Tag Archives: Marxism

The Two Zizeks

Slavoj Zizek spoke on Tragedy and Farce in Delhi on January 5, 2010. He spoke for about an hour and a half, then I responded for about 18 minutes, then he came back spiritedly for about forty-five minutes. This post is in two parts. The first part is the brief intervention I made at Stein Auditorium. In the second part of this post, I expand on my critique in the light of his response. I could not of course, speak after he had spoken the second time, so I’m doing it here.

I

A jinn appeared to a man and granted him three wishes. First, said the man excitedly, I want to be Slavoj Zizek. You idiot, said the jinn. You are Slavoj Zizek.

This is one of the many stories that the internet throws up on the eminent Slovenian Lacanian whom it has been our pleasure to listen to today. His own jokes and anecdotes are of course legendary, the medium through which he makes complex theoretical points. It thus becomes the burden of every unfortunate person writing about him or commenting on his work, to tell a few jokes themselves. Often Profesor Zizek’s own.

So. It struck me that the truth of the joke with which I began is that Slavoj Zizek longs to be Slavoj Zizek. He never quite makes it, though, because Zizek keeps escaping himself. In an interview to The Guardian a couple of years ago, he was asked – What do you most dislike about your appearance? And he replied – That it makes me appear the way I really am.

Having followed Professor Zizek’s work for a while now in growing bewilderment, I understand his predicament There are at least two Zizeks in there, and whichever one manifests himself, Slavoj is taken aback and rather dissatisfied. This is me? He seems to ask.

Continue reading The Two Zizeks

The Žižekian Counter-Revolution

[Slovenian Lacanian-Marxist-Hegelian philosopher and cultural theorist, Slavoj Žižek is visiting India currently and will be delivering a few lectures here. This post is prompted by his visit. Interested Delhi-ites can catch him speak on

4 Jan 2010. 5 p.m. on
“Ideology in the Post-ideological World: The Case of Hollywood”
at Sarai-CSDS. 29 Rajpur Road, Civil Lines, Delhi
and
5 Jan 2010. 7 p.m.
“Tragedy and Farce”
Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi]


imaaN mujhe roke hai jo khiNche hai mujhe kufr
ka’aba mere peeche hai kaleesa mere aage

[Faith holds me back when infidelity beckons/
Behind me, the Kaaba; before me, the Church]

It is difficult to miss the immense subversiveness of the  dilemma encapsulated in Ghalib’s couplet above.  This dilemma of the believer is produced by the constant threat of corruption – the Kaaba behind the believing Muslim holds him back from indulging in, or falling prey to, the infidelities and temptations that always lie in wait.

Substitute Marxism for Kaaba  and ‘postmodernism’ for Church, and you have the perfect Žižekian incarnation of this classic Ghalibian dilemma: Not quite at home in the Faith (Lacan, jouissance, surplus-enjoyment, the Real…) and yet, not able to leave it either, for the fear of what might befall one deserting the Order. Faith is the anchor that holds one back from committing all kinds of blasphemies. Nevertheless, the seductions of infidelity force our philosopher to turn for sustenance precisely to the philosophers and ideas he mistrusts: unlike most members of the Marxist faith, he repeatedly returns to Nietzsche, Heidegger, to Derrida, Foucault, Laclau and Deleuze. He takes over their language and makes himself at home in it. Is there a hidden jouissance in thus frequenting this forbidden territory?

Continue reading The Žižekian Counter-Revolution

Chinese memories

Suddenly the other day, on the 3 of June 2009, in a bizarre flash of memory I went back two decades ago, June 3 1989. As is well known, hundreds of students in Beijing had begun a protest a few months ago with wide-ranging critiques of the regime – more democracy, end to corruption and workers rights. They were joined by workers, office goers, Beijing residents, local party officials, just about everyone else. Soon the protests had spread all over China, there were demonstrations everywhere. A Chinese friend of mine was in Tiananmen Square, the main centre of the protests. He later told me – “we were all giddy, everyone traveled free in trains to Beijing, people helped us with food and water on the streets, we sang the Internationale and all the old revolutionary songs, suddenly they felt real not false…” All went to Beijing.

For many on the left in India, China occupies a peculiar, proximate place. The events of 1956 in Hungary and 1968 in Czechoslovakia, when Soviet tanks crushed uprisings, did not cause the storms they did in the European left. But China was different – it was in Asia, a large peasant society with an old civilization, and the site of one of the great revolutionary transformations that had begun in the nineteenth century. China had to be different. When the Naxalite militants scribbled ‘China’s path is our path’ or ‘Listen to Radio Beijing’ on the walls of Calcutta in 1969, they were probably out of their mind, but only just.
Continue reading Chinese memories

Re-booting Communism Or Slavoj Zizek and the End of Philosophy – I

Zizek - the postmodern Lenin?
Zizek - the postmodern Lenin?

Today, 13 March, a whole galaxy of philosophers and theorists got together for a three-day conference “On The Idea of Communism” under the auspices of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, London University. The Conference opened to a jam-packed hall where all tickets had sold out (no jokes, this was a ticketed show where the likes of Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, Jean Luc-Nancy, Toni Negri, Jacques Ranciere, Terry Eagleton and many many others are to perform on the ‘idea of communism’). The huge Logan hall with a capacity of about 800-900 was so packed that the organizers had made arrangements for video streaming in another neighbouring hall – and that too was half full! Very encouraging in these bleak days.

The conference began in the afternoon with brief opening remarks by Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek. Badiou made his general point (see below) about the continuing relevance of the ‘communist hypothesis’. Staid and philosopherly. Continue reading Re-booting Communism Or Slavoj Zizek and the End of Philosophy – I

Cities, Cars and Buses: The Modern, the Ideological and the Urban

[This post is a response both to Aarti Sethi’s post on the BRT, as well as to Aman Sethi’s posts recently and this one earlier and as well as to some of the comments it generated.]

In 1970, Henri Lefebvre wrote: “the invasion of the automobile and the pressure of the automobile lobby have turned the car into a key object, parking into an obsession, traffic into a priority, harmful to urban and social life. The day is approaching when we will be forced to limit the rights and powers of the automobile. Naturally, this won’t be easy, and the fallout will be considerable” (The Urban Revolution, 19).

Talking about the BRT corridor in Delhi, its worth remembering many other urban clashes – Hausmann’s broad and open ways that opened up Paris in the mid 19th century, Robert Moses in New York, and Corbu’s (failed but still so real) plans for just about everywhere outside Europe. Hausmann’s boulevards were about a new kind of street for a new kind of urban formation: the boulevard was part of the birth of the industrial, capitalist city, the city of Baudelaire’s Paris and the “Eyes of the Poor” – the city of the current version of the modern that still shapes/haunts us today. Continue reading Cities, Cars and Buses: The Modern, the Ideological and the Urban