Jeff Kinkle follow-up

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Jan 7 09:32:40 MST 2003

Jeff Kinkle:
>I'm not disputing any of Chomsky's work.  I'm familiar with his, and
>others, work on Nicaragua and the horrible things the US gov't did
>there.  What does that have to do with my questions?  My question remains,
>even if you told these facts to your average American, he would most
>likely either not believe you or not care, what next?  I was actually in
>some inane argument on some Napster like file sharing chat room a few
>months ago in which Cuba and healthcare somehow came up.  In a country
>like Sweden, or anywhere else in Europe, everyone knows that Cuba has one
>of the best healthcare systems in the world.  I brought this point up to
>some (liberal) American guy and he would not believe me.  I even sent him
>links to some chart from The Economist that compared the healthcare in
>Havana to healthcare in Washington DC (needless to say, better in Havana)
>and he still wouldn't believe me.
>And this info was coming from the bloody Economist, not Indymedia or the
>Village Voice!  To such people (who I think constitute the vast majority)
>telling them the facts or a pattern of behavior will not convince them.
>Here you're dealing with ideology and in order to break through it, or go
>around it, you need to understand what this ideology is and how it
>operates and for this I think the writings of Zizek (not to mention people
>like Freud and Lacan), and also of Said, Eagleton, etc. are important.  To
>take Said for example, clearly you see the point behind a book like
>Orientalism and how simply providing someone with facts about Western
>exploitation of the middle east isn't enough.  (Not to go crazy with the
>examples but Said was on BBC1 the other night with a strange haircut and
>some American guy who I've seen before; he has a weird voice and I think
>he wrote a book called Sword of Achillies or something about US foreign
>policy.  Despite that both knew the 'facts', it didn't lead to any sort of
>agreement over policty.)

Jeff, I would urge you to join the Marxism list, where our exchange is
being crossposted. Subscription information is at: In the meantime, I will answer you here
once again and cc you.

I think the real question is not necessarily how to break through ideology,
as you put it, but to win them to a movement. Unfortunately, there were
literally millions of student radicals in the 1960s but only a small
minority came to the conclusion that an organized movement was necessary.
At the New School Graduate Faculty coffee shop, where I studied philosophy
in 1965 to 1967, the place was jammed with pipe-smoking Marxist or radical
sociology or political science majors who had become convinced that the
capitalist system was responsible for the ills of the world. But very few
of them followed up in the spirit of Marx's "the point, however, is to
change it." The basic problem is that a mixture of laziness, cynicism and
self-importance prevented most of these cognoscenti from taking the
all-important step of joining an *organization*.

Truthfully, neither Zizek nor Chomsky seem at all interested in the
question of what is to be done. This is what differentiates the left
intelligentsia from Marxists in my opinion, not how equipped they are to
provide a methodology that "breaks through ideology".

>Well, compared to the majority of academia Zizek does make an effort to be
>read.  I know quite a few people who usually don't read anything more
>complicated than Nick Hornsby that really enjoy Zizek.

What is enjoyable about this sort of gobbledy-gook? If I wanted to
understand the persecution of the Jews, I'd read Isaac Deutscher rather
than this wad of ungainly prose:

The lesson to be learned from Carl Schmitt is that the divide friend/enemy
is never just the verification of a factual difference: the enemy is by
definition always - up to a point, at least - invisible, it looks like one
of us, it cannot be directly recognized, which is why the big problem and
task of the political struggle is that of providing/constructing the
recognizable IMAGE of the enemy. (This also makes it clear why Jews are the
enemy par excellence: it is not only that they conceal their true image or
contours - it is that there is ultimately NOTHING beneath their deceiving
appearances. Jews lack the "inner form" that pertains to any proper
national identity: they are a non-nation among nations, their national
substance resides precisely in a lack of substance, in a formless infinite
plasticity). In short, the "enemy recognition" is always a performative
procedure which, in contrast to the deceiving appearances, brings to light
/ constructs the enemy's "true face." Schmitt refers here directly to the
Kantian category of Einbildungskraft, the transcendental power of
imagination: in order to recognize the enemy, the conceptual subsumption
under preexisting categories is not enough; one has "to schematize" the
logical figure of the Enemy, providing it with concrete sensible features
which make it into an appropriate target of hatred and struggle.

>Chomsky has been an enormous influence on the direction my life has gone
>and I respect and admire him but to be honest most of these same people
>that can enjoy Zizek would fall asleep while reading Chomsky.  I realize
>that is more their fault than his but if people on the left do want to be
>read than perhaps they need to take a different approach.  Some of Zizek's
>more philosophical texts can be difficult when he is discussing Hegel or
>Lacan but I still think he does an incredible job of making them
>understandable.  I agree that deliberately using academic jargon
>calculated to defy understanding (case in point someone like Alan Watson,
>I read a text by him recently that was literally the worst example of this
>possible) is idiotic and anyone doing so should be first against the wall.

I do agree that Chomsky's polemical skills are overrated. I find William
Blum's books more concise and less bloated.

>I agree that it is working people who alone have the power to change the
>system but you have to do more than talk to them.  As Adorno wrote these
>working people (is it too out of fashion to say proletariat?) are still a
>product of capitalist society.  Talking to them in a plain and simple
>manner may be not enough.  This isn't to say that if everyone would read
>Zizek our problems would be solved.  Clearly not.  But by reading him we
>can hopefully begin to understand how this society's ideology works (and
>be able to see its reflection in every aspect of its culture) and from
>there develop tactics.

It is not a question of talking to them. It is a question of engaging them
in mass action, which is the best educator. People became socialists in the
1930s after taking part in militant strikes, not because they read a
Marxist tract.

>Well, familiar with Rubin, unfamiliar with Davis.  I wouldn't dismiss an
>artists work based on their personal politics or affinities for New Age
>Yogis (although it would make me hesitant perhaps).  The Italian Futurists
>may have been fascists but there still in MoMA an still did a lot of
>important, influential work.  Maybe try Lost Highway again or not but just
>because you aren't up to challenge to work through it don't dismiss it as
>New Age shit.  The imbecile comment was too harsh.  I'm sorry.  But I
>honestly think it's one of the best films, albeit difficult, to come out
>of Hollywood in the last five years.  At the very least there is much more
>going on than Mr Cranky noticed.
>Best wishes,

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list:

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