From Žižek to Badiou to Benedict XVI…

Saw this sentence in The New Republic’s Review (a bit delayed) of the Pope’s Caritas in Veritate:

According to Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, we are in the midst of a “late capitalist . . . countdown to social dissolution and the triumph of infinite exchangeability and timeless, atomized desire.” The only way to interrupt this countdown, he suggests, is for all of us to pattern our actions on divine love. A number of intellectuals–ranging from former Maoists such as Alain Badiou to dialectical materialists such as Slavoj Žižek–have made similar diagnoses, and proposed similar solutions. And to their company must now be added the pope.

I suppose I’m used to seeing combination that move ideologically from far right to anarchist left, but if we’re getting down to a range of Badiou to Žižek, maybe that’s an ideological field on which we can play. And FYI, I stand with all those protesting the fact that this is the first papal encyclical not published in Latin. When I was in Rome, though, I did pick up an English copy for my dad, putting the two book marks I got him on particularly “lefty” sentiments. Also, I don’t think Badiou is a “former” Maoist.


Rules of Engagement: Different Heroes, Please

If I’ve been reading my Continental political philosophy right over the past few years, I really must have gone wrong somewhere in my political upbringing. Because I really don’t want to read another article or another major writer that tells me the radical politics of two particular people (and I’m sure I’ll think of more later on):

1. Bartleby: Deleuze, Agamben, Zizek, and I’m sure I’m missing a few people who have held up Melville’s Scrivener as the go-to for emancipatory politics. First, I don’t think “I prefer not” really disrupts the traditional binary of actuality and possibility, but let’s leave that aside. He prefers not … to do work. With you on that one. He prefers not … to be bossed around. Still there. He prefers not to …turn on the heat. Well, I’ve been through a NY winter, but sure, if it’s also getting him out of work…

But finally the man brings him down and forces him out. And he still prefers not. Some time later, he finally dies, preferring not … to eat. And this, Zizek notes, could be the greatest violence of all. And I love that work by Zizek, but, um, no. This is, in fact, a great story about the self-abdication of a certain part of the left, which Zizek is often so good at taking down (for example, in critiquing Critchley’s infinite demands for finite demands). We are so cynical about the whole of politics, and for good reason, that we take our distance from the state, we practice a micro-politics of the local, and then we just circle up and prefer not…to engage. 

2. Paul: I’ll pop this one in to spike my blog numbers. Now Paul preferred a lot: the kairos, the universalism of humanity, and, right, the conversion of the heathens. Paul is great for thinking of the universal, if that means all others have to agree with you in order to be part of that universal. He also tells a lovely story of our saving at the hands of a messiah. Great story. But while I’m waiting, preferring not along the way, can I still be deconstructing ontotheology?

Ah this sounds cranky but I’ll post it anyway….

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…