A to Ž: Beyond Lacan and Zizek's Apropos (Discarded Ab-stracts From a Foreign Alphabet)
Plato, Greater Hippias 304a
What then does it mean to deceive? It means that one does not begin directly with the matter one wants to communicate, but begins by accepting the other man’s illusions as good money.
Soren Kierkegaard, The Point of View for My Work as an Author: A Report to History
I shall enlighten you, my amiable friends, as to why such disaster overtook you.
V.I. Lenin, “Left Wing Childishness”, May 5, 1918
Today’s most famous Lacanian, Slavoj Zizek argues that “stupidity is a key category of ideology”. iek arrives at his conclusion through a reading of Lacan (who informs us that stupidity must be nourished) and Robert Zemeckis' Forest Gump. I wonder whether Zizek can see the irony of his own vaudevillian position insofar as everything can be explain through Lacan?
Lacan tells us that the ethics of psychoanalysis involves not compromising your desire but Lacanianism becomes the ultimate form of ideological stupidity which says, ““do not try to understand, obey my desire so that I will succeed”. Zizek explains that the maxim, “do not cede your desire”, means,
avoid as much as possible any violation of the fantasy space of the other, i.e. respect as much as possible the other's “particular absolute”, the way he organizes his universe of meaning in a way that is absolutely particular to him. Such an ethic is neither imaginary (the point is not to love our neighbor as ourselves, insofar as he resembles ourselves, i.e., insofar as we see in him an image of ourselves) nor symbolic (the point is also not to respect the other on account of the dignity bestowed on him by his symbolic identification, by the fact that he belongs to the same symbolic community as ourselves, even if we conceive this community in the widest possible sense and maintain respect for him “as a human being”). What confers on the other the dignity of a “person” is not any universal-symbolic feature but precisely what is “absolutely particular” about him, his fantasy, that part of him that we can be sure we can never share. To use Kant's terms: we do not respect the other on account of the universal moral law inhabiting every one of us, but on account of his utmost “pathological” kernel, on account of the absolutely particular way every one of us “dreams his world”, organizes his enjoyment”.
I do not want to be like the hard line Marxist professor, who simply rejects a theory because it is not Marxist. I do however believe that using Lacanian theory to analyze culture is equivalent to using Dora the Explorer to explain Hegel’s system. At best, it is an exercise in uselessness. I imagine an interesting thesis could be written that could compare Freud’s Dora with Dora the Explorer, showing how imperialistic hegemony is at the heart of the capitalistic pysche. Dora’s adventure with the monkey in red boots goes through thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis to arrive at another repetitious aufhebung: Forest, Lake, Really Big Hill. Dora sings a triumphant song at the completion of her triadic task: “We did it, We did it”. Hegel would be so proud.
While Zizek believes in the tremendous emancipatory potential of Hegel’s thought, I tend to side with Kierkegaard and think otherwise. Here is Kierkegaard’s refutation of Hegel and Zizek from the Postscript: “One learns something from Christianity, misunderstands it, and in new misunderstanding uses it against Christianity… as if Christ had been a professor and as if the apostles had formed a little professional society of scholars.”
Watching Thomas the Tank Engine with my son, I rub my eyes in order to truly see the discourse of the big Other- Sir Topham Hatt (whose formula for utilitarian success is “usefulness before cleanliness”) as he chastises his favorite tank engine Thomas, who struggles to remain number One, while proving himself to be “ a really useful engine who does not cause confusion and delay”.
I cannot address this topic here in an exhaustive manner. The trend among some scholars seems to be to find connections between philosophers and psychoanalysts where no such connections exists in order to stake out a territory of research concerns that goes beyond the recognizable borders of comparative philosophy.
In Zizek’s many repetitious and recycled texts , Hitchcock is the ultimate Lacanian or Lacan is the ultimate Hitchcockean. Zizek takes a director’s vision of reality and then claims that this is the way reality functions. Just because Kieslowski’s films portray a Gnostic universe does not mean that the universe is Gnostic or that Hitchcock posing as the Ur-philosopher has really plugged his camera into L’ origine du monde , showing us the way things really are. If Hitchcock is already a Lacanian why read Lacan or Zizek?
Zizek’s pattern of constructing his text is as follows: First he takes an obscure passage from Lacan and attempts to explain it with a reference from a Hitchcock film most typically Vertigo. Then for twenty or so pages there will be an obscure quote from Hegel, or Schelling which is explained by analyzing a David Lynch movie or some event from pop culture (for example, Coke Zero and how we are actually consuming “the nothing”).
Next, there will be a reference to Slovenia when it was part of the Yugoslavian Socialist Federation. Here a joke will be explained that has some bearing on the essence of the political and religious and finally there will be a return to Lacan or Marx followed by an explanation of the final scene of a recent movie.
The success of Zizek’s method is evident. He has become quite successful in using Lacan to analyse film, horror stories, science fiction, politics and pop culture. It is as if the philosopher from Slovenia (to cite an old joke from Hercegovina) “is selling testicles as if they were kidneys”. Since no one has paid much attention to Zizek’s market practices, I will attempt such an undertaking. My thesis is simply this: Zizek is a comedian pretending to be an impenetrable political theorist/revolutionary pretending to be a comedian, pretending to be Hegelian who has read Derrida and postmodernism very badly.
Zizek makes it appear that Lacan was there before the world began and that everything can be explained through him. Lacan holds currency. The Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan argues, “when a thing is current it creates currency”. I wonder how Zizek fights against the noxious material effects of global capitalism when his book sales contribute to the expansion of such capital? Is such an argument legitimate? What can be done about the cruel market reality especially when oil prices were known to rise in North America because of Saddam’s abdominal distress, especially now that he is on a hunger strike?
How can we re-configure our being into something radically new? Where are we to look for the Event? Surely not in a repeat of Lenin or Adam Smith. Will the Truth-Event be resurrected with laws, police that persecute rather than protect, bureaucracies and educational systems that serve the needs of the state? Where is justice in all this talk of Events? The designs of Bauhaus that were to furnish the Socialist Utopia became the choice for the skyscrapers of capitalist Amerika. These paradoxes are difficult to think through because they involve no thought.
Perhaps the combination of Lacanian psychoanalysis and Marxist theory to lead us out of the confines of the New Sophists and New Age obscurantists is a noble undertaking only if Lacan is first analyzed for being obscure. In The Fragile Absolute- or why is the christian legacy worth fighting for, Zizek asks,”How is a Marxist, by definition, a ‘fighting materialist’ (Lenin) to counter this massive onslaught of obscurantism?” My answer to Zizek is simple: stop engaging in an onslaught of obscurantism. Forget Lacan and his Viagra theorizing such as “Thus the erectile organ comes to symbolize the place of jouissance [ecstasy], not in itself, or even in the form of an image, but as a part lacking in the desired image: that is why it is equivalent to the -1 of the signification produced above”. Surely this is a joke. Lacan might have also said that E=mc2 can be used to measure the thrust of the erectile organ as it finds its jouissance in the gaping lack of the Real. As a master Lacanian, Zizek might explain some of the following cryptic remarks made by Lacan in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis and On Feminine Sexuality: The Limits of Love and Knowledge (Encore) :
In other words- for the moment, I am not fucking, I am talking to you. Well! I can have exactly the same satisfaction as if I were fucking. That’s what it means. Indeed, it raises the question of whether in fact I am not fucking at this moment.
One of the following two things is true: either what I write has no meaning at all- which is, by the way, the conclusion of the short book(discussed earlier), and that is why I beg you to have a look at it- or when I write xx, a never-before-seen function in which the negation is place on the quantifier, which should be read, “not whole”, it means that when any speaking being whatsoever situates itself under the banner “women,” it is on the basis of the following- that it grounds itself as being not-whole in situating itself in the phallic function.
The vacillation psychoanalytic experience reveals in the subject regarding his masculine or feminine being is not so much related to his biological bisexuality, as to the fact that there is nothing in the dialectic that represents the bipolarity of sex apart from activity and passivity, i.e., a drive versus outside-action polarity, which is altogether unfit to represent the true basis of that bipolarity.
