Zizek and Ideology

Nicholas Siemensma nsiemensma at yahoo.com.au
Sun May 18 06:23:32 MDT 2003

We really do spend too much time talking about Zizek,
when a good pasting from Lou every few months should
suffice.  But, for those with a taste for Zizek and
his properly Kantian theory of ideology, an analysis
of the Slovene and his take on 9/11 can be found at
the e-journal Cultural Logic:

Ideology is, as Sohn-Rethel said, "the staircase that
leads from base to superstructure," and IMO any good
theory of ideology must start with investigating the
social thought-forms peeled logically and historically
out of the commodity form.  We should understand, as
Marx did, the "commodity abstraction" resulting from
commodity production and exchange as disruptions of
natural processes, where trade and production based on
a widespread division of labour goes hand in hand with
the objectification of nature and a clear demarcation
between Nature and Society.   A comprehension of this
externalisation and ("real") abstraction –
historically coterminous with the appearance of
price-forming markets – furnishes us with critiques of
epistemology, science, religion, abstract space and
time, alienated sexual relations, etc.  

If all this doesn't show up in your theory of
ideology, then there is something wrong with your
theory, no?  Zizek can elide all this because is
writings are esentially metaphysical.  Metaphysics is
never all wrong, but is always a one-sided, abstract,
static representation of what is actually a dynamic
material process involving conflicting forces. That's
the meaning of dialectics, a method not noticeably
present, frankly, in the works of Zizek, despite the
lip-service he pays to Hegel's dialectic.  He is a
Kantian: he refuses to read Hegel's Science of Logic
beyond his favourite point at the stage of
"determinate reflection" and the antinomies of
reflective cognition, and so unsurprisingly believes
his Lacanian-Kantianism coheres with Hegel and other
dialectical thinkers.  It doesn't - not that that
means his stuff is no use. It is occasionally quite
interesting and useful indeed. But it is not Marxism.

So what more do we need for a decent ideological
analysis?  Our social formations have an equilibrium
point whose determining last instance is the
prevailing rate of exploitation and the secular
direction of change of that rate (Cap v.3).  This
social equilibrium or synthesis is produced and
reproduced by structuring of the working class and the
composition of labour, by the world market and
imperial hegemony, by the concentration and
centralisation of capital and, finally, the political
superstructure and also the mechanisms and programmes
of ideo-hegemony.  With a crisis of valorisation and
accumulation, the mode of production (including
ideo-hegemony) is restructured to restore
profitability in a new historical matrix: this is the
basic point from which we must investigate ideology,
the ideo-cultural sphere as it relates to the
accumulation crisis in the present conjuncture.  If
Zizek relates to this at all, it's by accident.  If
you write enough cultural theory, you will
occasionally come face-to-face with some of the levels
or instances of the imperialist world-system.  And so
Zizek does, and we sometimes think he's being
political when he starts to mention Lenin.  But it's
only a cadenza to the main theme, which for Zizek is
something about Ariadne's thread, I think. 


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