Tag Archives: Slavoj Zizek

A Poverty of Possibilities among the Rich

photo of money - Creative Commons

With an Ivy League education, and years of association with some of the brightest people in Washington, D.C., Tim Geithner is still unable to think of any alternative to what happened in 2008.  He missed one of the lessons of It’s A Wonderful Life, which is that people’s money/labor is theirs, and that the bank is a place where collective wealth exists, and can be used for collective good.  In other words, the achievement of the James Stewart character in the film is to show the viewer how to live without banks and bankers, whose interests have little to do with Bedford Falls.  Geithner has convinced himself, in a grand gesture of rationalization, that no alternative existed, and still does not.

It’s like the power grid. You have to make sure the lights stay on, because if the lights go out, then you face the damage like what you saw in the Great Depression or It’s a Wonderful Life. More people lose their jobs, more people lose their businesses, lose their homes, their savings, and they’re devastated. There is not way to avoid those outcomes or protect people against those outcomes, unless you keep the lights on. That requires doing things that are terribly unfair and look deeply offensive. It looks like you are rewarding the arsonist or protecting people from their mistakes, but there is no alternative.
— Geithner in The Wall Street Journal‘s Money Issue (June 2014)

Slavoj Žižek indicates the same problem is at work with Thomas Piketty’s new book on capitalism. The capitalists don’t know how to do without capitalism.  They are incapable of Hegelian negation.  “[Piketty] accepts, as a good Keynesian, that capitalism is ultimately the only game in town; all alternatives ended up in fiasco, so we have to keep it.”

What’s worse about Geithner is that he knew what he did looked “like the opposite of what makes sense.”  It’s a Wonderful Life, on a most superficial reading, shows neighbors rescuing a neighbor, friends helping friends, townspeople pulling together for a person in trouble.  Those are alternatives that do not make sense to readers of The Wall Street Journal and to Tim Geithner. They cannot leave important financial decisions up to common people who cannot comprehend why anyone would say it’s utterly plausible to do what is “terribly unfair.”



The Power of Non-Smoking Guns

Sarah Palin holding Big GulpIn discussing the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Žižek with others, it is often difficult to convey what each of these figures means by the real, since the real does not exist. The real is not to be confused with what most of us would call reality — see how the confusion begins? Sometimes it helps to come at the topic from a different angle. Today’s angle: fast food. We can imagine that many people, if asked, would confess that fast food puts us on the fast track to illness and other problems, problems food and beverage manufacturers build into their products. The manufacturers used to go to great lengths to keep that fact hidden.

Like the executives of tobacco companies, some of the food and beverage manufacturers have realized that non-hidden-ness can function as successfully as hiding the facts/toxins. Literary people have known this since Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.” People tend not to see what is right in front of them. It’s frequently the best place to hide things. Jeffrey Dunn, former Coca-Cola executive sums it up: “It’s not like there’s a smoking gun. The gun is right there. It’s not hidden.” Some fast foodies take their knowledge of self-destructiveness as a badge of honor by proclaiming things like, “At least I know what’s killing me,” demonstrating that empowering knowledge = a deeper level of denial, or non-seeing. “I see that I do not see, so stop trying to make me see.” This is the starting place of almost all education. What happens after that is a version of the story of Anne Sullivan.

“People seldom see the halting and painful steps by which the most insignificant success is achieved.”
— Anne Sullivan

Haiti, Hate, Hallward

The New Statesman offers up some quotations from a review by Slavoj Zizek of Peter Hallward’s Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment.  One seems pertinent juxtaposed to the statements by Pat Robertson in the video.

Haiti was an exception from the very beginning, from its revolutionary fight against slavery, which ended in independence in January 1804. “Only in Haiti,” Hallward notes, “was the declaration of human freedom universally consistent. Only in Haiti was this declaration sustained at all costs, in direct opposition to the social order and economic logic of the day”… Denounced by Talleyrand as “a horrible spectacle for all white nations”, the “mere existence of an independent Haiti” was itself an intolerable threat to the slave-owning status quo. Haiti thus had to be made an exemplary case of economic failure, to dissuade other countries from taking the same path.

In-Flight Fantasies of the Unapproved Kind

We have at least two kinds of fantasies aboard airplane flights, the approved ones and the unapproved ones.  Some fantasies can lead to your arrest. Others are structured into every commercial flight. Slavoj Zizek tells us about the latter:

We indulge in the fantasy of society as an organic whole kept together by forces of solidarity and cooperation…. Recall the safety instructions prior to the take-off of an airplane. Aren’t they sustained by a fantasmatic scenario of how a possible plane crash will look? After a gentle landing on water miraculously (it is always supposed to happen on water!), each of the passengers puts on the life-jacket, and, as on a beach toboggan, slides into the water and takes a swim, like a nice collective lagoon holiday experience under the guidance of an experienced swimming instructor. Is not this ‘gentrifying’ of a catastrophe (a nice soft landing, [flight attendants] in a dance-like style graciously pointing with their hands towards the ‘Exit’ signs) also ideology at its purest? (p. 91 of “The Zizek Reader”)

Zizek points out this approved fantasy creates the very horror it is designed to conceal.

The unapproved fantasy, meant to be concealed during the flight, also involved a lagoon, the familiar one from the television show “Gilligan’s Island.”  This fantasy, according to CNN, came from the pen of Joseph Hedlund, a passenger on a flight to Hawaii.  Here is the fantasy as it was written out, though it seems as if Mr. Hedlund did not expect anyone to read what he wrote until the flight had been concluded, as might be clear from the verb tense of Mr. Hedlund’s first sentence.

‘I thought I was going to die, we were so high up,’ the card said. ‘I thought to myself: I hope we don’t crash and burn or worse yet landing in the ocean, living through it, only to be eaten by sharks, or worse yet, end up on some place like Gilligan’s Island, stranded, or worse yet, be eaten by a tribe of headhunters, speaking of headhunters, why do they just eat outsiders, and not the family members? Strange … and what if the plane ripped apart in mid-flight and we plumited (sic) to earth, landed on Gilligan’s Island and then lived through it, and the only woman there was Mrs. Thurston Howell III? No Mary Anne (my favorite) no Ginger, just Lovey! If it were just her, I think I’d opt for the sharks, maybe the headhunters.’

photo of figures from Gilligan's Island

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

It is interesting that the pilot interpreted this fantasy as “threatening,” and threatening enough to turn the plane around after it had been in the air for 90 minutes on its way to Hawaii, island of yet more fantasies.  Mr. Hedlund’s fantasy was a political fantasy from the pilot’s perspective, though the pilot’s fantasy regarding the threat — he imagined a scenario involving what Mr. Hedlund might do –, is what became real for everyone involved.  Perhaps one connection here, a hypothetical one, is that the pilot’s fantasy linked the 72 virgins in paradise mentioned so frequently in journalistic accounts of Islamic terrorists to other women, Ginger and the apparently dreaded Mrs. Howell from the television show.

We have evidence about the telos of a collective fantasy. Some men’s fantasies about airplane disasters are narratives that conclude with an experience with particular kinds of women.  What is being revealed and concealed in that collective fantasy?

Zizek and Architecture from Australia

Hear the philosopher Slavoj Zizek talk on Australian radio about Ayn Rand and architecture. The radio program is named “By Design.”

Zizek on architecture

“A Little Bit More Complex” – Zizek Suffers on “Hardtalk”

The examiner on “Hardtalk” asks difficult questions, and without the possibility, given the clipped world of television, of lengthy responses, Zizek comes across as incapable of successful counterarguments.  Is it possible that Zizek needs practice with this kind of television appearance, with providing short and convincing explanations of his positions?  The philosopher in Zizek asks at one point to be allowed to finish his sentences, to engage in longer monologues, to treat complex questions with elaborate, complex answers.  It is as if Zizek imagines he can have C-Span like television time as his interlocutor peppers Zizek with quotations from Zizek’s own works, and shifts the discussion quickly, leaving Zizek awash in fragmentary responses, most of which never meet the questions head on.  This looks like a rhetorical failure, generally speaking, for Zizek.  He is much better in other venues, in other media structures.

Fear of the Proletariat – The Bankers Arm Themselves

photo of mannequin

Flickr Creative Commons photo

According to one report, fear is gripping some people at Goldman Sachs to the point that they anticipate a public uprising about their corruption, incompetence, and bloated bonuses.  Does anyone imagine that the NRA had Goldman Sachs in mind for any of its pro-gun publicity?  In one respect, this seems a positive development for democracy.  In another respect, the report reinforces a popular story in the media that might distract us from the larger issue. In Slavoj Zizek’s latest book, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, he states the case:

The central task of the ruling ideology in the present crisis is to impose a narrative which will place the blame for the meltdown not on the global capitalist system as such, but on secondary and contingent deviations (overly lax regulations, the corruption of big financial institutions, and so on).

Zizek warns that one effect of focusing on the bankers alone keeps us dreaming that current corrective measures are different from the measures that caused this particular financial crisis, some of which can be traced to efforts designed to bring the economy out of the dot.com bust.  The fiction about economic cycles promises, among other things, that if one simply waits long enough, bust will turn into boom (but then back to bust again).  It seems safe to presuppose that the armed bankers at Goldman Sachs have no intention of living through a downturn, or of sharing anything with the masses.  If need be, they will shoot first and spend bonuses later.