While I attempt to digest what Lacan says here I will continue with my criticism of Zizek’s arguments and excuses. In his reply to Geoffrey Harpham, Zizek reveals that he “was not allowed to work in (his) domain, philosophy, until 1990”. Zizek writes, “that after years of jobless existence, I had to work on marginal sociological research with no connection whatsoever to my theoretical interests in order to survive?” Here Slavoj confesses that he had to cede his desire and betray Lacan’s teachings. When it came down to the choice between loving Lacan with jobless hunger or “marginal sociological research” he chose on the side of the Yugoslav Big Other: Marshall Josip Broz Tito. Hegel’s heroine Antigone would be very disappointed. Should we be thankful for this choice? Zizek’s books have given many graduate students a rest from what passes as critical theory in North America. No doubt, he is fun to read. He is extremely entertaining as a lecturer. He even manages to make fun of himself. Here is Zizek being humorous: “We Slovenes are no one, are backwards, copulating with sheeps (sic), animals. I don’t have any illusions about us Slovenes.” and “if there ever was an honest liberal I think it’s Richard Rorty. Of course, I disagree with him, of course when we take power he will go to the gulag, but I will provide for him a nice cell with a double ration of meat every day”. Here Zizek would need to answer Kierkegaard’s question from the Postscript, “ But why does a busy thinker like that talk and think so disrespectfully of himself?”
My thesis, which will be broken into several uneven parts is that Zizek’s claims are vague, contradictory, inaccurate and banal. This describes Zizek at the height of his analytic powers.
Here is what I imagine as I think of Hitchcock while reading Lacan with my left eye and Zizek with my right; you might read it as a film script entitled, “Zizek wants to be Lacan with real power”. Here are the breakdown of scenes. Read them as discarded abstracts from a foreign alphabet:
Decades of engaging in meaningless Yugoslav sociological research and looking at huge portraits of Marshall Tito teach him the art of patience as he listens to Beethoven, Mozart and Lai-Bach, watches Hollywood films and crafts books with witty titles. He battles with the ghosts of his parents- both committed to the cause. He hears the voices of his professors urging him to read more Marx and actually cite him in his thesis while he prefers to watch more Hollywood movies. Somehow he manages with the imposed universalism of one type of laundry soap, one flavor of ice cream, and one kind of coffee. Shall he star in a new Groundhog Day to become a repetition of the weatherman who must decide whether his life needs a Pauline renewal?
He buries his manuscripts in the floorboards of his State funded apartment until the day that Slovenia will emerge from ex-Yugoslavia (where did it go?) to finally become free of Tito’s self-management terror. The joke was “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work." Should we read Zizek the way Stephen King describes his work? King writes, “My works are the literary equivalent to a Big Mac and French Fries”. It’s only a burger. But billions and billions of assistant English professors in the United States are served.
Slavoj whose name means “glory” finally explodes on the scene of the capitalist West to save us from Chomsky, Rawls and Habermas as he emerges as “a startling critic of great daring”. We ask, where was his daring and courage while Slovenia was still in the Yugo-Serbian dominated Federation? While he was a member of the Yugoslav Communist Party, Žižek did not stand up for his Lacanian principles. This would have meant a one way trip to Goli Otok (the Naked Island) where Tito imprisoned the politically correct. Imagine Lenin teaming up with the Dog the Bounty Hunter to capture elusive capitalists hard at work playing golf while their stock options diversify.
My Lacanian question to Zizek in clear Croatian is, “Zakaj ste (why did you), Slavoj cede your desire?”He might answer, “ I was not ceding my desire. I was seeding my desire by writing speeches for the Party, reviewing films that I had never seen, writing reviews for books that were never published”. In the Communist era the government paid the salaries of theater companies and athletes. Box office prices were low. Everyone could afford to go to the theater, movies, the opera, the ballet, or sporting events. What a blessing! Comrades were allowed to make their own whisky. The reasoning was simple: A drunk populace numbed on slivovitz cannot revolt.
Stripped of his Kierkegaardian wit, jokes, references to Hegel and pop culture, interesting book titles, what is Zizek actually saying? Can he be pinned down? Can his writings, following Baudrillard’s fine phrase, be read as a “trans-aesthetics of banality”? Think here of the Prada Spring 1999 collection: handbags adorned by the faces of Mao and Lenin.
Shall we meet him next to the Louvre pyramid together with Tom Hanks to pay tribute to Christian materialism, Courbet and Magdalene’s “holy grail?” to ponder how God’s babies kick the wombs of mortal women? Indeed, one wonders what Lacan was actually saying as we attempt to read him through Jacques-Alain Miller’s reconstructions. Here is Hegel from the Phenomenology of Spirit speaking dialectically about Zizekian theory:
The knack for this kind of wisdom is quickly learned as it is easy to practice; once familiar, the repetition of it becomes as insufferable as the repetition of a conjuring trick already seen through……It would be hard to decide which is greater in all this, the causal ease with which everything in heaven and on earth is coated with this broth of color, or the conceit regarding the excellence of this universal recipe: each supports the other. What results from this method of labeling all that is in heaven and earth with the few determinations of the general schema, and pigeon-holing everything in this way, is nothing less than a ‘report clear as noonday’ on the universe as an organism, viz., a synoptic table like a skeleton with scraps of paper stuck all over it, or like the rows of closed and labeled boxes in a grocer’s stall.
In other words, Lacan explains everything. Everything in heaven and on earth is coated in the same broth of color. Let us therefore eat from the excellence of this universal recipe. Look Hamlet, here is the skeleton of the decentered Self. To understand the inner workings of this Self, paste post-It notes inscribed with the words: Imaginary, Symbolic, Real, vel, lamella, objet petit a, sinthome, gap, etc,.
Here I can quote Zizek from his book The Ticklish Subject, which I take to be the final word. Here Žižek (the Slovenian philosopher) is criticizing Zizek (his American lamella) ” One should reject such insights as banalities unworthy of being objects of thought”. What is worthy of being an object of thought as we pursue the Lacan’s Real? Whereas Hegel argues, “The True is the Whole” Lacan argues the Real reveals the hole. The Real is the grimace of reality. For example, excrement with toilet paper on it. Butter with broccoli. A dead raccoon with asphalt supporting it. The black spot on Jack Sparrow’s palm in Pirates of the Carribean, opening into a mouth, is a sign of traumatic excess. The noumenal shines through into the phenomena like bananas on the black market in Communist Yugoslavia. Where is the anamorphosis? An anamorphosis is a deformed image that appears in its true shape when viewed in some "unconventional" way.
I have to be serious. I confess. I am reading Zizek reading Lenin and listening to Beethoven's appassionata after having listened to Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. I wonder why Zizek calls for a REPEAT of Lenin which according to him does NOT mean a RETURN to Lenin? Zizek claims that- to repeat Lenin is to accept that "Lenin is dead," that his particular solution failed, even failed monstrously, but that there was a utopian spark in it worth saving. How do we pass judgement on the executioner who performs his duties with angelic conviction? Let us listen to Hegel describing Lenin and Stalin:
The heart-throb for the welfare of humanity therefore passes into the ravings of an insane self-conceit…..It therefore speaks of the universal order as a perversion of the law of the heart and its happiness, a perversion invented by fanatical priests, gluttonous despots and their minions, who compensate themselves for their own degradation by degrading and oppressing others, a perversion which has lead to the nameless misery of deluded humanity. In this its derangement, consciousness declares individuality to be the source of this derangement and perversion.
Here, Hegel makes so much good sense.
I cannot take Zizek seriously especially when he writes, “To repeat Lenin is to repeat not what Lenin DID, but what he FAILED TO DO, his MISSED opportunities.” Let us allow Lenin to speak,
But we say in reply: 'Permit us to put you before a firing squad for saying that. Either you refrain from expressing your views, or, if you insist on expressing your political views publicly in the present circumstances, when our position is far more difficult than it was when the white guards were directly attacking us, then you will have only yourselves to blame if we treat you as the worst and most pernicious white guard elements.'
We stand for organized terror - this should be frankly admitted. Terror is an absolute necessity during times of revolution. Our aim is to fight against the enemies of the Soviet Government and of the new order of life. We judge quickly. In most cases only a day passes between the apprehension of the criminal and his sentence. When confronted with evidence criminals in almost every case confess; and what argument can have greater weight than a criminal's own confession.”
Here we can imagine Lenin as the Energizer Bunny that “keeps going and going; leading us to the jaws of the wolf.
What did Lenin exactly fail to do? Should he have continued with his terror within the Lacanian refrain in his ear: “Do not cede your desire”? Did he fail to make proper use of his average intelligence? Should we follow his tireless energy, indomitable will and native political genius into the utopia that Zizek has prepared for us? Should we follow the Lenin that wrote horrible prose and willingly–even eagerly–turned to murder, terror, and brutal repression? Should Lenin father of the Soviet terror be repeated and called Abba? Is Zizek advocating a kinder, gentler state sponsored terrorism: Lenin with an excessive generosity; Paul without the throwing of stones at Christians? Mad Max lives to ride again together with John Wayne down a burnt out Australian highway looking for the gasoline of the apocalypse while we wait for our bids to be accepted on E-Bay.
