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UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) — Digging Deeper CXII: February 8, 2010, 7:00 p.m.

Slavoj Zizek, In Defense of Lost Causes (London and New York: Verso, 2008;
paperback 2009).

[Thesis. Since capitalism generates analysis of the custom of potlatch (22-


worsening problems that limit its future, 26). Ulysses' realpolitik.
we should return to what Alain Badiou (to Shakespeare'sTroilus and Cressida urges
whom the book is dedicated) calls the that order can be maintained only by
"eternal Idea" of revolutionary-egalitarian secretly violating it; similarly, ideology
Justice, supported by a philosophy of not only governs closure but also
human autonomy and responsibility regulates non-closure (26-29). The
grounded in the Cartesian cogito, atonal world. Postmodernism institutes
Hegelian and Heideggerian metaphysics, an atonal world, most notably in the
"democratic materialism" (Badiou again), sexual sphere—but at the price of
and Lacanian psychoanalysis.] undermining jouissance (Alain Badiou); it
is like fundamentalism conflates
Introduction: Causa Locuta, Roma knowledge and belief, but views the big
Finita. Breaking with the contemporary Other (a Lacanian authority concept) as
consensus in favor of 'weak thought,' this nonexistent (30-36). Serbsky Institute,
book embraces a leap of faith in favor of Malibu. An exploration of Mel Gibson's
lost causes based on the notion (common anti-Semitism and Abraham Foxman's
to Marxism and psychoanalysis) that the response to it (36-40). Poland as a
truth speaks in the mode of universality symptom. There is a hidden complicity
through the individual; it is between the postmodern world and
"unashamedly committed to the fundamentalism that was revealed in the
'Messianic' standpoint of the struggle for March 2007 Olesky scandal in Poland
universal emancipation" (6; 1-8). (40-44). Happy to torture? Ironically,
the increasingly popular biomorality that
PART I: THE STATE OF THINGS regards happiness as aim of life justifies
torture "in order to prevent more
Ch. 1: Happiness and Torture in the suffering" (44-48). Those who accept
Atonal World. Human, all too torture as a legitimate subject for debate
human. Humanization of the other is are in a way more dangerous than those
"ideology at its purest" (12; 11-13). who advocate it, for they undermine the
What is morality? "[D]oes not every Hegelian "objective spirit" that sustains
ethics have to rely on . . . a gesture of morality (48-50).
fetishistic disavowal? Yes, every ethics—
with the exception of the ethics of Ch. 2: The Family Myth of Ideology.
psychoanalysis which is a kind of anti- The conflict of social forces is often
ethics"; but this is the only kind of ethics turned into a family drama in Hollywood
that can "sustain true universality" (i.e. and elsewhere (52). "Capitalist
universal singularity): for "we are 'not-all realism." Michael Crichton (52-56).
human'" (15-16; 17; 13-17). The The production of the couple in
screen of civility. True civility is a free Hollywood... Steven Spielberg (56-57).
act feigned as obligation (17-21). Pace James Cameron's Titanic (57-58). Warren
abstract multiculturalism, there is always Beatty's Reds (58-59). Chiaureli's The
a Leitkultur (dominant culture) that Fall of Berlin (1948) (59). Mimi Leder's
members of other cultures living in that Impact (59-61). ...and out. Florian
cultural space should respect (21-22). Henckel von Donnersmarck's Das Leben
Gift and exchange. A Lacanian der Anderen (The Lives of Others) (61-
63). Goodbye Lenin (63-65). Dancer Heidegger's (128-35). Repetition and
Upstairs (65-66). The real Hollywood the New. The concept of "proto-
Left. The Da Vinci Code does criticize fascism" is a "pseudo-concept whose
Christianity, but it would be ridiculous to function is to block conceptual analysis"
consider it a "left" film (66-68). Zack (138; 136-39). Heidegger was right to
Snyder's 300 is defensible from a left think that "the New can only emerge
perspective (68-72). History and through repetition" (140; 139-41).
family in Frankenstein. The family Heidegger's error was to look for "a
myth should be reinterpreted dream- revolutionary Event" in Nazism (141-42).
