Zizek is typically, and willfully, perverse in his praise of 300 (found via Dejan): everyone else on the Left has denounced the film as a fascist spectacle, allegorically praising militarism and the American war in Iraq, so of course Zizek must instead praise the film as a revolutionary allegory of struggle against the American evil empire.

Now, I still haven’t seen 300 (I don’t get to see many movies except on DVD these days), so I obviously can’t judge whose reading is more ‘correct.’ But that can’t stop me from wondering to what extent Zizek’s contrarianism is just a sort of idiotic macho one-upmanship (as in: I can be even more outrageous and anti-commonsensical than anybody else), of the same sort that is routinely practiced by right-wing political economists like David Friedman and Steven Landsburg (who delight in arguring, for instance, that Ralph Nader’s safety regulations caused automobile accidents to increase), or evolutionary theorists like the guys (whose names escape me at the moment) who wrote about how rape was an adaptive strategy.

There is something drearily reactive about always trying to prove that the opposite of what everyone else thinks is really correct. It’s an elitist gesture of trumpeting one’s own independence from the (alleged) common herd; but at the same time, it reveals a morbid dependence upon, or concern with, the very majority opinions that one pretends to scorn. If all you are doing is inverting common opinion, that is the clearest sign possible that you are utterly dependent upon such common opinion: it motivates and governs your every gesture. That is why you need so badly to negate it. Zizek totally depends upon the well-meaning, right-thinking liberal ideology that he sets out to frustrate and contradict at every turn. His own ideas remain parasitic upon those of the postmodern, multicultural consensus that he claims to upset.

Zizek, unlike the free-market economists and evolutionary theorists, justifies his contrianism in Hegelian terms; he’s performing the negation of the negation, or something like that. But this is exactly Deleuze’s Nietzschean point, that a critique grounded in negation is an utterly impoverished and reactive one. Zizek’s favorite rhetorical formulas all always of the order of: “it might seem that x; but in fact is not the exact opposite of x really the case?” Zizek always fails to imagine the possibility of a thought that would move obliquely to common opinion, rather than merely being its mirror reversal; and that is why I find him, ultimately, to be so limited and reductive.

Even a far better recent article by Zizek, on Robespierre and revolution, suffers from this sort of defect. Glen of Event Mechanics pointed me to this piece; Glen rightly observes that Zizek is in fact quite good here when he expounds on the view of revolution-as-event that we find in Deleuze, and in Foucault’s much-maligned (but wrongly so) comments on the Iranian revolution. To see the hope and promise of the revolutionary event, despite all that goes wrong when that revolution is later institutionalized, is essentially a Kantian position, and one that I think is necessary for us to maintain today; it is our absolute, categorical moral obligation to reject the ideology of No Alternative, and to act as if something other and better than today’s universal market capitalism were possible. We know that there will always be a gap between this moral imperative and whatever empirical accomplishments we manage to make; the revolution will always disappoint to some extent (we can, and should, try to make it less disappointing rather than more, but we will never entirely succeed); yet we may not give it up and acquiesce in the “actually existing” system of systematic injustice.

Zizek almost makes this point — but this is again where his reactivity, his will to the negative, reasserts itself and spoils everything. Zizek moves from a Kantian recognition of the gap between the noumenal and the phenomenal, or between our obligations and their (always incomplete) realization, to a Hegelian bridging of that gap via the creaky mechanisms of negation. He moves from Deleuze’s and Foucault’s Kantianianism regarding the hope of revolutionary action, to his tiresome and glibly romanticized Hegelian praise of “terror” and “ruthless punishment” as a means of institutionalizing the revolutionary event. There are the usual invocations of Lenin and even Stalin (once again, we get Zizek’s communism as a matter of anybody except Tito).

A lot of this recalls the debate, a year or so ago, on this blog, and also here, with contributions also by K-punk and Jodi among others, around the question of revolution and “subjective destitution” as raised in V for Vendetta. I am not sure I am able to revive that discussion here — if for no other reason than because (as I said) I haven’t managed to see 300. But I have to comment, at least, that the thing I found most repellent in either of the Zizek articles I am discussing was the following:

In today’s era of hedonist permissivity as the ruling ideology, the time is coming for the Left to (re)appropriate discipline and the spirit of sacrifice: there is nothing inherently “Fascist” about these values.

This is the sort of slippery slide, fueled by the spirit of negation, that I think needs to be rejected as much as acquiescence in the actual world system needs to be rejected. There is a real analytic acuity behind identifying what Zizek calls “hedonist permissivity as the ruling ideology”: this has to do with the way that, for today’s neoliberal capitalism, it is much more effective to turn something into a commodity than to ban it or censor it or otherwise repress it. Anything can be commodified, and by that fact alone what has thus been packaged and offered for sale is deprived of any radical efficacy, any potential for real change. The difference of the future from the past, or what Whitehead called “Creative Advance,” is neutralized by being drawn into the structures of the market, of “individual choice” in a condition of overall “scarcity,” etc etc ad nauseam.