While Zizek wants to retain Lacan’s theories without exception, he picks what suits him from other theorists without giving us a complete understanding of their works. For example, Lenin the father of Soviet terror is to be “resurrected” for his utopian ideals. St. Paul is to be retained for his “militancy” against the pagans, etc. An unbeliever who cannot give up Christian hopes is a bad Heideggerian. This is the main reason Zizek’s claims are preposterous, vacuous and foolish. This finally explains why do many are drawn to hear him speak: great comedians draw large crowds. But so do bull-fights, soccer matches and evangelical Lacanian preachers.
On the one hand, I read Zizek for the entertainment value and nothing more. I know such an activity is not very productive. It is comparable to watching re-runs of Star Trek or Maximum Exposure. I know I should be reading more analytic philosophy. On the other hand, I find in his writing an obscurantism that needs the lucidity of a deconstructive catholic critique. In the Fragile Absolute , Zizek argues,
One of the most deplorable aspects of the postmodern era and its so-called ‘thought’ is the return of the religious in all its different guises: from Christian and other fundamentalisms, through the multitude of New Age spiritualisms, up to the emerging religious sensitivity within deconstruction itself…..How is a Marxist, by definition, a ‘fighting materialist’ (Lenin), to counter this massive onslaught of obscurantism?….Christianity and Marxism should fight on the same side of the barricade against the onslaught of new spiritualisms- the authentic Christian legacy is much too precious to be left to the fundamentalist freaks.
Zizek is wrong to put Derrida’s deconstruction in the same camp as “fundamentalism and New Age spiritualism”. I agree that we must be on guard against fundamentalism as long as we have first taken the fundamentalist log out of our own eyes. Is there a laser surgery that could accomplish this? Put bluntly, Lacanian psychoanalysis cannot provide the foundation of a new political practice because it is ridiculously inadequate for the task of being responsible to persons in their unique singularity. Lacan’s theories are therapeutically and politically ineffective.
If Zizek claims that a psychoanalytic ethic should not “encroach violently upon…intimate fantasy space!” then should we not respect the fantasy space of the fundamentalist who is seeking not to compromise their desire? Should we be Lacanian and declare, “Yes, you blew up our Towers, but that’s OK since we already ravaged your land when we followed our desires without respite.” Or, is it otherwise? Are the innocent victims only the innocent victims of my nation-thing? Between 1917 and 1959 over 60 million people were murdered in the Soviet Union. For the Left these numbers are acceptable because following Badiou and Zizek, they were a necessary outcome of the “Truth-Event known as the October Revolution”.
Zizek’s call to fight on the baracade not only violates the ethic that Jesus develops but it also violates the psychoanalytic ethic that allows for the creation of new fantasmatic spaces; even when such spaces show the “unbearable ideal couple of a male ape copulating with a female cyborg”. Zizek considers Lacan to be an enlightenment thinker but he fails to answer the question, what is the knowledge that can immunize us against ignorance? How does psychoanalysis excise the pathology within reason and the pathology within spirituality?
On one level, Zizek is right to criticize New Age Spiritualism but he should include his own writings within that camp. It is one thing to watch TV evangelists for their entertainment value and yet another to actually believe them and “tuck in a love gift” as you wait to receive your miracle spring water that will cure your cancer along with your acne and fix your finances as you finally manage to find meet the Lord while travelling 240 km/h in the fast lane of the 401. You have seen the signs: “CH CH. What is missing? UR. Come in we are prayer conditioned. This Son will not burn you.” The interesting paradox is that cultural theorists actually believe “in” Zizek.
The rider that never appears in fine print of Zizek’s book might read, “Of course Christianity and Marxism should go together, that is, if and only if Christianity is understood as a stripped down materialism”. Who needs this? A secular version of Christian ideas are like cyber-sex. There is no point. Watching Extreme Make-Over Home Edition illustrates the materialism at the heart of religion. A family becomes poor after the death of their preacher-father. The generous trades-persons trained in video appeal, arrive to erect a 5000 square foot luxury home. The family with tears of material bliss rolling down their cheeks cannot believe their good fortune. Their faith is assured. God does provide for his needy flock. Here is what Kierkegaard writes in his Journals:
Preaching of the Gospel
Parson: Thou shalt die unto the world. The fee is one guinea.
Neophyte: Well, if I must die unto the world I quite understand that I shall have to fork out more than one guinea; but just a question: Who gets the guinea?
Parson: Naturally I get it, it is my living, for I and my family have to live by preaching that one must die unto the world. It is really cheap, and soon we shall have to ask for considerably more. If you are reasonable you will easily understand that to preach one must die unto the world, if it is done seriously and with zeal, takes a lot out of a man. And so I really have to spend the summer in the country with my family to get some recreation.
Should we collectively cry out, “Roll back that bus!” When will the Void be revealed for what it is? Does Lacan or Schelling actually lift the veil so that the truth can finally be seen? Does R.D. Laing come closer to the truth when he asks, “How do you plug a void plugging a void? How to inject nothing into fuck all?” Is the Real really unformed ghastly matter so that there is something in God that is not-yet-God, not yet fully constituted reality? Such speculation can lead into a discussion of Mad Max. God does not send his avenging angels to destroy the evil people who happen to enjoy fast cars, free apocalyptic gasoline, leather and a little pillaging. God does not send his angels to help the people dressed in white, guarding their oil, decked out in hockey gear armor. God sends Mad Max his other son. Perhaps Nietzsche announces it best when he writes, “there is much filth in the world; so much is true. But the world itself is not yet a filthy monster”. Didn’t Max come to realize this point? He wanted some gasoline and in the process gets turned inside out. His trials do not make him angry. He can smile even as he realizes the absurdity of his situation. He drives a truck whose great tanker is filled with sand. He thinks its filled with gasoline. The veil is lifted. The truth is known. It’s only sand that pours out; the sand of time keeps flowing. The sun keeps shining perhaps telling us that its never too late to learn to live and how to be human. But Max does not get on the bus where the gasoline is stored safely away. He knows to beware of the Magic Bus and its Leninist driver who tells his passengers that he has a map to the promised land and that he knows the way there because he has a stack of post-card images and bolshevik trading-cards.
Zizek’s reading of Christianity is no better than the TV evangelists who chastises his virtual congregation for writing checks that their souls can’t cash. Or in the words of one evangelist, “ Jesus does not like bounced checks”. This sounds precisely like Lacan who with his suspect reading of Freud and others in his seminars coupled with a two minute psychoanalytic session that allowed him to see at least eighty patients a day, became very wealthy. Apparently, Lacan did not cede his desire. Perhaps what is needed is a thorough understanding of rhodopsin, the compound in the pigment of our eyes that enables us to see. If only philosophy could corner the market on this pharmakon.
What Zizek’s fails to observe and this is symptomatic of his prodigious mis-readings (of Christianity and Derrida) is that the message of Christ is not the message of Coke Zero. Think of Jesus on the cross being offered Vinegar-Zero.(Drink it and your crucifixion pain will be numbed) Of course, Jesus refuses. Alain-Miller is right to claim that Coke claims it is IT though it never actually is it. Christ claims he is IT. He claims to be the Real Thing; believe at your own risk. Zizek is correct to claim that with Coke the more you drink, the thristier you get. Christ says the opposite. “Jesus replied, "I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry again. Those who believe in me will never thirst”. (John 6:35) Zizek gets Christ wrong because he relies on Lacan for his theological insights. Simply put, either Jesus is the real thing or we are once again embracing fictions and illusions. Today, the rockets slammed into Nazareth. Beirut is burning. Iran is going nuclear. Bush vetoes a bill expanding support for stem cell research. He states, “ This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others. It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect, so I vetoed it”. The civil war in Iraq continues to spread. The Chinese Government is harvesting organs from Falun Gong prisoners. There is torture at Gitmo. Jack Bauer endorses the “truth-serum” of a Glock on 24. Morality seems to be a convenience used in normal times. The rest of the time there is state sponsored murder in the name of progress. Tragedy does not begin with Homer. It begins with the bubbling up of the cosmic soup from which we arose.