fashion as ideology (72-73). Mary From Heidegger to the drive. "A
Shelley's Frankenstein is related to the consensus is gradually emerging that
monstrosity of revolution (73-81). A there are not two, but, rather, three
letter which did arrive at its distinct phases of [Heidegger's] thought":
destination. Troilus and Cressida again 1) Sein und Zeit; 2) "What Is
(81-82). A Lacanian analysis of Kafka's Metaphysics?"; 3) withdrawal into poetry
letter to his father, approved as and thought; but Zizek disputes Bret
"undermining the family myth from Davis's interpretation of Will in these
within" (81; 82-94). phases, especially as it relates to "Evil"
(143; 142-48). Heidegger's "divine
Ch. 3: Radical Intellectuals, or, Why violence." Hitler's violence critiqued as
Heidegger Took the Right Step "not violent enough" [sic!], "not radical
(Albeit in the Wrong Direction) in enough," because it "did not dare to
1933. Hiding the tree in a forest. A disturb the basic structure of the modern
G.K. Chesterton story on "philosophical capitalist social space"; "The true
police" has a moral like Popper's, who courage of an act is always the courage
wanted philosophers to keep out of to accept the inexistence of the big
politics (95-99). Zizek disagrees; many Other," which Hitler lacked and which
see a Lacanian basis for democratic Muslim terrorists lack (151, emphasis in
theory (99-102). A domestication of original; 150; 151; 152; 148-53).
Nietzsche. A critique of Wendy Brown
(102-07). Michel Foucault and the PART II: LESSONS FROM THE PAST
Iranian Event. Instead of apologizing
for Foucault's error, "one should invert Ch. 4: Revolutionary Terror from
the standard narrative" and regard his Robespierre to Mao. "What do you
support for the 1979 Iranian Revolution want?" The historical legacy of the
as "the best thing he ever did" because it Jacobins should be embraced (157-64).
affirmed hope for "a new form of Asserting the inhuman. "[O]ur task
spiritualized political collective" by today is precisely to reinvent
demonstrating the reality of the emancipatory terror" (174; 164-75).
"collective will of a people"; the Iranian Transubstantiations of Marxism.
Revolution was not homologous with the Because Hegelian "concrete universality"
Nazi "revolution" (107, 108, 111, 114; is "always retroactive, so the search for
107-17). The trouble with Heidegger. the moment when things went wrong is
Zizek rejects the standard defenses of futile (175-81). The limits of Mao's
Heidegger's Nazism (117-24). dialectics. Much anti-capitalism is
Ontological difference. The ontic (i.e. today sublimated as "anti-imperialism"
what really exists) always differs from (181). A partial defense of Mao's "On
the ontological (i.e. the theorization of Contradiction" (181-93). Cultural
what really exists) (124-28). revolution and power. Previous
Heidegger's smoking gun? Hegel's revolutionary attempts have been "not
thought on the state was better than radical enough" (195; 193-97). Today's
Chinese capitalism developed because populist "rejection of the blackmail by
Mao "retreated from drawing all the the new elite," even if it did fail to
consequences of the Cultural Revolution" present a credible alternative (270; 266-
(210; 198-210). 76). ...but not good enough in
theory. Democracy is the only political
Ch. 5: Stalinism Revisited, or, How form that institutionalizes antagonism;
Stalin Saved the Humanity of Man. the protest movements of recent
The Stalinist cultural counter- decades have not been populist (276-85).
revolution. It can be argued that The "determining role of the
"Stalinism effectively saved what we economy": Marx with Freud. "Politics
understand as the humanity of man" is . . . a name for the distance of the
(211; 211-14). A letter which did not 'economy' from itself" (291; 285-93).
reach its destination (and thereby Drawing the line. Populism is merely
perhaps saved the world). How? By reactive, where as "true radical-
evading global nuclear war (214-19). emancipatory politics" is "active,
Kremlinology. By relying on whispered imposing, enforcing its vision" (304; 293-
rumor, Stalinism was profound human 304). The act. Zizek defends his
(219-22). From objective to Lacanian credentials and his knowledge
subjective guilt. But Stalinism still of Marxism (304-16). The Real. Also his
relied on a "big Other" (the Lacanian use of the concept of negativity (316-24).
notion again, le grand Autre), as the The vacuity of the politics of
purge trial transcripts show (222-36). jouissance. Like populist mobs,
Shostakovich in Casablanca. "[W]hat terrorist fundamentalists lack true
makes Shostakovich's music conviction (324-33).
'Stalinist' . . . is his very distance towards
it"; comparison to Casablanca (236, PART III: WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
emphasis in original; 236-46). The
Stalinist carnival... Stalinist terror had Ch. 7: The Crisis of Determinate
an enthusiastic carnivalesque character Negation. The Frankfurt School was
that was no longer possible after predicated on resigning oneself to
Khrushchev (246-53). ...in the films of capitalism, which resignation is now
Sergei Eisenstein. Eisenstein's "lost widespread (337-39). The humorous
absolute masterpieces" Bezhin Meadow superego... A critique of Simon
and Part III of Ivan the Terrible expressed Critchley's Infinitely Demanding (2007)
"the shift in the libidinal economy from (339-46). ...and its politics of
the Leninist revolutionary fervor to the resistance. More criticism of Critchley
Stalinist Thermidor" (253; 253-58). The as too accommodating to capital (346-
minimal difference. Stalinist 50). "Goodbye Mister Resisting
Communism was slightly less bad than Nomad." Pace Toni Negri, "Capital is
Nazism (258-63). not yet purely parasitic" (350-59). Negri
in Davos. Zizek is mordant on Negri's
Ch. 6: Why Populism Is (Sometimes) attempt to oppose the Iraq war by going
Good Enough in Practice, but Not in to Davos (359-62). In fact, "the
Theory. [A rebuttal to critiques by 'American century' is over" and we are
Ernesto Laclau and Yannis Stavrakakis— entering a multipolar world (362; 361-
the book's longest chapter.] "There is 64). Deleuze without Negri. Critique
always in populism always something of Deleuze (364-74). Governance and
violent" (264; 264-66). Good enough in movements. "Every revolution thus
practice... The "no" votes to the EU consists of two different aspects: factual
constitutional referendum in 2005 in revolution plus spiritual reform" (374;
France and the Netherlands signified a 374-80).
(395). Do we need a new world?
Ch. 8: Alain Badiou, or, the Violence "[A]n Event is the imposition of a new
of the Subaltern. Materialism, world" (397, emphasis in original; 396-
democratic and dialectical. [This 99). The lessons of the Cultural
chapter is a friendly disputation with 73- Revolution. Zizek reproaches Badiou
year-old Alain Badiou, who is one of for his willingness to accept capitalism as
Zizek's closest philosophical friends and part of a now inevitable background,
whose universalism he particularly though he agrees that "it is true that
appreciates.] Zizek approves Alain anti-capitalism cannot be directly the
Badiou's assertion in Logique des goal of political action" (403-04; 399-
mondes (2006)that we are able through 406). Which subtraction? Like
thought to "unplug" ourselves from the Critchley and Negri, Badiou adopts a
"spontaneous ideology" that rules our "Bartleby politics," but he is wrong to
"life-world" and achieve autonomy think there is no longer a systemic
"through intense conceptual work" that possibility of "determinate negation"—
attains "truths" (381). Badiou's e.g. massive refusal to vote could
democratic materialism rejects the provoke a general crisis (406-12). Give
possibility of "an infinite universal Truth," the dictatorship of the proletariat a
which could be a basis for totalitarianism chance! "[D]emocracy is also a form of
(382-83). "All that takes place in today's dictatorship" (412; 412-17). But it is
society is the dynamics of postmodern also, in Lacanian terms, a master-
globalization, and the (conservative- signifier of the "the fact that there is no
nostalgic, fundamentalist, old leftist, Master-Signifier"" (418; 417-19).
nationalist, religious...) reactions and
resistances to it . . . with the exception of
the radical-emancipatory (communist) Ch. 9: Unbehagen [uneasy] in der
politics of truth" (383; 383-85). Only the Natur. Beyond Fukuyama. Marx's
affirmation of truth enables us to escape notion of a revolutionary situation no
the dangerous motto of "the enemy of longer applies to today's society (420).
my enemy is my friend" (386). For all the mockery, Fukuyama's End of
Responses to the Event. The History is "the dominant ethos today,"
uncaused "revolutionary subject" is but four antagonisms (ecology;
fundamental to any Event (386). There intellectual property; new techno-
are six possible responses to a major scientific developments, esp.
