22 January 2007

Don't Give Way on the Trolls! (UPDATED with a Response from my Interlocutor and Some Nifty Spelling Corrections)

One of the great joys of blogging is that you open yourself to a public that can then descend upon your comment boxes and email account with their pet obsessions and concerns, furious about some imagined slight that you can hardly comprehend and which is, at any rate, quite unrelated to your project. In the last couple of days I've been fortunate to become acquainted with this pleasure, having my blog obsessively visited by a particular blogger and my email account filled with endless rantings about Slavoj Zizek. Proceeding on the basis of quotes such as the following, the offended interlocutor informs me that Zizek is inherently racist and that dialectics necessarily leads one to advocate positions such as Zizeks:
Because the Balkans are part of Europe, they can be spoken of in racist clichés which nobody would dare to apply to Africa or Asia. Political struggles in the Balkans are compared to ridiculous operetta plots; Ceausescu was presented as a contemporary reincarnation of Count Dracula. Slovenia is most exposed to this displaced racism, since it is closest to Western Europe: when Kusturica, talking about his film Underground, dismissed the Slovenes as a nation of Austrian grooms, nobody reacted: an 'authentic' artist from the less developed part of former Yugoslavia was attacking the most developed part of it. When discussing the Balkans, the tolerant multiculturalist is allowed to act out his repressed racism.)

The disgruntled interlocutor then goes on to say,

I have to elaborate a bit more because you may not be aware of the cultural context (Yugoslavia) - where I come from. Zizek had a stormy fight with the Serbian director Emir Kusturica, who made the film ''Underground'' about the break-up of Yugoslavia. IRRESPECTIVE of the politics I would like you to notice how Zizek's dialectics puts him into an incredible absurdist loop that I find not only irresponsible but downright shocking for an intellectual of his stature (or of the stature he enjoys at the Western academia). Zizek is here blaming Kusturica for acting out his repressed racism on Slovenia. (And as I said let's not discuss this politically). Then, he calls Kusturica ''an authentic artist'' (a derisive notion referring to so-called ethnic culture and Kusturica's love of anarchism and the Gypsy culture) who attacked the ''most developed part of Yugoslavia'' (Zizek puts Slovenia in the position of cultural superiority here). In effect, Zizek is the one who is projecting his repressed racism towards the ''less civilized'' Balkan ''tribes'' on Kusturica's film. He slams his own thesis here right into his own face.

If this sounds like a promising dialectic to you, I wish you luck with Zizek! I gave up on him a long time ago.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg with respect to the 12 comments and emails I've received within the last 24 hours, which, I fear, are actually causing me to become more stupid than I already am. I confess that I am completely baffled by this correspondent or what his aims might be. In the first place, I fail to see the racism that the author is referring to. Rather, Zizek makes the simple point that talk of the Balkans is somehow exempted from the prohibition against using crass stereotypes that are forbidden in discussions of other groups such as blacks, Jews, women, Asians, etc. Zizek may be right, he may be wrong. Zizek does seem right about this much: That during the war it was considered permissible to talk about those in the Balkans employing the most crass stereotypes. Those from the Balkans were described as being primative and tribalistic, as riddled with ancient conflicts, subject to emotional outbursts and innate brutality, etc., etc. In the States there was even a best selling book that based itself on this very thesis: Robert Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts. If my unsolicited interlocutor is bothered by what Zizek has to say, he ought to read this book. Perhaps he might gain a little perspective as to what Zizek is trying to say. Nor am I quite clear as to what, precisely, is dialectical about the above cited quote from Zizek.

But more basically, I'm simply not deeply invested in any of the various cultural analyses Zizek presents in his writings. Rather, I'm interested in Zizek because of his rather unique understanding of Hegelian dialectic and because of the various insights he gives me about Lacan which I sometimes agree with and sometimes disagree with. What is it that this correspondent hopes to accomplish with his interventions? Does he wish to convince me that Zizek is worthless? Well that certainly won't happen as I've already found too much of value in Zizek. Is he trying to convince me that Zizek is racist? Is he just looking for someone to listen to him as others won't? All of it is quite tiresome. If you want to level critique, by all means do so, but please proceed in a philosophical fashion, informed by actual psychoanalytic theory and by the philosophers being discussed... A link to an article by someone who only has rudimentary background with Lacan and Hegel certainly doesn't cut it, nor does it resolve the question of alternative interpretations. But above all, leave your pet obsessions at home. I'm just not interested.

