Rules of Engagement

I’m teaching Žižek’s Violence yesterday, and I could aim at a number of questions I would have about his approach to the question of violence. I’ll take that up in a later post. What I want to zero in on is his description of Maoism at the end of the book, which is a type of argument that is everywhere in Continental philosophy but makes no sense upon any quick thinking of it. Žižek’s claim—no doubt to tweak Badiou a bit—is to say Maoism’s “permanent revolution” is structurally the same as post-industrial capitalism: create and destroy, leave the political ever unstable and thus renewable, and so on. 

Now, this argument has been made about deconstruction (e.g., Jameson), and just about everything someone wants to say is “bad.” But doesn’t it ever matter that the content of a given position is utterly different? Whatever problems Maoism may have, its similarity to the logic of capitalism is silly. In fact, only a few pages previously, Žižek argues that though “divine violence” and “revolutionary violence” may be structurally similar to what Benjamin calls “mythic violence” or what would be just a revolution for the sake of grabbing power (rather than attempting to call an end to the system altogether), the crucial difference is the goals and more importantly, the change in the symbolic (often oblique to the political actors) that a true revolutionary violence could bring about. But apparently, it’s enough to say that, well, by some rather simple formulations Maoism is really like capitalism (except, you know, it’s a political logic, not an economic one, however we might tease that difference out) such that, well, it should not be “surprising” that the cultural revolution gave way to the post-Mao “reforms” of the late 70s/early 80s in China. Such that now you’re more likely to find books in Beijing on how to be a good manager than to find a copy of the red book. But there was, of course, a little history in the way between the Cultural Revolution and the events of the late 70s, not least the death of Mao. But I’m going on too long in even taking on this argument…

It’s an argument too clever by half: deconstruction is not capitalist; Heidegger is not capitalist; Foucault’s view of power is not capitalist. Heck, I’ve been thinking: maybe Meillassoux’s speculative realism is just another logic of capitalism in disguise: the pure possibility of the virtual (that is, the chaotic in-itself) such that all things and indeed all physical laws are utterly contingent and thus could change at any moment–hmm, just like capitalist globalization which makes all manner of life contingent, even the supposed laws that would give us a sense of continuity into the future. 

Or maybe the worst capitalist logic would be to see it mirrored in all things…