Trapped in the desert of the real in the Capitalistic desert of consumer dissatisfaction is it possible to take solace in Psalm 63:1 which states, “God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water”? Is the dry and weary land where there is no water but only Coke to be called Amerika or –the-former-Yugoslavia? In Yugoslavia, the so-called Marxist cadre could offer graduate courses in how to be good capitalists, while those not convinced of Tito’s gentle hand, i.e. the workers and those forced to be Gastarbeiters, recited verses from Lamentations , “Because of thirst the infant's tongue sticks to the roof of its mouth; the children beg for bread, but no one gives it to them”. Those upholding the virtues of socialism in Yugoslavia were living like rich industrialists. We conclude that socialist economics failed because of its inherent inadequacy to meet the needs of its citizens.
This is a good description of the Yugoslavia my parents and I were born into but it could just as easily describe the hardship experienced by the children of Marx. I mean not only Karl Marx’s children who went hungry and died of disease while he failed to work and labor for them and lived from Engelian charity, but all the children of Marx from China, Africa, Latin-America, Cuba and Europe who continue to suffer. This is an ethical argument and explains my dissatisfaction especially for the so called Marxist theorists in North-America and Europe who drink Coke in the air-conditioned offices of their English departments, while collecting their tenured salaries, wearing Marxist T-Shirts made in third world sweat-shops, while telling us how the petit bourgeois capitalistic system is an abomination because of its inherent oppressive nature. Who is being fooled here? Though I am in solidarity with a certain spirit of Marxism ( i.e., its Tommy Douglas Canadian New Democratic version), applied “Marxism” in its various guises (Leninism, Stalinism, Titoism, Maoism) has been an experiment of disaster. Is this the fault of Marx or just a case of bad reading on the part of those who really had no business interpreting Marx such as the locksmith Tito and the failed priest Stalin?
What made so many follow the blunderings and violence of such individuals? While travelling through “Yugoslavia” in the late 1980’s I was struck at how absurd everything was. Massive portraits of Marshall Tito, train porters throwing garbage out of the train window as we passed into the Socialist Republic of Slovenia, soldiers asking me for my passport with their AK47’s pointing towards my chest. My nationality erased. My village forced to learn the Cyrillic alphabet. My religion persecuted. Perhaps the only way not to go mad in such a mad environment was to embrace the absurdity of situation by making sure to have enough packs of capitalistic Malboro Reds and Kents to buy freedom if needed. Perhaps the only thing that made sense in the mad Yugoslovenian world was Lacan.
Zizek continues, “The key to this disturbance, of course, is the surplus-enjoyment, the object petit a which exists ( or, rather persists) in a kind of curved space- the nearer you get to it, the more it eludes your grasp” The more you drink the more you want is not the slogan of Christ. Though the Yugoslav faithful would declare from a very young age, wearing red pioneer scarves, “Comrade Tito, We pledge our allegiance to you”. Tito was the object petit a that held the faithful in his grasp even from the grave. After Tito’s death the slogan recited by the Party was “After Tito, Tito”. This is the Yugoslav version of repetition. It is the repetition Zizek favors: “After Lenin, Lenin encore.” A repeat of Lenin would be nothing more than a retread. Tires that are retreaded blow up quickly sending flying debris onto the windshields bank-owned vehicles. In World War I retread was Australian slang for "a re-enlisted soldier. Imagine brining Lenin back to life. Aquinas writes, “useless repetition is vain”. Zizek should listen to Aquinas.
While Zizek bemoans art that exhibits, “frames without paintings, dead cows and their excrement” he fails to realize that this is precisely the materialistic leftover and as art is much better than portraits of Marshall Tito hanging in the bedrooms of the communist cadres . Da, druže! ( Oh, Yes Comrade!).
The sublime evidence of “Leninism” lies in the materiality of its corpses. Zizek writes, “ the sublime Grail will reveal itself to be nothing but a piece of shit”. As a “fighting materialist” what else does Zizek have to offer us? Christ without the resurrection is just another rotting corpse that does not smell any better when sprayed with an Unamunian perfume. What if Adam and Eve had committed suicide? How would the scene have played out? The Rifleman rescues his son from the Wildman Buffalo hunter. The Rifleman does not want to play the Wildman’s game of ‘Kill me or Die’. He waits for the grizzly to attack. In the new wilderness overcome by the technology of the repeat rifle the Wildman could no longer be a one shot hero.
Zizek seems to think we can have Jesus without Christ, Lenin without Lenin, Stalin without Stalin, Uncle Joe without the sixty million corpses, full of Marxist wisdom, warmth and generosity. Cultural Theorists of the world….you can been duped. You have nothing to lose but bad theory. Many seem to have swallowed Zizek’s theories whole not realizing what they are eating: the thick gooey, slightly brown paste served in the film Brazil. Dope from 1807 American English is, "sauce, gravy," from the Dutch word doop "thick dipping sauce."
Zizek wants a repeat (encore) of what Lenin failed to do. Of course cultural theorists in the United States are excited. They can have yet another tool from which to carry out an analysis of things already analyzed to death, i.e., “Lenin’s “Utopia” and Little Red Riding Hood as an example of the struggle to overcome class distinctions”. Conferences will be organized. Lenin’s corpus will now be re-examined. His brain studied again to locate the site of his “genius”. The Western Canon will now be interpreted anew through the repetition of what Lenin failed to do. New courses with titles such as “ From Lenin’s cap to Khruschev’s shoe to Van Gogh’s Pipe to Castro’s cigar” will be taught. Dissertations with such noble titles as “Lenin’s Pauline theology as an overcoming of the pagan drives inherent in spirit's implication in the political opposition of Weltgeist and Weltanschauung with reference to Marx’s "all that is solid melts into air” and Hegel’s spirit is bone” will be written . I hope that I am not the only one who recognizes the utter uselessness of such intellectual auto-fellatio that continues to be published at an unprecedented pace. Bacteria swim towards sugar and away from acid. How can humans learn this wisdom?
One of the rumors about Kim Yong II is that he actually died in a car crash a couple of years ago, and that in recent years a double has replaced him in his rare public appearances, so that the crowds can catch a glimpse of their object of worship- is this not the best possible confirmation of the fact that their ‘real personality’ of the Stalinist Leader is thoroughly irrelevant, a replaceable object, since it does not matter if it is the ‘real’ Leader or his double, who has no actual power?
The obvious counter-argument here is: so what? Recall Seinfeld’s comment that people who read tabloids deserve to be lied to. Shall we adopt the same attitude and argue that those who hero worship and have no skills of independent reasoning, who are easily fooled by the double-hero-Master-leader who is nothing more than a failed-priest- locksmith turned “revolutionary”, with no formal education and yet can espouse the finer points of Hegelian dialectic, supported by the West to become their puppet in a strange cult of personality, deserve their leader?
100 million people were killed this century by communist regimes. This is solid evidence against its repetition. Yet, despite all the death and destruction left in its wake, communism still is viewed by Zizek and Badiou as a noble cause, the murder committed in its name simply an oversight. Thus Lenin and Mao (and presumably Stalin and Kim Jong Il) are good. Having witnessed evil several times in my life I recognize its face. I saw what Leninism, Titoism, Milosevicism, amounted to when I saw the mass graves at Vukovar. Simply put, it is a lie that Lenin dedicated his life to one thing and one thing only--the establishment of a society free from all forms of oppression. Lenin like other dictators from across the Left –Right spectrum filled graves.
I urge Zizek and Badiou and the rest of the Lacanians to visit Lenin’s tomb and help the embalmers who periodically change his suit and bathe his body in a special chemical preparation to prevent tissue decay. Nikita Mikhalov, an eminent film director and chairman of Russian Cultural Foundation, says that vast funds are squandered away every year to maintain a 'pagan show'. I will not be the puppet that bows to and sustain the drive of the proverbial puppet-master. This puppet-master is, of course, Lenin and must be--the true target our democratic criticism.Lenin crowd surfs while the tanks fill Tiananmen Square. Seattle could only offer us drug overdoses, unorganized protests, bitter coffee and flannel.
Let’s be really serious as we turn the dialectical wheel. We speculate. Christ dies and does not resurrect but Paul takes his place. But no one really notices. So Christianity leads to materialism which is “the permanent production of piles of discarded waste” The bodies continue to fill the earth. The Master is the only one who profits. The rest of us remain as victims of death. So Freud’s formula, “Wo es war, soll ich werden” ( Where it was, I shall come into being) is to be understand as “Where it was, I, Lacan shall be”. However, the Master Lacan cannot lead us to liberation. Just as the fundamentalism of Paul, who desires to be the Master and asks us to obey his orders as we repress our inner urges, can only offer us dead letters.
