Zizek is coming

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Sat Mar 17 06:40:59 MST 2001

Without going overboard, I try to read and critique all these trendy
figures from Zizek to Judith Butler. At least it gives me the opportunity
to utilize my own variety of Groucho Marxism. In any case, here's something
I posted on Zizek in January, 2000.


Zizek, Bukharin and Stalin

Part of every student's cold war indoctrination at my high school in
upstate New York in the 1950s was Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon." We
were told that the novel, in which an "old Bolshevik" confesses to crimes
he did not commit for the sake of the revolution, was based on the trial of
Bukharin. What a terrible system Communism was. People got up on the
witness stand and confessed to all sorts of false and ludicrous charges
because they thought their sacrifice was necessary for the greater good.

The last place I expected to read such nonsense was in the pages of the New
Left Review. In the latest issue #238, an article by Slavoj Zizek titled
"Suicide of the Party," recycles this cold war mythology but under a heavy
coating of postmodernist babble. Sort of like seeing Arthur Schlesinger Jr.
with a nose-ring.

The occasion of Zizek's musings is the publication of J. Arch Getty's and
Oleg Naumov's "The Road to Terror," a book that not only contains new
archival material related to the trial of Bukharin, but embellishes them
with "references to Foucault, Bourdieu, and modern linguistics in order to
explain the functioning of the ritual of self-accusation in the show
trials." When I read this, I slapped my forehead. Of course, what kind of
fool had I been reading Trotsky or Stephen Cohen to understand the Moscow
Trials. I should have been reading Bakhtin all along.

Ordinarily, Zizek's beat is the detritus of popular culture, so it sort of
puzzled me what new insights he could possibly have, even with the treasure
chest of archival material at his disposal. He did make one minor
concession to past avocations, however. He likened the Khmer Rouge to the
slogan promoting the unwatchable neo-noir, John Dahl's "The Last
Seduction": 'Most people have a dark side...she had nothing else.' I will
leave Sam Pawlett to deal with that.

For Zizek, the Moscow Trials are a ritual that represent the end process of
successive drives to purge the party, which up until this point involved
wholesale willingness to suspend ordinary standards of reason and morality.
The proper analogy for this would be the kind of blood sacrifices demanded
in the barbaric pre-Christian era. To drive this point home, Stalin is
called Abraham and Bukharin Isaac. To remind all of you out there who were
deprived of the benefits of a proper religious education, Yahweh commanded
Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac on the top of a mountain. When
Abraham asked why, Yahweh replied because "I am God." When I heard this
story the first time, I promised myself to check out atheism.

Full article at: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/January00/Zizek.htm

Louis Proyect
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