The author seems to believe that somehow dialectics inherently leads to claims such as that quoted above. This is a bit like suggesting that because some use formal logic incorrectly, formal logic inherently leads to these unsound conclusions, or that because Heidegger became a Nazi, anyone who talks about "being-in-the-world" is destined to become a Nazi. Or, drawing on another example, Freud has some pretty unkind things to say about Eastern Europeans, going so far as to say that they cannot be analyzed due to their lack of morality. Does this suggest that Freud, in toto, should be consigned to flames, or that this particular thesis should be rejected as a prejudice among truths? Or what of Nietzsche's attitude towards women? At any rate, what baffles me most of all, is why these claims are being addressed to me or how they have anything to do with issues I've been discussing here on this blog. Somehow I feel as if I've been caught in the cross-fire of a rightwing nationalistic ideologue whose ire was raised by some interpretation or other of Zizek's that hit the mark. Take it elsewhere please! Somehow I've become a surrogate for Zizek, becoming the object of this person's hostility towards the Slovenian.

There are days when others and their immersion in conflicts of jouissance deeply try my patience and sense of charity, when I find myself clearly understanding the motivation for unfolding intellectual projects in the serene space of journals and presses with limited run prints. Whatever. Yeah, Zizek says some pretty stupid things sometimes. He also says some pretty illuminating things. Get yourself a threshing machine please and leave me alone!

UPDATE: My interlocutor has kindly clarified his aims here and in my email with regard to Zizek. I suspect that Zizek's take on Balkan politics isn't even on the radar for most readers of his work, but it would be interesting to hear more from others who know a bit more about Zizek and the history of the Balkan political constellation. An important point here is that Zizek's analysis of the role that jouissance plays in ideology certainly does not exempt him from being caught up in those same mechanisms of jouissance and fantasy. As Lacan liked to say, there is no metalanguage. On the other hand, the fact that an analyst is herself caught up in transference and the unconscious does not delegitimate analysis either. It would be interesting to hear Dejan to give a more complex analysis of what he believes to be going on in Zizek's observations of The Sound of Music. What does he believe Zizek is claiming and how does he think Zizek is relating it to racism?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL! This can, though, unfortunately happen in more staid academic environments, as well... ;-P Your post reminded me of a situation, when I was trying to find supervision for my BA thesis (which was, essentially, a reinterpretation of a conflict over the renunciation of property ownership in early Franciscan theology - a topic whose obscurity alone one might think would render it safe from such concerns) and one of my difficulties in obtaining supervision revolved around objections that Franciscans had been involved in unsavoury ways in 20th century political events...

I was consoling a student the other day, who had presented her first paper to an academic conference, and hadn't been prepared for the fact that most of the questions she received would be, essentially: "Don't you think it's problematic that you aren't doing my project?" ;-P

The web, of course, introduces a higher degree of randomness and a lower sense of personal boundaries into the mix. It also, though, introduces delete buttons - which I find a great consolation, and for which I've occasionally pined in other contexts... ;-)

Sorry you've had a frustrating experience...

January 22, 2007 12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zizek is an opportunist and a nationalist, but many Westerners are indeed quite fond of him, on a superficial level, also out of snobbery, I'd say... Yet he is actually right about most of the common Western stereotypes of the Balkans, I'm quite pleased to say this... He is not right and proves to be a racist nationalist who considers Serbia culturally inferior to Slovenia when addressing Kusturica's remarks about Slovenia (however I've got the feeling that he's envious of Kusturica)...

This piece summarizes his stand pretty well:
'Zizek's preservation of the Christian legacy seems to reanimate "the Balkan ghosts" of past centuries which he promises to give up in his subtitle: "Giving up the Balkan Ghosts." While accusing the ex-Yugoslav director Emir Kusturica of "reflective racism" for calling the Slovenes a nation of "Viennese stable boys", Zizek assumes the defensive position typical of a classical nationalist: "Slovenia is most exposed to this displaced racism [supposedly of the West] since it is closest to Western Europe". Apart from the absurdity of this statement after Western misreadings of the Balkans and the horrors of NATO's intervention and non-interventions in Kosovo and Bosnia, Zizek's slight mistranslation of Kusturica's words is also symptomatic of the cultural rigidity and incompetence which characterizes Zizek's latest books. "Viennnese stable boys" is a much more playful characterization of the Slovene desire to find their proper place within the symbolic realm of the West than "Austrian grooms," which actually activates a certain post-colonial layer within the Slovene identity and provides for a possibility of resistance to the uncritical glorification of Europe and its Christian legacy.'

Kusturica's reference to "stable boys" or "grooms" refers to the fact that Slovenia is the homeland of the Lipizzaner horses, closely associated with Austria but from the Slovenian community of Lipica.



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