Zizek does not seriously consider the real legacy of Christianity. He writes, “ the authentic Christian legacy (Paul’s fundamentalist militancy from the Corinthians) is much too precious to be left to the fundamentalist freaks” Which fundamentalist freaks? He weaves through Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Toyota cars, cell-phones, Coke, Khruschev, Courbet, NAFTA, NATO, Films: My Best Friend’s Weddding, Woman in the Window, Blue and Vertigo only to conclude with how fragile the Absolute is:
What is the Absolute? Something that appears to us in fleeing experiences- say, through the gentle smile of a beautiful woman, or even through the warm caring smile of a person who may otherwise seem ugly and rude: in such miraculous but extremely fragile moments; another dimension transpires through our reality. As such, the Absolute is easily corroded; it slips all too easily through our fingers, and must be handled as carefully as a butterfly.
Let us be serious, really. Let us contrast Zizek’s version of this mundane Absolute which can be found in any gentlemen’s strip club, with the version that Jesus’ proposes in Matthew 6:19 "Don't store up treasures here on earth, where they can be eaten by moths and get rusty, and where thieves break in and steal.” Here Jesus warns us against following the fake revolutionaries who desire nothing but power and do nothing to remedy injustice. A repeat of Lenin? I imagine Lenin training for the demise of capitalism dressed like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Lenin-become-anarchist who tells us that the culture industry offers only the illusion of genuine transformation much like Bo-Tox and collagen used to lure a potential partner.
The question is: Does one have to be bad in order to rescue what is good? Is a little terror a good thing? The film Taxi Driver seems to answer this question. In Biblical literature we see God destroy the earth in order to rescue what is good. Psalm 137 declares, “ O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” We see Jesus being crucified as a criminal so that the good can be retrieved. Job suffers evil and is rewarded with an increase of what is good. Evil is portrayed as a politician with many people campaigning on his behalf. The politicians who ride in the taxi cab are no different than most of the pimps, prostitutes and business people that DeNiro’s character drives around for a fee; cleaning up the traces of their jouissance from his back seat. The movie takes place in the Big Apple that is New York. It has become a city filled with sin, slime and sewers. The taxi driver before his Mohawk transformation sees himself as cowboy confronting a hostile wilderness and like all good Westerns there are guns, girls and whisky. He prepares to make his stand. His mission is to save the girl, the little red riding hood from the bad wolf pimp. Not satisfied with his tour of duty in Vietnam the taxi driver wants recognition for cleaning of the streets. As he goes back to save the girl, he murders the pimps and gangsters and gets badly shot. The police arrive to witness the scene of the savage super-hero with a mohawk haircut bleeding. The newspapers turn him into a hero. The newspapers can turn bad into good as long as it is a good story. Enter the October Revolution. The invasion of Iraq and The World Cup.
The crucifixion is not a happy event as Zizek claims. This is why it is part of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. The Resurrection is the happy event. Perhaps this is the ultimate objet petit a. The task has been accomplished but there is no proof of its accomplishment; except an empty tomb.
Zizek writes that Christianity asks us, “ to disengage ourselves from the inertia that constrains us to identify with the particular order we were born into”. So by all means, cut yourself free from Lacan and speak without him. He continues, “ It is this Christian heritage of uncoupling that is threatened by today’s fundamentalisms especially when they proclaim themselves Christian”.
Zizek’s writings show us what happens when dialectical exuberance gets the better of kulak common sense. When I read Zizek, Lenin, Mao or Lacan, I recall the question the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers posed to Paul: “ What does this babbler want to say?” As Zizek addresses the audience of philosophers, bored liberals, theorists, film junkies and disillusioned communists, I imagine him saying
My fellow Leninists and Lacanians I see how extremely per-verse and obscure you are in every way. For as I went through the city and look at the objects of your desire,, as I located your sinthome within the Borromean knot of the Imaginary, Symbolic and Real, I found among them an altar with the inscription “to an unknown god”. What therefore you worship as unknown thus I proclaim to you as the objet petit a.
The applause of English professors and failed Christians becomes deafening. Let us locate the Paul that Zizek would find appealing, the Paul without Paul, the Saul of Paul, the Leninist revolutionary that mothered a religion, now into its third millenium. Here are some sentences from Paul’s letters that I hope to return to, in my old age.
1. Greet those workers in the world.
2. I urge you brothers and sisters to keep an eye on those who cause dissension and offences.
3. Now I appeal to you…that all of you be in agreement and that there are no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
4. Not many of you were wise by human standards but God choose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.
5. I feed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food.
6. I appeal to you then, be imitators of me.
7. For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power.
8. Make no provisions for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
9. Drive out the wicked person from among you.
10. I wish that all were as I myself am.
11. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.
12. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
13. Greet one another with a holy kiss…. let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Lord.
14. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true.
15. Do not be mismatched with unbelievers.
16. Indeed we live as human beings but we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human but they have divine power to destroy strongholds.
17. I am talking like a madman.
18. I have been a fool! You have forced me to it.
19. Friends, I beg you become as I am, for I also have become as you are.
20. My little children, for whom I am in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.
21. Remember my chains.
22. Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.
23. For if someone does not know how to manage his own household how can he take care of God’s church?
24. Teach and urge these duties; whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ….is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid controversy and disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicion and wrangling, among those who are depraved in mind.
25. No one serving the army gets entangled in everyday affairs.
26. Avoid profane chatter for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene.
27. Obey your leaders and submit to them.
These twenty-seven sentences point to a universalism that fails to respect singularity. It is no wonder that theorists like Badiou return to Paul. We can follow Zizek’s Pauline materialism by substituting a few words in order to create a Leninist speech that would make Stalin and Mao envious. Here is the result:
Greet those workers in the revolution. I urge you comrades to keep an eye on those who cause dissension and offences. Now I appeal to you…that all of you be in agreement and that there are no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. Not many of you were wise by human standards but the Party chooses what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. I feed you with milk from the farm, not solid food from the Big Box Stores, for you were not ready for solid food. I appeal to you then, be imitators of me. For the revolution depends not on talk but on power. Make no provisions for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Drive out the wicked petty bourgeois from among you. I wish that all were as I myself am. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the proletariat. Greet one another with a materialist kiss…. let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Party. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true. Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. Indeed we live as human beings but we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human but they have materialistic power to destroy strongholds. I am talking like a madman. I have been a fool! You have forced me to it. Friends, I beg you become as I am, for I also have become as you are. My little comrades, for whom I am in the pain of childbirth until the Party is formed in you. Remember my chains. Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For if someone does not know how to manage his own household how can he take care of the State? Teach and urge these duties; whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with my sound words is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid controversy and disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicion and wrangling, among those who are depraved in mind. No one serving the army gets entangled in everyday affairs. Avoid profane chatter for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Obey your leaders and submit to them.
Paul like Lenin argues against dissension and individual expression. He wants imitation, not of Jesus, but of himself. Paul’s gospel, which Nietzsche was correct to criticize in the Anti-Christ (because it forgot the message of the generous evangelic Jesus) may be summed up with the slogan, “ No critique, or your eternal life”.
The notion of Denkverbot runs through Paul’s gospel and a repeat of Lenin as Zizek suggests is a return to not being allowed to think. Yes, Zizek is correct to argue that “today, actual freedom of thought must mean the freedom to question the predominant liberal-democratic post-ideological consensus- or it means nothing. However, Zizek forgets that such a questioning is the foundation of a liberal-democracy. A repeat of Lenin is already a repeat of intolerance and repression. What Zizek sells to the liberal academy as radical chic, “ Well, I have run out of ideas…. so let’s repeat Lenin”, is easily recognized by the most uneducated peasant as poisoned wine, pig in a poke political delirium that requires a medicine not yet invented. On the other hand, Derrida argues that it is possible to pay respectful attention to singularity. This makes him more Kierkegaardian than Hegel’s Zizek.
Zizek continues, “ to put it in Kierkegaardian terms, the Lenin we want to retrieve is the Lenin-in-beoming”. Zizek wants to repeat, “the Leninist gesture of retrieving the revolutionary project in the conditions of imperialism and colonialism” so that “we obtain the right to think again”. Here I rub my eyes in disbelief. I wonder how such utter nonsense manages to pass through the peer review process? Are American editors this ignorant of history? My only answer is that perhaps the editors understood that that Zizek’s paper would be on Lennon. Lenin pronounced in “Serbo-Slovene” sounds like Lennon. Listen to the chorus of the Lennonist revolution: “Imagine there's no countries/It isn't hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too /Imagine no possessions/I wonder if you can/No need for greed or hunger A brotherhood of man I hope someday you'll join us/And the world will live as one”. This universalism of all voices on one line singing as one voice on the line is incapable of thinking personhood.
