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Posts Tagged ‘zizek’

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The role of critique in contemporary cinema has been displaced. Consider the story of Chicago gang member Danny Toro, who would watch Scarface almost every day for 10 years despite the film’s heavy-handed critique of its gangster protagonist Tony Montana. Perhaps as equally perplexing, the film American Psycho is popular among many yuppies even though its point is to critique the masculinity and violence of a financial culture much similar to their own. Or even more striking: fraternities across the country hold “Fight Club” events inspired by David Fincher’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s book although the film is an in-your-face condemnation of preppy social climbing.

Diagnosing this problem, Slovenian philosopher and critic Slajov Zizek writes that we no longer live in an age where “they know not what they do,” but rather: “they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it.” To make his argument, Zizek echoes the theory of German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, who argues that we have entered the age of “cynical ideology” whereby the demystifying correction of ideological camera obscuras no longer motivates social action – or in the words of French sociologist of science Bruno Latour, the critique has “run out of steam.”

The alternatives suggested by all three are disappointing, however: Zizek proposes empty political doctrines (“signifiers without a signified”), Sloterdijk recommends a return to the irony and sarcasm of the Greeks (“kynicism”), and Latour calls for a “stubborn realist attitude” (“empiricism”).

In contrast to these three alternatives, I propose contemporary theories of affect as replacement for the diagnostic and effective functions of ideology critique. (more…)

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The problem with the concept of ‘cynical reason’ is not that it gives us no hope but that it presumes that people are in the know and just don’t care. But really, the problem is that people don’t care to know. This means that there is still a power to knowing. Yet such a power has to be used as a weapon and not as a cure. For, if they don’t care to know, truth is only as good as it is more useful than illusion. [Because, the question is not why truth works but why illusion is so effective.]

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In his response to Butler in Contingency, Hegemony, Universality, Žižek challenges Butler’s notion of re-signification.  Žižek notes that it’s not that re-signification is never effective, it’s just that both the two imaginaries on the left – the democratic welfare state imaginary and the ‘really-existing-Socialism’ – have been all but exhausted (325).  Rather than resignify the symbolic coordinates of a particular identity, Žižek argues that one should transform the universal ‘principle’ that structures the existing symbolic order.  Žižek is not shy in suggesting why he thinks a full-scale re-structuring is necessary because “it is the very focus on the notion of Real as impossible that reveals the ultimate contingency, frailty (and thus changeability) of very symbolic constellation that pretends to serve as the a priori horizon of the process of symbolization (221).  On the next two pages, as well as in the last chapter, Žižek reiterates that his political project is one of hegemony, however.  To be more explicit, one part of Žižek’s strategy is to sacrifice all attachments and identifications in an ethical act so the ethical figure is not required to compromise her desire, draining the Symbolic’s ability to hold the subject hostage – mirroring the famous line from David Fincher’s Fight Club “It’s only after you’ve lost everything are you free to do anything” (Revolution 249-53).

While I agree with Žižek that the constitutive Real provides a possibility for going beyond resignification, his strategy of hegemony sidesteps the Foucaultian conception of productive power. An analytics of power changes if the productive effects of power are taken into account.  In a post-sovereign society, there is no longer a singular referent for all relations of power.  The production of power is relocated to a multiplicity of sites.  Instead of relying on a naïve humanism that would assume essential aspects of human rationality, desire, and sociality, productive power allows one to create a social topology that accounts for reproducing life (HS 92-100).  Additionally, productive power shifts the terms of debate away from freedom and repression.  Freedom implies that social, political, economic and cultural forces inhibit an otherwise unfettered subject.  Instead, productive power proposes that different potentialities are to be increased or restricted as they are produced (increasing efficiency or productivity at performing certain tasks, added responsiveness to certain discursive pronouncements), but in a manner that is always radically circumscribed by its conditions of possibility because they rely on their conditions of possibility for their reproduction.  Put another way, freedoms are produced, not liberated.

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