Friday, July 9, 2010

Žižek, Badiou, and Communist Profit Margins

In one of the comments to my review of Žižek's Living in the End Times, a reader called Leo made the following comment:
he [Žižek]  says he is so anti-capitalist but for some reason he doesn't place his new book online where everybody could have free access to his ideas. No, he prefers to sell it for a pretty steep price (I for one can't afford it) and make a profit. Seems like he only want those rich individuals who can fork out 30 bucks for a hardcover to be reached by his ideas.
 I keep thinking about these observations while reading Badiou's The Communist Hypothesis. Badiou and Žižek are close friends and passionate Marxists. They also participate very successfully in the capitalist "profit-is-king" economy. While bemoaning the ills of capitalism and defending communism, both philosophers don't make their ideas accessible for free on-line. Neither do they publish with more modest publishing houses that would put out a cheaper version of a book. Both Living in the End Times and The Communist Hypothesis are edited beautifully, on high quality white paper, in hardcover. Neither philosopher made efforts to have the publishing house put out a digital version of the book, which would make it at least somewhat less expensive and help people save on shipment costs.


As a result, the intended audience of these books is reduced to those who have some pretty ample means at their disposal and can spend that money freely on pricey books. With the economic crisis we are going through, Žižek and Badiou consciously limit their audience to the kind of individuals who are not extremely likely to engage in a revolution. 


I'm trying to give The Communist Hypothesis my undivided attention (a review is forthcoming as soon as I finish reading the book) without being distracted by the thoughts of how profitable it has become to be a communist. With all its demonstrable faults, capitalism not only allows vocal communists to make huge profits, it even succeeds in making those very communists care about profits a lot more than they do about the revolution.

20 comments:

Jobson538 said...

"high quality white people" >> Freudian slip?

Clarissa said...

Thanks for telling me. That's too funny. This is what arguing about Sarah Palin all day long does to one. :-) :-) :-)

Anonymous said...

If you are too lazy to work enough to buy a $20 book, if you lack even such a meagre amount of ambition to learn of the theories these academics put out, then, I'm sorry to say, but you're not a true revolutionary, nor are you "really" interested in what the books have to say.

Laziness is another force that turns the capitalist wheel round. Don't hold the academics responsible for your own incompetence.

Plus, you have plenty of materials, such as articles, which are free on the internet and discuss the topics covered in the books. I guess some people are too lazy to put some effort into researching on the internet. Go on a forum and discuss with others who have read the book about the theories and so on. Communication is key to a true revolution. All the resources are there... what you lack is the determination to find them.

Also, put yourself in the position of the academic. They spend years writing a book and also articles in magazines and journals [which, as I have previously mentioned, are mostly available for free on the internet] and you think they don't deserve to be paid to keep on writing and have decent publicity to allow their book to be translated into different languages and so on. Verso, Continuum, Routledge, etc. have that capacity to promote their books and reprint books which are out of print (e.g. Verso's radical thinkers series) and so the academics release their work through them.

Anonymous said...

Go to your local library—it's as simple as that. Have you even considered "all" your options? Don't make premature judgements.

Anonymous said...

Go to your local library—it's as simple as that. Have you even considered "all" your options? Don't make premature judgements.

Clarissa said...

"If you are too lazy to work enough to buy a $20 book, if you lack even such a meagre amount of ambition to learn of the theories these academics put out"

-If you are too lazy to learn to read, if you lack even such a meager thinking capacity to read the sentence where I say that I am reading the book in question right now, then I can't help you.

If you had the intelligence to look at what this blog's header says, you would know that I don't need to put myself in the position of an academic since I already am an academic.

Here, however, we are not talking about regular academics. We are talking about two men who are pretty rich and who are living it up thanks to the system they denounce.

You have failed to address a single point I make. You have also failed even to read the post you are ranting about. ADD much?

Anonymous said...

I was replying to Leo's comment, not yours. You weren't the one who said, "I for one can't afford it."

profacero said...

What a jerk anon. is. You can't buy all books, and there are limits on what interlibrary loan can do, especially if it's a frequently used book or a new book, or one that hasn't been catalogued yet. Clearly, anon. is independently wealthy and doesn't know what actual conditions are in local libraries, and is lecturing to the little people.

I do wonder, though, whether some theorists expect their work to be acted on. I absolutely hated _Empire_ by Negri/Hardt for this reason. They're Communists, supposedly, but do not believe there is any way to resist the ravages of "Empire," so that means all we have to do is make money writing about it.

People like them seem not to read the news. We just had some Native Americans come up from the Amazon because they have had some success fighting Chevron off their land; they came to meet with Native Americans here re BP; Hardt and Negri I am sure would find this to be pointless play or some type of evidence for their it's-all-over theory; I'd say they are just reactionary and totalitarian!!! I could be wrong but these were my impressions -- had never talked to anyone about this book, so sorry for the rant.

Clarissa said...

I agree with you about Hardt/Negri's Empire. They eventually recognized that they were mistaken on many levels. I've been reading (or trying to) their "Multitude", where they qualify many of the ideas expressed in "Empire." Unfortunately, I never have the time to finish it but as soon as I do, I will post a review.

As for anon, in grad school I got used to rich students asking me in complete sincerity: "Why don't you go travelling this summer? Don't you like travelling? My grandmother is taking me on a tour of Europe. Don't you wish you could do something like that too?" These people can't even imagine that for many of their colleagues a $20 book is, indeed, completely out of their reach. I knew a guy who had to live, travel to school each day and feed himself on $20 a week while he was doing his MA. So yeah, $20 is a lot of money for some people.

profacero said...

