Wednesday, December 14, 2005

ipop, you pop, we pop (and look to France)

Thinking of Zizek's recent comments (he has some funny things to say about Rawls, indeed)...but also about another student rebellion (and a genuinely populist one at that--in eclectic composition not unlike the genuinely international, though unfortunately-dubbed "anti-globalization" movement, whose roots are traceable back to Seattle, etc.)...

Meanwhile Negri: "This movement wants something, but it does not yet know what it wants."

Zizek's calls the recent riots in France a "zero-level protest," or "a protest that wants nothing" in speaking of the "cycles of violence" identifiably linked to the neoliberal state (which produces its own excess and backlash, etc.) Violence being de facto an admission of relative impotence. But in his conception, if "post-ideology" means anything it is the context of this certain nihilism.

Might it be at all valuable, or worthwhile, to point out the deep roots of this alleged "post?" After all, what has come to be cited and invokded as "May '68" was by no means a purely, or clearly, utopian confluence of identity politics or politically-targetted and precise rebellion, judging from Blanchot and similar on the matter...Zizek opposes the recent riots to May '68, but his argument (such as it is) only serves to unite them. One wonders if he's even read much of the history (and philosophical fall-out), or whether he's borrowing yet another page from those who have patiently explored these questions in more detail (for instance, Nancy).

So what does this conception of a "post-ideology" (or a post-politics) actually mean? And in describing too quickly a return to such things as "an operatic staging of the other" does one not also risk prescribing their inevitability? Is it just that Zizek does a disservice to the nuances of his own argument (is there more room for hope outside of this banal mimetic or sacrificial indemnification), or is it that he simply doesn't have much of an argument to begin with? Nothing wrong with that of course (his comment about philosophers rightly (re)posing the questions is well-taken, and somewhat uncharacteristic perhaps), but maybe it's high time to hold Z. accountable for the seductive but pat maneuvers he makes, in this his apparently full-time capacity as a "public intellectual."

I don't mean to merely degrade him, of course. He is without question one of the most unconvential, engaging and brilliant theorists today. But as is the case with most popular spokesmen figures, those more familiar with the actual history (and in his defense, perhaps Z. would say that he was only citing popular history, I don't know), cannot help but raise their eyebrows, incredulous...still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Anyway, this makes many of the same arguments Z. does. There are some condescending overtones there, mixed in with equal parts romanticization and apocalypticism. It's all a bit redundant, indulgent and quite lazy. But then I also tend to think that Baudrillard should have long ago been hung from the nearest available billboard:
But it is also a movement without strategy, a movement more prone to gaze at itself on television screens, drawing its ephemeral strength from the media coverage it produces, and thus depending on the self-censorship of information put in place to avoid "the telethon effect." It is a movement nevertheless more Luddite than playful, sustaining itself at the source of real despair, but lacking utopia, its horizon limited by bars and block towers.

For sociologists, journalists and certain revolutionaries, this movement is incomprehensible since it resists the well-oiled arguments they use to explain social movements: neither social analysis, nor the study of the composition of class succeeds in defining its specificity.

These riots are made by an unidentifiable mob—rebellious bodies whose existence is reduced to bare necessity, and who have not found any other language than that of destructive gestures.

Let us not fool ourselves; in everyday life many of this mob are detestable; some are numbed by religion, many alienated by consumerism, or enthusiasts of masculine values, sharing with the masters of society the stupid worship of sport (some riots were suspended during televised football games). Many are contemptible in their behavior toward women—whose absence in the riots signals an unacceptable limitation. Most of this mob would certainly not be friendly to us.

What is remarkable, however—beyond them—is their revolt. Through their actual contradictions, they represent the dark face of a vengeful social unconscious held back for too long, as those in bygone days representing the “dangerous classes.” But, at the risk of plunging back even more bitterly in their poverty, it will be necessary for them to draw on the lessons of their recent experience in order to gain lucidity. Already they have seen at work the repressive role of the imams and of Islam, mere auxiliaries to the police— as is all religion. This movement still has to get rid of all forms of puritanical and masculinist morality so that women will join them as equals—like the women fire-raisers of the Paris Commune in 1871—to take an active part in all future stuggles. Likewise, they must have done with the stupid gang rivalry that nails them to their “territories” and deprives them of a mobile offensive. And finally, they must learn to choose more directly political targets.

In a society in which all previous forms of belonging, and therefore of associated consciousness, have been wiped out, these events testify to the eruptive and uncontrollable return of the social question, firstly under an immediately negative form, that fire—emblem of all apocalypses— symbolizes. Indeed, unlike the rebellions in Los Angeles in 1965 and in 1992, the population of the districts here did not massively join the rioters. And in contrast to May ‘68 neither poetry nor brilliant ideas are on the barricades. No wildcat strike is going to spread widely with these troubles. But the rulers have been give a good hotfoot and have been forced to unmask themselves.

A democracy which, in order to face up to a quantitatively limited movement (considering the number of participants), has been obliged to put back in force an old colonial law, but also to reveal its constituent deception: that is, where the police abuse their powers, the state of emergency gives to their abuse the legitimacy that it lacks. What we long ago called "individual freedom" is today known as the “discretionary power” of the cops.

In a flash, such warning lights have revealed—during these November nights—the return of a possibility that seemed to be lost: that of throwing power into a panic even when its forces are harassed in a disorganized manner through the whole territory by a handful of forsaken social casualties. From now on, we can imagine the strength of an uprising that would—beyond the inhabitants of the ghettos—include the whole population suffering from the rise of impoverishment, and would turn into civil war against the organs of capital and the state.

Beyond recent infernos presented as the very image of a nightmare, it is time that the dream of concrete utopia is raised anew.

Perhaps those such as Derrida's warnings about Benjamin (and an apocalyptic turn) are not to be taken so lightly.

Isn't it just possible that we're entering a more desperate, and more disenchanted stage of the necessary global protest against neoliberalism, marked also – though hopefully not equally – by episodes of localized populist outbursts (of the worst sort)? And the world ended in banality; Oy. Time to fight for some articulation.

Anyway, the funny bits on Rawls and operatic staging and the racist construing of the other during "Katrina" were all well and good, even if he still just gets it all from Derrida. The debate with Laclau (and 'Long Sunday) over populism has provided lots to think about.


Anonymous said...

The long passage from Baudrillard, where is it from? Which Article? Or text in general?

mchristie said...

The hyperlink tells all, I think.