"Event" [i.e. of world-historical nature in biogenetics; and new forms of apartheid)
Hegelian terms]: (1) fidelity; (2) "are sufficiently strong to prevent its
reintegration into the normative field; (3) indefinite replication" (421; 421-29).
outright denial; (4) counterattack or From fear to trembling. Rejection of
mystification; (5) total enforcement; (6) market limitations as a solution, because
resurrection; but "an Event is necessarily they cannot address the crucial fourth
missed the first time, so that true fidelity antagonism (429-33). Ecology against
is only possible in the form of nature. Zizek, committed to the
resurrection" (387) Only in retrospect is Cartesian cogito, anticipates that ecology
the character of events revealed; may become "the predominant form of
therefore patience is a virtue for ideology of global capitalism" (439; 433-
communists (387-94). "The ultimate 442). But rather than acting on the fear
lesson of psychoanalysis is that human of ecological catastrophe, we should
life is never 'just life': humans are not embrace the "terror" of "accepting the
simply alive, they are possessed by the fact of the utter groundlessness of our
strange drive to enjoy life to excess, existence: there is no firm foundation,
passionately attached to a surplus" place of retreat, on which one can safely
count" (442; 442-45). Zizek rejects the [http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?
view that the breakdown of the relation id=WasFi15.xml&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/engli
sh/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=165&division=div1]).
between man and nature is so important:
"We should really 'grow up' and learn to When Turks practiced multiculturalism,
cut this ultimate umbilical cord to our Westerners described it as an effect of
life-sphere" (445). Zizek defends free the "degeneracy of Mahommedism"
will (446-47). The uses and misuses (466-67). Liberals are thoroughly naive
of Heidegger. "[H]umanity will/should in their prohibition of enmity (467-70).
pass into post-humanity," accepting a The word "communism" represents an
"liberation through terror" (452; 447-53). antinomy: "(1) a future society of
What is to be done? The problem freedom of plenty, and (2) the present
today is to believe that what is political movement toward that goal"
happening is happening, and that we are which is why "one should define
free (453-59). "[W]e should return to the communism not as a solution (to all our
four moments of what Badiou calls the problems) but as being itself the name of
'eternal Idea' of revolutionary-egalitarian a problem to be resolved: how can we
Justice. What is demanded is: 1. strict get beyond the antagonism of existing
egalitarian justice . . . 2. terror (ruthless society without reproducing them at a
punishment for all who violate the different level" (470). To begin with, we
imposed protective measures, inclusive must distinguish violence against
of severe limitations on liberal oppressors from violence that oppresses
'freedoms,' technological control of (471-72). Comments on a debate
prospective law-breakers); 3. voluntarism between Zizek and Simon Critchley (born
(. . . large-scale collective decisions 1960) of The New School in the London
which run counter to the 'spontaneous' Review of Books (472-75; 483-86). On
immanent logic of capitalist violence and non-violence (475-77).
development); 4. . . . trust in the people" Divine violence (the term comes from
(460-61). "Does, then, the ecological Walter Benjamin's Critique of violence
challenge not offer a unique chance to [1920]) is violence that targets excessive
reinvent the 'eternal Idea' of egalitarian state power and undermines it (477-78;
terror?" (461). cf. 483-84). Aristide's condoned it,
earning comparisons to Pol Pot (478-79).