I'll have to look at "Multitude" some time. Maybe they get less insular: I keep thinking of them in their institutions, Negri in jail and in the CP and Hardt in his little school, it would make them feel that they were in totalizing atmospheres where all they could get was a hall pass. Perhaps now they've been jostled by the crowd (to quote Benjamin on Baudelaire).

Grad school, this was Cornell, right? I wonder if you coincided with one of my students, he was from a mega-poor background in Chile and the class situation at Cornell was pretty rough on him.
I went to a public university and I was an in state student, so I missed some of this amazing B.S.

Clarissa said...

No, I went to Yale. Cornell was my first teaching position after grad school. Yale is understandably even worse in what concerns class.

eric said...

The nice thing about Zizek is that he retreads a lot of his written material. Whole passages that appeared in previous books (Parallax View, which I think was the last time I cared to read him), were online on lacan.com or somesuch years before. So for much of the time when I read Parallax, I thought "jeez, this looks familiar...how lame".

P-E said...

Well, since capitalism today is an inescapable, ontological paradigm, reproaching someone of "profiting the system they denounce" is more a punk/marginal attitude than a viable critic. They profit from book they wrote, but, hey, that's not organizational/financial capitalism they denouce. You can be more or less integrated to the system. If making money from things you produce (ideas included), then, there's not many true, hard-line marxists in the world

Clarissa said...

What a strange logic is yours, P-E. It's like saying: "Racism is an inescapable, ontological paradigm today, so let me go lynch some black people." Or, "male chauvinism is an inescapable, ontological paradigm, so let's go rape some women."

You can find any number of excuses for hypocrisy but that doesn't make this very hypocrisy any less glaring.

We are not talking about making modest amounts of money to survive here. We are talking about thinkers who are already stinking rich and who want to get even richer by denouncing others who are rich and want to get richer. Don't pretend you are not seeing the hypocrisy of that.

JASPER said...

Zizek's not rich. I've met him. He's by no means poor, but he's not rich. He has book deals. They feed his kids. He doesn't act like his books are revolutionary. I don't know if he thinks there's anything to say after Hegel. He's really desperate in his critique. He knows what's wrong, but he can't find what's right. When he does, it's moments.

Anonymous said...

Clarissa, I think the difference here is that racism and male chauvinism are more or less ideologies. They are ways of thinking that can be helped by not participating. But capitalism is different. With globalization, every inch of the earth is capitalistically calculated. Any escape is a real one. Not participating is just playing the game, albeit in a different way. The people who really did something were the land rioters in Brazil or the guys who took over the abandoned factories in Argentina. Otherwise, you're playing the game. Giving free books doesn't do much except for force you to get a side job. My father's a mathematician. He would love to release his theories for free, but there's two quibbles: 1) He doesn't teach, and he receives no funds. He would have to work another job, and since I'm studying and my mother left when I was three, this would distract him from his maths. 2) We live in capitalism, so there's a certain value perceived by price, even if it is a few dollars. This might seem like a cop-out argument, but my father says that a lot of people in his field won't look at the algebraic numbers without looking at the monetary numbers. Yes, capitalism stifles science.

Anonymous said...

"Zizek's not rich. I've met him. He's by no means poor, but he's not rich."

-Seen his bank statements, have you?

Anonymous said...

" I think the difference here is that racism and male chauvinism are more or less ideologies. They are ways of thinking that can be helped by not participating. But capitalism is different. With globalization, every inch of the earth is capitalistically calculated."

-Something is telling me that you are male and white. If you were, say, a Woman of Color, it wouldnt have occurred to you to say that you can avoid participating in racism and chauvinism.

Clarissa said...

I'm glad to see the discussion is still going on in this post.

When I look at the VERY expensive editions of Zizek's and Badiou's most recent books and see that both authors thunder against evil capitalism in those books, the word "hypocrisy" comes to mind. It just does. As I said, there is an option of publishing things online, in a free access format, especially for somebody who is already as famous as Zizek and has a huge international following. There is an alternative of bringing your book to a struggling progressive press instead of to a publishing giant that destroys small imdependent presses every day. This would help a struggling progressive press survive. It would also make Zizek's book a lot cheaper and more accessible to poor people, students, etc. Of course, that would cut into his profit margins somewhat, and you obviously can't expect a Marxist to give up a dime of his profits.

I think I mentioned elsewhere that the most passionate Marxist I have ever known owned a factory and felt completely justified in exploiting hos workers.

Anonymous said...

"-Something is telling me that you are male and white. If you were, say, a Woman of Color, it wouldnt have occurred to you to say that you can avoid participating in racism and chauvinism."
I am a black man, son of an immigrant to the US from Nigeria, and you are mostly correct. The idea of participation was a cursory one indeed. Here's what I feel, however. Racism and sexism stem from economics. A man from Alabama once explained to me that slavery in America was not black because they were thought inferior, but because they were an easier catch. The ideology came after. Submission of women made for a stable home life in regards to the man being able to work long hours. Of course they are both terribly WRONG WRONG WRONG, but if they were to be "solved," the same structural mess that started them would still be there: the need for production, money, capital, etc. I'm sick of the condescension that white people put on blacks, that we have a separate struggle, which under the surface means that their struggles are more important. And I am not a Marxist, by the way. I'm not even a fan of Zizek. I just noticed your comments on his pricy books is all.