A lively debate has been going on lately in Al Jazeera, following the question posed by Hamid Dabashi in an article provocatively titled “Can Non-Europeans Think“? Dabashi’s piece, published earlier in January this year was a response to an article by Santiago Zabala, Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Barcelona. Zabala’s article, entitled “Slavoj Zizek and the Role of the Philosopher”, was actually on an entirely different issue, as will be evident from the title. Zabala attempts, in this article, to read in Zizek’s persona and oeuvre, the possible implications for the philosopher as such. He dwells on Zizek as a figure who is at once a philosopher and a public intellectual – a role not very easily available, according to him, to academic philosophers.
If most significant philosophers become points of reference within the philosophical community, he says, “few have managed to overcome its boundaries and become public intellectuals intensely engaged in our cultural and political life as did Hannah Arendt (with the Eichmann trial), Jean-Paul Sartre (in the protests of May 1968) and Michel Foucault (with the Iranian revolution).” Zabala explains this rare ability/ possibility by invoking Edward Said on the ‘outsider’ status of the intellectual and by underlining the direct engagement of the thought of such philosophers with contemporary events. He says:
These philosophers became public intellectuals not simply because of their original philosophical projects or the exceptional political events of their epochs, but rather because their thoughts were drawn by these events. But how can an intellectual respond to the events of his epoch in order to contribute in a productive manner?
In order to respond, as Edward Said once said, the intellectual has to be “an outsider, living in self-imposed exile, and on the margins of society”, that is, free from academic, religious and political establishments; otherwise, he or she will simply submit to the inevitability of events.
THIS note attempts to understand the nature of the politics behind the violent actions of the Maoists. There seems to be an agreement among human rights activists that Maoist violence is a ‘forced’ response to the extreme repression of the Indian state. The argument is that since the Indian state has been consistently ignoring or violently repressing various people’s movements, the people are left with no choice but to take recourse to the gun.
There is a fallacy in this argument. We know about people’s movements on issues of land rights or displacement which have not turned into armed insurrections, even though they have suffered major losses and have been treated in a very callous manner by the state. Apart from the Narmada Bachao Andolan there are hundreds of big and small peoples’ resistance movements in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bengal, Tamil Nadu and other states which have not given up on the ‘parliamentary’ path of struggle.
Interestingly, we find that Maoist groups are also active in these areas and they constantly try to infiltrate and take control of such movements. We do not know of any movements organized by the Maoists which were initially ‘peaceful’ but compelled to turn to arms after all attempts at working with the state failed. I would suggest that the theory of ‘peaceful’ movements mutating into ‘violent’ insurrections appears flawed. Also that instead of using ‘Maoist’ as an adjective in a careless manner we should treat them as a political formation organized on the lines articulated in its political programme and constitution which is based on its own Marxian theory of revolution which is impossible without violence. Continue reading Violence and revolution→
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.
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.
Today was the third and final day of the ‘Idea of Communism’ conference and it was the truly most bizarre experience – bizarre philosophical experience, I should say – of my life. Let me start backwards today.
The preacher from Ljubliana was in full form and he closed his own hour-long (or was it 55 minutes) presentation ‘To Begin from the Beginning, Over and Over Again’ with the following: “If the rumour that Gilles Deleuze was writing a book on Marx before he died, is true then this should be seen as a sign that after having spent a life time away from the Church he wanted to come back to its fold…We welcome all those anti-communist Leftists who have spent their lifetimes attacking us to come and join us.” Continue reading Evangelist Zizek and the End of Philosophy – II→
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.