[Marxism] Re: Passion: Regular or Decaf? by Slavoj Zizek

Nicholas Siemensma nsiemensma at yahoo.com.au
Thu Mar 4 02:01:30 MST 2004


Lou wrote: 

> The other error is seeing fascism as an act of "resistance against 
> the deadlocks of capitalist modernization." Clearly Zizek has not 
> studied Italian fascism, which was very much involved with Futurism. 
> The essence of fascism is not a rejection of capitalist 
> modernization, but rather a belief in blood/nation ties that 
> supersede class. It is a bastardization of socialism that very much 
> posits a belief in progress, industrialization and all the other 
> values of bourgeois society. I think that Zizek is confused with the 
> pre-Raphaelites or something.

Zizek is just recycling his dreary old material in an attempt to one-up
polite salon leftists, by highlighting what he considers to be the
pathological contingency that necessarily constitutes the social realm,
and forms the basis of all civil discourse, even the decorous chit-chat
of academic gurus and stars. All their claims to universality are built
upon the particularity of racial prejudice and sexual antagonism, and
by wittily locating this insufficiency, Zizek becomes philosopher-king,
the object of fascination and awe. He also seems to bypass the
parliamentary mores of standard liberal debate: amid gasps, he can
defend Lenin, political Islam, even Mel Gibson! But, whatever this has
meant for career advancement or the formation of an academic market
niche, none of this is particularly useful as an analysis of social
practices. Zizek's theory of ideology suggests that the 'symbolic
order' is structured around a void which is embodied by the object a,
the 'sublime object of ideology' which, by filling in the lack at the
heart of every social formation, gives it meaning.  His favourite
example is anti-Semitism: from the perspective of the Jew-hater, the
world makes sense as an ordered international conspiracy etc. All of
this makes a pretty attractive theory for a lot of people, and Zizek's
Lacanian-Kantian notion of irreducible antagonism between necessity and
contingency is the standard form of ideology critique taught these
days.  None of which would matter if relating ideologies to social
structures weren't a crucial job for Marxist analysis.  It's not only a
concern of academics to better understand the production of ideologies;
it's an important part of politics for all of us.  On the topic of
race-based fascism, the more convincing versions rely on a notion of
the social realm as a logico-historical construct of the
commodity-form.    

Moishe Postone has an interesting piece, "The Holocaust and the
Trajectory of the Twentieth Century", in a book he recently co-edited,
Catastrophe and Meaning (University of Chicago Press, 1993). He tries
to ground the extermination of Jews and its ideological basis in an
analysis of the commodity-form and its double character:

"It is striking that the specific characteristics of the power
attributed to the Jews by modern anti-Semitism - abstractness,
intangibility, universality, mobility - are all characteristics of the
value dimension of the social forms fundamentally characterising
capitalism. Moreover, this dimension, like the supposed power of the
Jews, does not appear as such, but always in the form of a material
carrier, the commodity... This helps explain why modern anti-Semitism,
which railed against so many aspects of the 'modern' world, was so
conspicuously silent, or was positive, with regard to industrial
capital and modern technology...Social relations historically specific
to capitalism can appear, on this level of the analysis, as their
abstract dimension alone (eg. money), rather than as the dualistic
structure of abstract and concrete. Their concrete dimension, in turn
(eg, the commodity as object), can appear to be simply 'natural'...
This allows for forms of 'revolt', of 'anticapitalism', in which a
glorification of the purportedly pre-modern - 'material nature', blood,
the soil, labour and community (Gemeinschaft) - can go hand in hand
with a positive affirmation of modern phenomena such as industry and
technology. All are considered to be on the 'thingly' side of the
opposition... [Biologistic and racist forms of thought] should be
grasped with reference to the the capital fetish that gives rise to the
notion that the concrete is 'natural', and that increasingly present
the socially 'natural' in such a way that is perceived in biological
terms...This form of 'anticapitalism' is based on a one-sided attack on
the abstract - abstract law, abstract reason, or, on another level,
money and finance capital - from the standpoint of the 'healthy',
'rooted', 'natural' concrete. In biologised modern anti-Semitism, this
fetishised opposition of the abstract and the conrete, the 'artificial'
and the 'natural', become conceptualised as the racial opposition of
Jews and (in the case of Germans) Aryans... Auschwitz was a factory to
'destroy value', that is, to destroy the personifications of the
abstract. Its organisation was that of a fiendishly inverted industrial
process, the aim of which was to 'liberate' the concrete from the
abstract. The first step was to dehumanise and reveal the Jews for what
they 'really are' - ciphers, numbered abstractions. The second step was
to eradicate that abstractness, trying in the process to wrest away the
last remnants of the concrete material 'use-value': clothes, gold,
hair".

Nick

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