While Zizek calls for a repeat of Lenin, notice how he downplays the crimes against individual persons committed by Stalin and Mao. Zizek writes, “ In spite of all its horrors, the great Cultural Revolution in China undoubtedly did contain elements of such an enacted Utopia” and “ The Stalinist….terror was a gesture of panic, a defense reaction against the threat to this State stability” . We have heard this type of “Yes…But” logic in defense of Fascism and here Zizek repeats it for the monsters of the Left. Zizek wants to retain the Leninist “Utopian spark” but what he fails to realize is his quest for a universal truth is the spark that lit the fires of misery and oppression. Lenin is more relevant than ever in our “era of postmodern relativism” since “truth is by definition one-sided”. Notice here that liberal democracy is so oppressive that one can write bad articles (“A Plea for Leninist intolerance”) that can still be published in excellent journals (Critical Inquiry). In Lenin’s time, good articles (criticizing Lenin) did not have a chance to be published in bad journals. The writer was murdered. No obituary was published. This is the Leninist universal that contains no variety within it. A single chorus on the line. We have been prepared for this universal through pop culture propaganda where the characters speak the same language, with the same tone and inflection.
Only a repeat of Lenin can save us now. We would be like the silkworm once again laboring for the State while dying of our labor. Today, the silkworm moth, like many workers lives only in captivity. Silkworms have been domesticated so that they can no longer survive independently in nature, particularly since they have lost the ability to fly. All wild populations are extinct. If the animal is allowed to survive after spinning its cocoon, it will make a hole in the cocoon when it exits as a moth. This would cut short the threads and ruin the silk. Instead, silkworm cocoons are thrown into boiling water, which kills the silkworms and also makes the cocoons easier to unravel. Often, the silkworm itself is eaten. One cocoon is made of a single thread about 914 meters long. About 3000 cocoons are needed to make a pound of silk.
Zizek continues his Leninist observations in “Human Rights and its Discontents”. The absurdity of his position escalates. The Lenin who liquidated those who disagreed with him is now the Lenin who would save us to think. Lenin is now to become an educator. In Russell’s words, “Such education does not aim at producing any mental faculty except that of glib repetition….From such an educational system nothing of intellectual value can result”. Glib repetition is the repetition that Zizek would have us return to which is evident from his misunderstanding of Kierkegaard’s position.
Russell describes his meeting with Lenin in 1920. Russell writes, “ Lenin was cruel. Lenin had no respect for tradition. Lenin considered all means legitimate for securing the victory of his party…. He thought the world was governed by dialectic, whose instrument he was. Lenin seemed to me at once a narrow-minded fanatic and a cheap cynic. He explained with glee how he had incited the poorer peasants against the richer ones, “and they soon hanged them from the nearest tree- ha! ha! ha!” His guffaw at the thought of those massacred made my blood run cold”. I prefer Russell because he speaks the truth here. A repeat of Lenin would be a repeat of broken promises, stolen liberties, and Stalinist idiocy. One more turn to the dialectical wheel of fortune as the revolution is revolved. Instead of Vana White we have Zizek choosing letters on a loaded board that spins out the same message night after night: R E P E A T L E N I N. The contestants and viewers have no hope of thinking anything new or challenging the preachers of nonsense with their lame and impotent conclusions. Nietzsche showed us that Christianity was already emptied of the message that Jesus proclaimed so that the skeleton that Zizek would like to construct would be fleshed out with Lenin’s nicely refrigerated Moscow corpse.
Zizek’s reading of Kierkegaard’s notion of repetition cannot be bent dialectically in order to make Lenin into something new. The repetition that Zizek argues for is “a repetition of the wrong kind”. Repetition as understood by Kierkegaard occurs in the realm of the religious. Repetition points towards Religiousness B. Kierkegaard’s example is Job who “despite everything is in the right” This cannot be said of Lenin, no matter how the dialectic is used by Zizek. Lenin was in the wrong. Zizek’s new Lenin is not Job who was blessed and receives everything back twofold. The new Lenin recollected and already repeated is to be found in North Korea testing missiles over Japan.
In his Journals, Kierkegaard argues, “ And what is it we now call “humanism” It is a vaporised Christianity, a culture-consciousness, the dregs of Christianity….. One ought to say to the humanists: produce ‘undiluted humanism”. Zizek and Badiou go to Christianity in order to dilute it of its power. They then proceed to inject it into an ideology that has been discredited. Such a coupling like Frankenstein’s monster is perhaps entertaining but useless. For example, Zizek writes,
So although St. Paul’s particular message is no longer operative for us, the very terms in which he formulates the operative mode of the Christian religion do possess a universal scope as relevant for every Truth-Event; every Truth-Event leads to a kind of ‘Resurrection’- through fidelity to it and a labor of Love on its behalf, one enters into another dimension irreducible to a mere service des biens.
In Kierkegaard’s words, “ You cannot with justice call it yours in opposition to Christianity”. Lenin and Zizek find a home on American university campuses.
The most profound expression of repetition according to Kierkegaard is “atonement” To atone is to reconcile; "to bring together again”, “to make reparation”. How would Lenin ever atone for the crimes he committed? How would he make amends? Or was that already done by Gorbachev with Perostroika? Zizek wants Lenin to be saved and redeemed. As such, there can be no reparation for Lenin’s victims but only for Lenin himself. The tone of such atonement does not ring very well because it is fall back into un-freedom. Kierkegaard argues,
In the individual, then, repetition appears as a task for freedom in which the question becomes that of saving one’s personality from being volatilized and, so to speak, in pawn to events.
Unlike Kierkegaard’s single individual, Zizek’s Lacanian subject of the gaping Real is an expression of the tormented psyche that can find no rest. It seeks to fill the gap of its misunderstanding with obscene pathological fantasies. Singing soprano, in a hail of bullets; while following one’s desire into the professional arms of one’s sex-starved sex therapist; while a nip tuck of the borromean knot finally yield happiness for all the desperate housewives as they ride their youthful gardeners on waves of valium induced suburban bliss, while their emasculated husbands perform further Abelardian self-surgery is one lesson of pop culture. This obscene underground domain cannot be transformed by a repeat of Lenin, especially when Lenin’s so called utopia became a nightmare whose blueprint still stains the ground in current-world-events. A repeat of Lenin might resemble the world portrayed in Star Trek the Next Generation. For example, the Secret Police of internal affairs, the abolition of property rights, no personal wealth, no money, a spartan lifestyles, no stock-market, state seizure of transportation, big brother recording all movements, new age mysticism, state seizure of industry, no logos, no corporations=freedom. At least Captain Kirk’s Star-Trek served real alcohol while Spock played the Vulcan harp.
Zizek’s theories are insufficient to formulate a clear project of global change because they do not take the person into account as Derrida does. Emancipatory politics has fateful limitations, not because of any hegemony in the present global petty bourgeois capitalistic system, but because it sets limitations on how the person is to be understood.
A repetition of Lenin would mean the putting into action of a violent orbit; a loop of supreme crime that repeats (not in the Kierkegaardian sense) its failure to achieve a respect for individual persons. Let us allow Lenin to speak. Here he is from the ever inspiring work, “ The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat it”. Lenin writes,
Unavoidable catastrophe is threatening Russia….Yet nothing is being done. Six months of revolution have elapsed…Absolutely nothing of importance has actually been done to avert catastrophe, to avert famine. We are nearing ruin with increasing speed.
Here is a kernel of truth that we can pop in our capitalist microwave. If only Lenin had stated, “Yes, we are responsible for causing this catastrophe and now we will help to avert famine”, he would have been worth repeating. However, Lenin raises the stakes of the dialectic. He increases the catastrophe. He aids in prolonging the famine. He turns up the volume on ruin while turbo-charging the speed of terror. What the young Marx described as the horrible working conditions of England, equally apply to the Leninist state:
the fantastic rags of the….poor, and the withered wrinkled flesh of the women consumed by work and poverty; children lying in filth; monstrous creatures produced by overwork in the monotonous mechanism of the factories! And the most delightful final details of practice: prostitution, murder and the gallows!
