subjective destitution" more loosely than you. I'm thinking specifically of Zizek's call for an ethics of separation in Sublime Object, where he talks about such an ethics as maintaining the distance or gap between the master-signifier and objet a. I certainly wouldn't make the absurd claim that Zizek's critiques have the sort of extensive force that they could completely and irrevocably transform a person entirely. However, there is an uncanny experience in reading him... At least for me. I often have the experience of thinking that I thought I knew what I thought about some particular issue, only to find myself entirely baffled by the end of his acrobatics, unsure what to think, and suspicious of the previous positions. To give a non-political example, I think he's done this exceptionally well in philosophy with Descartes, Hegel, and Kant who are all supposed to be "bad guys" within the lense of french theory, but who become something else entirely under his reading. Similar shifts can occur with his readings of various political issues. What occurs then is a detachment from certain identifications that allows for another space of thought and engagement. Thus it seems to me that Zizek invites three types of readings: those that are caught in a transferential trap and cast about looking for Zizek's true position under the perpetually shifting pyrotechnics, others that throw him down in outrage saying he perpetually contradicts himself (reminiscent of reactions to Socrates), and then finally those who treat him as a productive opportunity for theorizing.

Thanks for the reference to the Lenin essay. I haven't read this one. I think it would be productive to determine whether Zizek's death drive departs markedly from Badiou's fidelity.

sushil_yadav

Jodi,

You have written about Activism, Consumerism and Cultural Transformation in your post "Life Changing". In this context I want to post a part from my article which examines the impact of speed, overstimulation, consumerism and industrialization on our minds and environment. Please read.

*The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.*

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature.

*Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.*

Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
Subject : A thinking mind cannot feel.
Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.
Subject : Environment can never be saved as long as cities exist.


Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.

When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

There comes a time when there are almost no gaps.

People become incapable of experiencing/ tolerating gaps.

Emotion ends.

Man becomes machine.


A society that speeds up mentally experiences every mental slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A ( travelling )society that speeds up physically experiences every physical slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A society that entertains itself daily experiences every non-entertaining moment as Depression / Anxiety.


Fast visuals/ words make slow emotions extinct.

Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys emotional circuits.

A fast (large) society cannot feel pain / remorse / empathy.

A fast (large) society will always be cruel to Animals/ Trees/ Air/ Water/ Land and to Itself.


To read the complete article please follow either of these links :

http://www.planetsave.com/ps_mambo/index.php?option=com_simpleboard&Itemid=75&func=view&id=68&catid=6

http://www.ephilosopher.com/bb-topic-244.html

sushil_yadav

Nate

hi Jodi,

I have some questions. First, does abolishing the state count as "transformation of the state"? And what about specifically economic organizational programs which are indifferent to the state (various varieties of syndicalism)? Those haven't always been identitarian, and have harnessed/produced utopian and emancipatory energies to effect important transformations.

Second, will you grant that at least some identity politics (assertions of race, gender, sexual orientation etc identity-other-than-just class) have/have had/could have a class content? If so, does that exempt them from your claims about identity politics? Or do you exclude identity assertions with a class content from what you mean by the term identity politics?

take care,
Nate

Amish Lovelock

Jodi,

Fanon! You have violence, taking control of the state, and in the chapter on the pitfalls of the national consciousness, subjective destitution and the birth of a new man - reintroducing mankind to the world.

Amish Lovelock

Zizek's comments on the Lumpenproletariat in the Parallax footnote might help the connection too.

Alex

Sinthome, Even though I was kidding around, I do agree with you, especially with regard to Hallward. When I went to a seminar he gave (reported http://itself.wordpress.com/2007/03/08/report-on-hallward-seminar/) he illustrated almost all the theoretical positions he took with concrete examples, which was pretty refreshing. The whole of his project seems to be this. Lovely chap too.

Jodi

Nate,

Yes, abolishing counts as transformation of the state.

I don't think of identity politics as class politics and would exempt class politics from my claims about identity politics.

