Monday, March 28, 2005

Act! Zizek! Par Excellence!

Consistently the title disappoints. Zizek's books sometimes strike me as works composed entirely of titles. But this is a post about the Act (the authentic, revolutionary, radical, strong sense Act). You know, the one (singular!) that rearranges the coordinates without being able to predict or foresee exactly how, affirming jouissance and nihilism and inevitable self-destruction and something about Lenin and Lacan and most definitely not endorsing liberal democracy. It has been suggested that Zizek's heroic Actor may be seen passing the whatever! multitude going the other way. Some even go so far as to call Zizek a conservative par excellence:
For Zizek, objections to official ideologies which stop short of an Act are 'the very form of ideology', and the gap between complaint' and Acts is 'insurmountable'. So protest politics 'fits the existing power relations' and carnivals are 'a false transgression which stabilizes the power edifice'. This position misreads past revolutionary movements - including the decades-long revolutionary process in Russia - and offers nothing to the development of a left strategy to challenge the existing system...Zizek's politics are not merely impossible, but potentially despotic (between support for a master, acceptance of pain and alienation, militarism and the restoration of order) tendentially conservative. They serve only to discredit the left and further alienate those it seeks to mobilise. Instead, a transformatice politics should be a process of transformation, an alinear, rhizomatic, multiform plurality of resistances, initiatives, and, indeed, act, which are sometimes spectacular and carnivalesque, sometimes prefigurative, sometimes subterranean, sometimes rooted in institutional change and reform, sometimes directly revolutionary. Zizek's model of the pledged group, bound together by the One who Acts, is entirely irrelevant to the contemporary world and would be a step backwards from the decentred character of current left-radical politics. Nor need this decentring be seen as a weakness as Zizek insists. It can be a strength, protecting radical politics from self-appointed elites, transformism, infiltration, defeat through the 'neutralisation' of leaders, and the threat of a repeat of the Stalinist betrayal. In contrast with Zizek's stress on subordination, exclusivity, hierarchy and violence, the tendency of anti-capitalists and others to adopt anti-authoritarian, heterogeneous, inclusive and multiform types of activity offer a better chance of effectively overcoming the homogenising logic of capitalism and of winning support among wider circles of those dissatistied with it. Similarly, the emphasis on direct action - which can include ludic, carnivalesque and non-violent actions as well as more overtly confrontational ones - generates the possibility of empowerment through involvement in and support for the myriad causes which make up the anti-capitalist resistance. This resistance stands in stark contrast to the desert of 'heroic' isolation advocated by Zizek, which, as Laclau puts it, is 'a prescription for political quietism and sterility'.

Now is this just pure straw-man beat-up here? I'm not convinced. Surely it indulges in rhetorical exaggerations and accusations one could diligently refute, but the general thrust of the argument seems common enough when considering Zizek's own words. But perhaps we are not supposed to take him directly at his word? Or is such facile criticism merely the predictable liberal response par excellence?

Anyway, I intended only to raise a simple question. The article above seems to assume that Zizek only calls an 'Act' that which errs on the side of the worst. If this is true, then his dogmatic equivalencies, rhetorical or not, cannot responsibly be digested without either active refutation or constructing some kind of defense for polemical excess. But isn't the Act (in the strong sense) rather that which has merely taken into serious consideration both poles of possibility (killing one's own family, say - pulling 'Stagger Lee', let's call it - as opposed to negotiating with terrorists)? Having so considered, is the authentic Actor one who sees and, most responsibly, seeks to proceed in the face of a fundamentally unresolveable, radical aporia while at all costs still refusing 'the worst'? Would that be like pulling a 'Good Cowboy' then? (I am thinking of the film "Big Country" - but these epic Anglo analogies have their limits.) Maybe Zizek finally agrees with this conception of Act as negotiation, in which case he would merely be sloganizing Derrida through a bullhorn as usual (negotiation, like responsibility, being two of Derrida's less than most sexiest ever favorite terms). In any case, one may well worry about the danger of a theorist becoming hirself an example. Zizek may be on the verge of repeating not 'Lenin but 'Sartre, and Christ knows we don't need that.

Now that I have just snarked, or attempted to snark, let me say that this proposal sounds splendid.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well. I read Zizek and I liked it.

But regarding the authentic act, which is posited as outside the symbolic order and beyond the subject who is enacted it - there is always this example of the "Leninist act".

WHO says Lenin was not the subject to his act ?

WHO says Lenin was outside any symbolic order?

I think the proposed ACT - couldn't it be that it is only retroactively assigned some mythical features ?