Point 11 of Marx’s “Points on the Modern State and Civil Society” declares “ The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it.” Point 12 might read, “ The philosophy that thinks it can change the world by ignoring the single individual needs to be changed before there can be any change”.
Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism not only tolerated the plight of millions of human beings who were grossly deprived of bread and water, equality and freedom, they aided and created the disaster. When Zizek and Badiou urge a repeat of Lenin, their call is obscene and unwanted by those who know what suffering is. Their ideology was an enemy of democracy and an enemy of humanity. What could we expect especially from comrade Stalin who began his career as a bank robber and extended his talents to secure funds for Lenin?
Here is the wisdom that Alain Badiou in his love for Mao and Lenin would have us embrace. In his essay, “One Divides into Two”, Badiou writes,
Our duty, supporting ourselves on Lenin’s work, is to reactivate in politics, against the morose obsessions of our times, the very question of thought. To all those who claim to practice political philosophy, we ask: what is your critique of the existing system? What can you offer us that is new? Of what are you the creator?
Lenin who is critical of the social democrat Karl Kautsky, for upholding the right to vote, accuses Kautsky of making “litter our of theory”. However, it is the case that Badiou and Zizek are making theory out of litter. We can answer Badiou. A repeat of Lenin is a morose obsession that can only result in catastrophe, collapse, sickness, squalor, abuse, hate, violence and murder. This ideology or ideas translated into values must be fought against, especially in remembrance of the 100 million victims who were murdered as a result of Leninist ideology. Badiou offers us nothing new. He is not a creator, though he would have us become children of Lenin, our mother, who would raise us on an ideology of hatred. Perhaps we could recite this prayer on honor of Lenin, our mother,
full of hate
the proletariat academics are with thee
blessed art though among revolutionaries
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, terror.
mother of many Stalins
Pray for us,
Now and at the
hour of our internment in your Gulag.
The requests for our politics are simple as I take my bearings from the prophet Isaiah: to eat, to be clothed, to have shelter, to be able to work, to be loved, to be cared for,to live in peace is finally to find compassion that overcomes competition, money and power. This politic would finally liberate us from Fascism, Communism and Capitalist servility.
Here is what Badiou offers us. I quote from his essay, “The Political as a Truth Procedure”. Badiou writes:
Every political event in particular proceeds to its own post-event prescription under the power of the State: it is< in substance< the creation in the wake of the swell of the event< of the political function …. one writes, ( ())= 1 to desiginate the reduplication of the political function….what a thought declares to be a thought, on condition of which it thinks that which is a thought.
Like Zizek’s Parallax view, Badiou’s view is a Para-Ex-Lax view. I advise readers to consult Princeton University professor emeritus Harry Frankfurt’s essay “On Bullshit” for a thorough explication.
As Derrida has taught us the present form of democracy remain inadequate to the democratic demand that calls for a respect of singularity. The current threats to our liberty must be fought against by maintaining the liberty of the question. Such threats include the powers of the electronic network that files our identities into easily retrieved bits of data to be used by police networks, bank, health and insurance agencies. These virtual networks extend the powers of theft, falsification. The choice is no longer between the right kind of papers but what is contained on the magnetic strips that carry our information. That is why he calls for a democracy-to-come which will always remain aporetic in its structure and not capable of being contained within the system of calculable knowledge. Derrida writes,
Yes, like searchlights without a coast, they sweep across the dark sky, shut down or disappear at regular intervals and harbour the invisible in their light. We no longer know against what dangers or abysses we are forewarned. We avoid one, only to be thrown into one of the others. We no longer even known whether these watchmen are guiding us towards another destination, nor even if a destination remains promised or determined. We wish only to think that we are on the track of an impossible axiomatic which remain to be thought. Now, if this axiomatic which withdraws, from instant to instant, from one ray of the searchlight to another, from one lighthouse to the next (for there are numerous lighthouses, and where there is no longer an home these are no longer homes, and this what is taking place: there are no longer homes here), this is because darkness is falling on the value of value, and hence on the very desire for an axiomatic, a consistent or presupposed system of values.
The truly different may not arrive as the good, the beautiful and the just, but their exact opposite: the real good, the real beautiful and the real just. The repetition that Zizek urges is old territory. There is no hope of redemption in the structures created by Lenin and Stalin. Delivered from Fascism we cannot allow ourselves a return to Leninism in the name of a false democracy. We cannot be content with what today passes for democracy. We must sweep across the dark sky, towards another destination perhaps following St. Paul when he declares in Romans 8.24: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience”. Let us prepare to leave Zizek’s fantasy space while we return Lenin to the anorexia of Barbie’s world. Here the mythic revolutionary and embalmed hero could join with the thin, long-legged, luxuriously blond bleached buxom plastic beauty to teach China how to really make great leaps forward.
To keep up with this screenplay argumentation, I turn to Kierkegaard’s Postscript to show how Johannes Climacus answered Zizek and Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Castro in 1846.
The observer, world historically catches a glimpse of the play of colors in the generations, just like a shoal of herring in the sea- the individual herring is not worth much… He hangs up curtains systematically and uses people and nations for that purpose- individual human beings are nothing to him.
Therefore the Hegelian cannot possibly understand himself with the aid of his philosophy; he can understand only what is past, is finished, but a person who is still living is not dead and gone. Presumably he consoles himself with the thought the if one can understand China and Persia and six thousand years of world history, then never mind a single individual, even if it is oneself.
Is it really still necessary to explain these quotes to the Hegelian-Maoist-Lacanian-Leninists? Should I request a suitable remuneration for my meritorious service of finding a suitable quotation to help liberate them from themselves? What is the going hourly rate? Would they be capable of paying? Should we line up in front of the Superstores to claim our share of “free goods”? The shopping flyer is advertising a new Shampoo. Buy the 750ml container and get 250 for free. How would it be extracted. Bring your measuring cups. Who will answer the psalm of the peasants: “Lenin took, and Lenin did not give, Cursed be the name of Lenin”? While Job, according to Kierkegaard was an example of repetition and took his place at “the outpost of humanity”, Lenin can only be seen as an example of inhumanity. To treat human beings as worms, is to assert that all they need is the dirt of materialism. This is Leninism. His regime was a criminal enterprise. Maxim Gorky contends, “Lenin and Trotsky don't have any idea about freedom or human rights. They are already corrupted by dirty poison of the power, this is visible by their shameful disrespect of freedom of speech and all other civil liberties for which the democracy was fighting”. Lenin's 1919 letters to Gorky contain threats: "My advice to you: change your surroundings, your views, your actions, otherwise life may turn away from you."
Karl Kautsky in “The Moscow Trial and the Bolsheviki”, (1922) answered Lenin with great clarity. His criticism are correct:
There is no difference between a tyrant who lives in a palace and a despot who misused the revolution of workers and peasants to ascend into the Kremlin. The Bolsheviki maintain that their policy constitutes the only genuine application of Marxism, that it constitutes a strict application of the principles of the class struggle. But the oppression and persecution of workingmen, belonging to another current of Socialist thought, and for no other reason than that these workers prefer to interpret Socialism in a manner different from the Bolsheviki, is in sharp contradiction with these class-struggle principles. The Bolsheviki were first to use violence against other Socialists. They dissolved the Constituent Assembly not by way of resistance against any violence on the part of the Socialists-Revolutionists and Mensheviki but because of their realization of their own inability to obtain the support of the majority of the peasants and workers by means of free propaganda. This was the fundamental cause of the Bolshevist coup d’etat against the representatives of the revolutionary workers and peasants. Hence, the abolition of all rights of all other Socialists who refused to submit to the crack of the Bolshevist whip. …misery and poverty will continue to reign in Russia for many years and will continue to fan apathy and despair, on one side, and uprisings, provoked by the despair of the masses Never did the Bolsheviki descend to their present low level. Time was when we knew many of them as honest fighters and idealists. But the coup d’etat of 1917 placed them in a false position, which was bound to lead consistently to their inevitable and ever-growing perversion. From the very beginning, they founded their power upon falsehood and violence directed against the proletariat, upon the principle that the end justifies the means. This principle always and inevitably leads to the degeneration of the party applying it, for it perverts the party and paralyzes those who do not oppose this perversion. But the Moscow trial is merely one of the episodes incident to the world-wide, historic conflict conducted by Bolshevism. Out of this conflict it will emerge discredited and condemned. A regime like that of the Bolsheviki has already grown rotten-ripe for destruction. It is impossible to foresee yet when and how it will fall but one thing can be said now and with absolute certainty: Bolshevism will fall in shame and disgrace, bemoaned perhaps only by the speculators of the capitalist world, but accompanied by the curses of the entire world proletariat struggling for emancipation. That is the lesson and the historic significance of the Moscow trial.
