Jan 27, 2011

Does Zizek want what Zizek wants?

Zizek's latest Guardian piece is probably the clearest answer I could ever likely get from him to my question about what he wants. And published only 10 days after I asked.

It's the most explicit pronouncement of a political project -- something practical, something concrete, something with solutions -- I've seen him make.

It raises two questions, though. First, does his answer make sense? Second, could it actually solve the things he wants it to?

Unfortunately: no.

Zizek says (this is his answer): "The only way to break out of this deadlock is to propose and fight for a positive universal project shared by all participants."

Then he gives an example: "Some months ago, a small miracle happened in the occupied West Bank: Palestinian women who were demonstrating against the wall were joined by a group of Jewish lesbian women from Israel. The initial mutual mistrust was dispelled in the first confrontation with the Israeli soldiers guarding the wall, and a sublime solidarity developed, with a traditionally dressed Palestinian woman embracing a Jewish lesbian with spiked purple hair – a living symbol of what our struggle should be."

The abstract answer kind of does make sense, at first. "A positive universal project" is a little vague, though. It could apply to the kind of revolutionary struggle Zizek talks about in In Defense of Lost Causes, for example. It probably could also apply, though, to all the human rights ideas that undergird and give energy to the liberals humanists and multiculturalists that Zizek was originally opposing. The problem with multiculturalism, if you think there's a problem, can't be that it's not universal enough, or not positive enough. The problem is that that universal, when translated into any practical program, becomes horribly conflicted. It doesn't start with the identity politics that gets so problematic: it ends there. The universal program is always committing multiculturalists to situations where they must apparently take opposing positions.

I suppiose I find the vague answer difficult, too, in that it is exactly the kind of answer Zizek has so often attacked. This is the man, remember, who says, "I was always disgusted with this notion of 'I love the world, universal love.' I don't like world ... I'm somewhere between 'I hate the world' or I'm indifferent towards it." It's probably a lost cause to try to force all of Zizek's utterances into any kind of consistent program or regular harmony, but I have found his earlier iconclasm helpful, where this iconclam now, I don't know what it means.

The example Zizek gives is more problematic. For one thing, it's not clear to me what universal project the Jewish lesbian with spiked purple hair and the traditionally dressed Palestinian woman share. They both hate what the Israeli government has done to them. They both are willing to actively oppose the government. Isn't that a shared enemy, rather than a shared principle or program?

I don't speak for either group, obviously, and I don't know the details. Maybe the women are both committed pacifists. From what Zizek says in the article, I don't see an identifiable universal ideal they share other than opposition to the Israeli government.

Even if the answer does make sense, and even if one does understand the example maybe better than I do, the concrete solution still is a problem. For this answer to work, according to the standards Zizek himself set out, it should be applicable to the situation where local, small town Europeans were reacting to the Roma. According to Zizek, multiculturalism failed, because it could not tell the locals what to do about what, to them, felt like a problem. It could only condemn them as racists for preceiving a problem. What were they supposed to do? "[N]obody," Zizek said, "clearly answered the local 'racists' what they should concretely do to solve the very real problems the Roma camp evidently was for them."

Assumming that the powers that be were good Zizekians, what would happen if they went to the local racists and gave them Zizek's answer? The mayor or whoever could call a meeting with the racists and tell them, "fight for a positive universal project shared by all participants!"

What would they do? How could they make that advice practicable?

The only thing I can think of is maybe the Zizekian mayor could find the racists and the Roma a good common enemy.