A Hasty Reaction to this Žižek Video

What I find here interesting is Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s elevation of postmodernism or what Fredric Jameson described 3 decades ago as the cultural logic or the superstructural form of contemporary capitalism to its defining or determining feature. I cannot completely agree with this one-sided account.

It would be foolhardy to think that such a cultural capitalism’s intrusion to all spaces of the World is complete or absolute. Uneven development limits such an impingement mainly to the world’s advanced capitalist centers and the urban enclaves of the “underdeveloped” peripheries exploited by monopoly capital.

It is exactly the continued colonial and semi-colonial exploitation of inexpensive labor and other cheap resources from what is still known as the Third World that establishes the conditions of possibility of this so-called “cultural capitalism.”

Imperialist plunder and war, the continuing crisis of overproduction, and chronic crisis – and not just the “schizophrenic” rupture of uprooted cultural forms and “depthless” mediated experience – are still, in the last instance, the defining marks of present-day capitalism.

So when Žižek begins to talk about the high standard of living in Europe as one of the “achievements” of contemporary capitalism, let us remind him what Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth, among many others, have already said before: “This European opulence is literally scandalous, for it has been founded on slavery, it has been nourished with the blood of slaves and it comes directly from the soil and from the subsoil of that underdeveloped world” (96).

Nonetheless, Žižek still gives all those beautiful souls out there who think that charity can save the world a very good beating in the video. Charity and reformism are indeed band-aid solutions that cannot solve the fundamental problems that are rooted in the capitalist system itself.

Here, Žižek goes further and points out the obvious: that charity and reformism are in fact party to injustice by giving a human face to an exploitative and oppressive system.

Unfortunately, Žižek ends by giving some vague call for revolution even as he warns against taking up the lessons of Lenin and disdains the concept of a vanguard party of the working classes.

We thus come to the dead end of Žižek’s politics: even as he represents a critique of the neoliberal utopia as the only possible world and sparked a renewed interest in the notion of ideology, Žižek’s politics does not make the necessary leap from armchair theoretical critique to direct transformative action.

Ironically, it would seem that Žižek has himself fallen to the same bad habit that he has pinned down on his “postmodernist,” “multiculturalist,” and “social democratic” enemies: that is to call for what Robespierre has derided as a revolution without revolution. ■

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3 Comments

  1. I’d like to come in on two points here.

    Firstly

    ‘let us remind him what Frantz Fanon…’

    You’ve really no need to remind him, as one of his big ideas is that increasingly through globalization it is the third world which has become the working class of the world

    Secondly

    ‘We thus come to the dead end of Žižek’s politics…’

    Really we’ve yet to begin. As Zizek a la Chomsky points out, the ‘political’ today favours snappy soundbytes over content. Real ideas take time and have a weight of intellect and experience behind them. Zizek has written countless books about what we can (and equally important imo-can’t) do to effect a change.

    I appreciate your commenting on this small section of a longer talk but bear in mind the reason some ideas don’t seem fully fleshed out is a fault of the medium, not the author.

    1. Hi, thanks for your reminder. Indeed, that first point doesn’t really come out in this 10-minute video. I have read some of Žižek’s books and political interventions. I agree that the “soundbytes” in this very brief blog post wouldn’t do justice as a criticism of Žižek’s political position on what is to be done and what is not to be done and his position’s contradictions.

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