In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Davy Jones is portrayed as a cross between a man and an octopus, with a wriggling beard of tentacles. He becomes the Octopus-Man who commands the Kraken and a crew of undead sailors. Davy Jones' Locker is the bottom of the sea. It is the resting-place of drowned seamen (No Freudian slip intended).
Davy Jones is the sea Devil in search of souls. He pursues a life of violence but his heart is locked in a treasure chest that beats for the love he lost. If only Davy Jones had not lost his love. Love lost turns not into hate but a love of hatred. If only Lenin’s brother was not murdered, would many have been spared the infliction of terror? How different from Christ who died so that many individuals could be saved. But saved from what? Death?
Elizabeth Swan must choose between three swords while Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, and the Lieutenant must choose between three caskets. Our Hegelian choice is between the Real Pirates of her majesty’s East India Trading Company , Sparrow’s Pirates or Davy Jones’ undead crew. How to answer the question, “Who is the fiend?” Is it Jones who presides over the evil spirits of the deep? Is it the King for whom one gathers all the gold? Or is it God? In the song "Run Silent Run Deep", by Iron Maiden, there is the sentence "The tar black smell of burning oil all the way down to Davy Jones". Here Iron Maiden helps us to understand how submarines contribute to the rising cost of oil. Theory can be found in the most unlikely of places. In the Old Testament Jonah is swallowed by a whale spending three days and three nights in its belly. In the Christian tradition this is a prefigurement of Jesus' sojourn in the abode of the dead and, implicitly, of his resurrection. At the end of the movie, Jack Sparrow leaps into the toothed vagina of the Kraken. Shall he resurrect for yet another movie?
I am in front of Walmart. A man sits on the curb smoking a cigarette next to the Propane Cylinder Exchange Station. I wonder if he can read the “No Smoking” sign and if he can make sense of the slogan “Spark something fun”? As I wonder why I am thinking about these things so close to witnessing a potential explosion, I want to ask him if he has read Lenin or Zizek. I wonder if this is how revolutions really begin- with great stupidity, out of great ignorance. Yes, I should have told him to stop smoking. One spark can spark something fun: soccer, death or the resurrection? Who is the fiend? The Buddhist say “desire” and “ignorance”. On Stalin’s birthday, prisoners would send him congratulatory telegrams from the gulag. Flour bulked up with sawdust in Ceauceascu’s Romania was his Stalinist gift to his people.
Overcome with misplaced emotion, two fans of Les Bleus hold each other in a mournful embrace. They look as if their world has ended after a round a dreaded penalty kicks. Soccer is war and religion by other means. One fan states, “ My grandfather, before he died, said the Azzuri would win. Today, I said a prayer…it came true. I know he’s watching” the 25 year-old said, tears running down his face”. Another fan “even imported a sheep- which he painted red, white and green- from his home town in Calabria to cheer on the team. The animal, named Spitucci, will be eaten in a celebratory feast later this week”. Would Zizek be there as well?
Who will be the Antigone that will finally bury the body of Lenin? Will Zizek and Badiou use their intelligence to attempt a Jurassic Park DNA retrieval. Failing this event, perhaps his body could be sent to Niagara Falls to be housed at the Wax Musuem or to Tibet for a sky-burial. Lenin’s corpse, part of the undead who keep watch over those who keep watch over them. Let us gather around the crypts created by all human ideologies, preparing fore the democracy, birthing it beyond its current confines.
What is the message of Christ? Let me venture a few remarks before closing this essay as I gather mustard seeds in order to move mountains.
The Gospel of Matthew shows Jesus lamenting his lack of bed. How should we read this lament? Soldiers and mercenaries have ditches to sleep in hide in during times of war. Foxes have holes and birds have nests. Yet, there is no place for Jesus to rest his head. He will tell Pilate that his kingdom is not of this earth. With his spiritual technology, Jesus promises an end to all bodily embeddedness. In geological terms, the word embedded refers to fossils in rocks. Jesus promises the end of bodily fossilization through the resurrection of the body. No longer will bodies implant themselves on the earth to be fixed and set securely in the bed of the earth; they will take their place to occupy the many rooms that Jesus has prepared in his Father’s house. Here we see Jesus as a spiritual architect that can build mansions for resurrected bodies in a heaven we cannot see.
Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians states, “ The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (15:26) Technology attempts to defeat death through innovation. Religion attempts to defeat death through faith. We see Paul continually using his talents to strengthen the faith of the early Christian communities. Where they also filled with a great doubt? He upbuilds the community in Corinth with these words, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain” (15:12-15) Paul continues, “ But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” 15:20) Paul speaks of seeds and sowing, “ to each kind of seed its own body” (15:38), “What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable” (15:42) Paul then makes the following distinction, “ If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body” 15:44) Paul is the Christian technologist who would have us place faith in the virtual while ignoring the actual.
Paul continues, “ Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (15:50) In the same way, technology and its virtuality will transform the future. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the future because they are perishable. Since the flesh is perishable our becoming a cyborg body-without-organs is the only option.
The dead according to Paul “ will be raised imperishable….For this perishable body must put on imperishability and this mortal body must put on immortality” (15:53) Notice here Paul’s reference to putting on new clothes which are designed by the religious technologist who sews the prosthetic garments for the resurrection that will happen “ in the twinkling of an eye” (15:52)
The religious believer can declare, “ Death has been swallowed up in victory”. But of course, the evidence indicates otherwise. We can gather for Easter Service to sing the praises of Jesus who supposedly resurrected. Yet all we can do is to point at an empty tomb. It is the impasse and aporia that halts us in our tracks, constricts our throats and makes us choke. Notice also the reference to swallowing. Faith is said to take away the sting of death. Is this too much to swallow? In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians we read, “ For the love of Christ urges us on…(5:4) Urge from the Latin urgere means "to press hard, push, drive, compel. It is related to the Greek ergon or "work," and to the Greek word orgia or "religious performances”. The etymology of urge leads to an interesting association of words such as O.C.S. vragu "enemy;" Gothic wrikan "persecute," the Old English wrecan "drive, hunt, pursue”. What is the urge if not to overcome death? Both religion and technology drive us, push us, compel us to work for the day when death will be overcome; for the day when death will no longer be the enemy that persecutes, drives, hunts and pursues us. We are taken hold by this desire to live forever. Hold from the French word prise means a taking, seizing, holding. Can there by a sur-prise that releases us from the hold of both faith and technology and the mirages they have engendered? Sur-prise means an unexpected attack or capture," "a taking unawares”. Perhaps this is the faith that avoids all declarations of war: let there be a rapture of the real which we would name true love.
If I had the time I would have examined all of Lenin’s letters to his mother. I would have wanted to find the kernel that led Lenin to create his sophisticated apparatus of rule by terror. In one of these letters Lenin writes, “Please send me some money, mine is nearly at an end”. Here the father of the Soviet Union asks his mother for money. I would have read this request together with Baudelaire’s “Counterfeit Money” to form a thesis about Counterfeit Regimes. Along the way I would have also examined Lenin’s question, "How can you make a revolution without executions?” and his fine article, “Beat – But Not to Death!”. Recall Hegel’s words, “Here shoots a bloody head-there another white ghastly apparition…one catches sight of this night when one looks human beings in the eye into a night that becomes awful.” What better description of totalitarian states and of the traumatic encounters that humans engender as they turn spirit into bone? Zizek writes, “For Lacan,…..a Truth-Event can operate only against the background of the traumatic encounter with the undead/monstrous Thing.” Is this not an excellent description of Lenin’s refrigerated corpse? What is Zizek’s Lacanian lesson? Do not cede your desire- You may. You are ordered to be free. Dare. Dare from the Old English word durran means “to brave danger”. To dare is to be bold. It means to challenge and to defy, especially when stupidity masks itself to perform a stunt of great theory. A mother at MacDonalds teaches her toddlers to say “Please”. She on the other hand did not ask her children if she could spend their baby bonus check on liquor and smokes. In Hegelese, “ She makes this wisdom an object of derision for raw and irresponsible youth….”
If the world is Lacanian, then the history of our species shows the pathological everyday stains of living in what is named and remembered of the last century when we say Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Auschwitz, Gulag, democracy, fascism, communism; philosophy without an aporetic ethics.
I am polite towards them as towards every small vexation; to be prickly towards small things seems to me the wisdom of a hedgehog.
Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra