Saturday, June 5, 2010

Žižek on the Political Spectrum

Liberal multiculturalist advocates of tolerance as a rule resist economic liberalism and try to protect the vulnerable from unencumbered market forces, while market liberals as a rule advocate conservative family values, and so on. We thus get the double paradox of the traditionalist Rightist supporting the market economy while ferociously rejecting the culture and mores that economy engenders, and his counterpoint, the multiculturalist Leftist, resisting the market. . . while enthusiastically enforcing the ideology it engenders.
                                                                                       - Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times.

This is, of course, very true. As much as we might not want to hear what Žižek is saying here, there is no easy way out of this obvious set of contradictions that the Slovenian philosopher brings to light.

The Conservatives who believe in the free market and simultaneously advocate conservative family values fail to see the contradictions implicit in their position. The free market engenders a market mentality. That mentality is organized around choices. People get used to having a lot of choices in everything. It is unrealistic to expect that they will magically give up their right to choose their sexual partners, their reproduction strategies, the kind of sex life they want to lead at any given moment, etc. Thus Žižek points out that being a social Conservative and believing in the free market at the same time is a position plagued by unsustainable contradictions.

The same contradictions, however, inform the beliefs of the Leftists. The vision of society where all choices are respected, where everybody should be free to live the life they want, to organize their personal and sexual lives the way they choose is a direct result of the free market ideology. Such ideology would simply be inconceivable without the market economy that gives rise to it. Thus a social Progressive who hates the market is as plagued by contradictions as a Conservative.

I'm sure that even if you never read Žižek before you can understand now why he manages to piss off people on all sides of the political spectrum.


Anonymous said...

The trouble I have with Zizek is his method. Whenever I read about him, or smaller pieces by him, I get bits of brilliance like this. But, given that his method relies on Lacan and psychoanalysis (which is unprovable) and dialectics (also unprovable), I'm almost afraid to look deeper into his books. The first part of your review did a great job, and I'm looking forward to the second, but does the reliance on psychoanalytic/dialectic methods bother you? If not, why? If so, and if his arguments depend on them, how does a reader move past this?

Clarissa said...

There are many things in Zizek that bother me.

Psychoanalysis is unprovable in the same way that all philosophy is unprovable. I really like psychoanalysis but I hate what Lacan does with it. He cherry-picks the most mysoginistic currents of psychoanalysis and blows them out of proportion.

The second part of my review will be dedicated to all the things I don't like in Zizek. There is a lot in his work that I find feeble and unconvincing. Still, the good parts make it worth reading through pages and pages of boring Lacanian stuff. He's brilliant on the the topic of ideology, which is one of my main theoretical interests. This redeems him in my eyes. :-)

Janet said...

How do you find Lacan mysogynistic? I've seen arguments before, but I'd be willing to argue that Lacan sees woman as better than men. Just take a look at the graphs of sexuation.

Clarissa said...

Janet: "Women are superior to men" is the favorite trick of mysogyny. I personally was brainwashed with this kind of stuff since infancy. This "women are superior" nonsense, of course, always segued into how because of this superiority women didn't need nasty, dirty things like sex. Also, female superiority meant that women are supposed to leave the complicated task of making a living to men and do their superior female things.

Any discussion of female "difference", either in terms of inferiority or superiority, ALWAYS leads to female subjection in the end.

There is a post here about "Putting Women on a Pedestal". It talks about this very issue in more detail, if you are interested.

Janet said...

I made some booboos I guess.

Lacan's "sex" is not our sex. It's not biological. No penises or vaginas. My friend Jack can be a man or woman in the Lacanian sense. My friend Jane can be both, as well. Also, it's not social. It's not a checklist of behavioral or cultural functions or mannerisms. It's not even that one is better than the other. That was my mistake for saying it that way. There's no superiority or inferiority. Lacanian sexes are ontologically equal. Lacan's "sexes" are two different responses to Lacanian subjectivity. They follow two different logics, two different relationships to the master-signifier. It's our failure to be completely inscribed into the symbolic order, language, that Lacan says causes subjectivity. The two sexes are the two different ways a subject can deal with this failed symbolization. That he uses the terms man, woman, sex, and phallus at all have more to do with Freud than Lacan.

To clear things up, the reason I said "better" was actually the same reason why Lacanian sex has nothing to do with sex. The Woman is the only one able to encounter the Phallus (again, no penises, it's the master-signifier).