Afterword to the Second Edition: Representations in film and literature
What is Divine about Divine (479-81). But "[t]here is no big Other
Violence. Liberals denounced the effort guaranteeing its divine nature"—the
to ban the Serbian poem The Mountain subject assumes the "risk" (485). Che
Wreath as incompatible with Western Guevara affirmed the need for both great
liberal principles (463-65). But this is love and great hatred, an attitude
hypocrisy: George Washington ordered expressed in his dictum: "Hay que
Gen. John Sullivan to conduct a terror endurecerse sin perder jamás la ternura";
campaign against the Indians of New What you need is to love with hatred"
York on May 31, 1799, in a letter (487; 486-88).
compared to which the Jacobins, in their
recognition of "the full human and Notes. 30 pp.
political rights of the Haitian rebels,"
appear much more "freedom loving," and Index. 12 pp.
Churchill's advocacy of "poisoned gas
against uncivilized tribes" was "far About the Author. Slavoj Zizek is a
beyond [Lenin's] horizon" (466; Zizek professor at the European Graduate
gives no source for Washington's orders, School (many of the figures he discusses
but they can be found here in In Defense of Lost Causes are on the
faculty there), International Director of often complain about his intellectual
the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, volatility, for he changes his position
University of London, and a senior frequently, but Zizek says his is role is to
researcher at the Institute of Sociology, challenge ideological presuppositions,
University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and the not to explain the world. He is known for
author of many books. his oratory; he speaks Slovene, Serbo-
Croatian, English, French, and German
[Additional information. Slavoj Zizek fluently. Zizek has been married twice.
or, as it is properly spelled, Žižek, was He is the subject of the 2005
born on Mar. 21, 1949 in Ljubljana, documentary "Žižek!" (2005) by Astra
Slovenia, in middle-class family; his Taylor.]
father was a civil servant. He holds a
Ph.D. from the Univ. of Ljubljana and [Critique. Written in a bantering, chatty
studied psychoanalysis at the Univ. of tone, but at times with a true
Paris VIII. He has established himself as Nietzschean verve, In Defense of Lost
a leading anti-postmodernist continental Causes leaves one with little doubt that
philosopher and his work has already Zizek owes much of his success to the
spawned an International Journal of Žižek hope that he seeks to instill in the reader
Studies. He is a continental philosopher that the emancipatory global project
interested in Hegelian and Marxist represented, historically, by Left
political theory, Lacanian psychoanalysis, movements in the West is still alive, and
and film theory, and writes on broad not, instead, dead and buried, as pro-
philosophical themes from these capitalist ideologues have repeated ad
perspectives. Of these, Lacan is of nauseam for the past twenty years. It is
greatest importance to Zizek; he writes: certainly refreshing to read discourse
"Freud did not recognize the true that engages intensely with philosophy
dimension of his discovery, it was only at a high intellectual level in paragraphs
Lacan's 'return to Freud' that allowed us that sometimes extend over three, four,
to discern the core of the Freudian five, or even six (e.g. 247-52) pages. In
discovery" (387). Zizek was a member of brief, the anti-postmodernist Zizek
the Communist Party of Slovenia until reaffirms the global narrative of the Left
1988, when he resigned as part of a as it emerged historically as delivering
mass protest of intellectuals against a justice in the name of the true and the
political trial of intellectual dissidents; he universal. — That this holds a certain
joined the campaign for democracy that attraction for Left intellectuals should be
led to the founding of an independent obvious. How it can possibly be
Slovenia. His first book published in translated into social action is another
English was The Sublime Object of question. One of the places where Zizek
Ideology (1989). In The Ticklish Subject is weakest is in his soft-pedaling or even
(1999), he attacks deconstruction and obliviousness to historical facts that
both Heidegger and Habermas. His relate to this question, some of them
philosophy posits the Cartesian ego as involving very recent history in countries
the basis of the subject, and consistently where he spends much time (no mention
features the concept of the "vanishing here, for example, of the Red Brigades in
mediator," which is related to the Italy or of Baader-Meinhof in Germany).
Hegelian dialectical negation of the — The strongest piece in the book is the
negation. Critiquing Zizek has become a 25-page afterword to the second edition,
cottage industry in academia. Critics "What is Divine about Divine Violence."]