On syndicalism--that's a a tough one; I'm just finished 3 weeks on Italian fascism in my seminar and so am inclined to say that at some point there has to be some kind of interaction with/recognition by the state. Differently put, I think that any politicization of the economy/organized political work at the level of the economy must ultimately involve (challenge and/or be challenged by) the state.

Sinthome--I generally agree with much of what you said--except that I do think Zizek has a true position; I don't know if I would say underneath the perpetually shifting pyrotechnics though. I don't think his shifts are actually all that perpetual--there are some that are always the same, for example. And, I would say that the split, or emphasis on the gap, the non identity of the one with itself, is both the substance and the form of his thought.

Floyd

Jodi,

The concept of locational specificity is loaded (and interesting), but my point in that paragraph was certainly reductive to the extent I wanted to separate the context of political thought as such, and a political stance which is inescapable. Political thought really can't defend even oppositional approaches because they over-privilege the particular (but here perhaps I blow right by your reference to location). In other words, as a theorist you might struggle to come to grips with a coherent picture of democracy the 'Thing', or democracy 'to-come', or even better yet I would say merely politics at the cost of clarity, but inevitably you will have to 'come up for air' as a mother, and an employee or even more mundane roles that beset particular human beings...you might be better equipped to act in that context than, say, a mother in the type of society we would be inclined to transform, but isn't that another discussion?

grammatophile

Sinthome, I think you have captured several important aspects of this question. First, material conditions do determine the consciousness. Second, the religious conservatives have brought about a tremendous amount of change.

There's a paradox here that I think the religious right capitalizes on: change in consciousness affects change in conditions. Most of your Xtian preachers talk about change of life-style going along with the faith affirmation.

Much like most religions, the emphasis is on a change in the orientation of self goals. Once someone experiences a crisis in their lives--divorce, drug addiction, adolescence--a person is open to those changes that are required to channel emotional and intellectual efforts.

I once found it strange that so many evnagelicals emphasize the social and cultural aspects of their lives in America. It's my assumption that any religious consciousness must in most respects transcend the socio-cultural to put them into their correct perspective.

But then it became apparent that what the evangelicals and their leaders require is exactly this socio-cultural medium within which to reinforce the consciousness that they think belief on God etc brings about.

Logically and sociologically, this makes perfect sense. In an effort to support the emergent religious consciousness, the evangelicals have created an immense informational and communication infrastructure. Now they wish to morph that infrastructure into the American social and political fabric.

As Kierkegaard wrote, it is only through a crisis that change comes about. Subjectively, this crisis must remain an open wound that never heals. Socially, the crisis must promote structures and life-ways that never close and are always open to continual questioning and reassessment.

If one looks at it in a certain way, capitalism exhibits just these features--it is an open system that demolishes all values and keeps open the possibility of continual crisis.

I believe that what is missing from the debate is whether capitalism can bring about a change in consciousness that ultimately supports not only a negative liberty but also the positive liberty that Communism and Fascism held out the aborted features of.

Nate

hi Jodi,
Thanks for clarifying. I don't think we have any big disagreements at this point here. I'm pretty sure I think more than you do that some things that get called 'identity politics' can have a class content, but I agree with you about rejecting those that don't. I also agree that economic action involves the state, especially as that action increase in scope and efficacy - not least because the state is the organized defender of the capitalist class. And the economy is shaped by the state, and vice versa. Where I think you and I probably disagree is that I think there's something to retain of/in the economy - use value production, transformed radically by abolition of many power relations (the end of exchange value, surplus value, etc) - while I think there's much less to be retained of/in the state, especially outside minor economic administrative functions. That's neither here nor there on your post's topic, so I'll leave it off.

take care,
Nate

t

hi, i was browsing through your blog--very interesting-- and i stumbled upon this post. i was just wondering if you took that picture and if so, where? it looks so much like certain parts of lima, peru (where i'm from) thanks!

Jodi

yes--this is from the outskirts of Lima.

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