However, the neoliberal nostrum of the market as a regulatory mechanism for everything is a utopian (or more properly, dystopian) ideal that doesn’t actually work out in practice, which is why — as Wendy Brown in particular has written about — neoliberalism needs to be supplemented by neoconservatism, with its harshly repressive moralism. Neoliberalism without neoconservatism threatens to explode into violence and chaos, or otherwise go astray. Whereas neoconservatism on its own — the homophobic and patriarchal strictures of the fundamentalist Christian Right in America, for instance — would lead to the stagnation or collapse of capitalist productivity; which is why neoconservatism is always presented only as a supplement to neoliberalism, its Biblical moralism sugar-coated with a bizarre sense of the individual, or more often the family, as a sort of economic enterprise in its own right, to be treated with a combination of market discipline and New Age-y regimes of healing and self-regulation.

Zizek, I think, does indeed grasp this dynamic quite well. But he goes astray, yet again, when he essentializes and psychologizes the situation in terms of his theory of the superego command, or imperative, of enjoyment. In other words, he sees the psychological dilemma of meaning and groundedness — the reason why neoconservatism is needed as a supplement, why neoliberalism by itself cannot produce the social cohesion necessary for the “market mechanism” to function at all — as the root of the problem, and totally ignores the way the whoe process is driven by the drive of capital accumulation (reflected in the neoliberal replacement of all other social forms with that of the market).

The result is that Zizek displaces and misrecognizes both the motor force of capital accumulation, and the force of the Kantian categorical imperative. By identifying “hedonist permissivity” as the problem — when it is really just a product of the forces of capital accumulation — he in effect gives the exact same analysis of postmodern capitalsim as the fundamentalist Christian right does, and offers a pseudo-solution (discipline and the spirit of sacrifice) that, like theirs, only serves to preserve the world market system from its own disaggregating tendencies. Discipline, the spirit of sacrifice, and the embrace of terror also function as a sort of grotesque parody of the categorical imperative, the result precisely of betraying it by institutionalizing it. (Zizek defends the appeal to terror in the Robespierre article as a form of what Badiou calls “fidelity to the event.” I don’t know Badiou well enough to either support or reject this reading; but from a Deleuzian point of view, it is precisely a betrayal of the event to seek to incarnate or effectuate in this way; rather than practicing a “counter-effectuation,” which is how fidelity to the categorical imperative can in fact be maintained despite all inevitable disappointments).

Perhaps it is all too easy, in the wake of how the 1960s counterculture has become the official market culture (or one of its cultures) in the 21st century, to invoke Emma Goldman’s famous statement about how, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution.” But the denunciation of “hedonist permissivity” is certainly not the way to go — Zizek’s loathing for this, like the similar loathings on the part of fundamentalist Christians and Jihadist Muslims, is a false response, based upon a misrecognition of the basic problem. (The Jihadists are responding, in their own way, to the depredations unleashed on the world, and the Muslim world in particular, of predatory capitalism; but their solution is as bad as, or worse than, the problem, and bespeaks only the way that any liberatory or creative alternative has been systematically blocked by the marketization of everything). I don’t think emulating either the Spartans or Robespierre is much of a solution to the mess, and the exploitation, we find ourselves in. Zizek’s theories are little more than yet another demonstration, or symptom, of the situation that he himself has pointed to: the fact that, in the current climate, we find it difficult to imagine any alternative to capitalism; that in fact we find it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Zizek’s thought itself is one more demonstration of our current blockage of imagination.

88 thoughts on “Zizek/Hollywood”

  1. Kirby, I actually like Carrie’s mom a lot. I was talking about the gym teacher who tells Carrie that she’s pretty and that she can socialize while secretly resenting Carrie like all the other girls resent her. This is who you have reminded me of.

  2. His paper on Robespierre is the same – his project is to try to suss out how one can break a deadlock, and not merely hysterically “act out” and maintain the logic of the deadlock. This break he calls the Act proper. And when he talks about all the murder and destruction that follows, he is trying to show that one must accept the consequences of the Act, and that they will not be pretty.

    Well in a similar way, in the early 1990s, dr Zizek felt that Slovenija should ”break out of the economic deadlock” that the Yugoslav federation was, where Slovenija had to pay all those annoying federal debts, for the maintenance of Kosovo, among other things, not to mention put up with all those EVIL SERBS who stifled Slovenia’s freedom of creative expression as well as their nostalgia for the Austrian Alps. So Slovenia just decided to break away (without paying debts or consulting anyone) – the Act Proper in the form of Unilateral Seccession. When this glorious Leninist Act resulted in murder and destruction, dr. Zizek indeed bravely accepted the consequences: a 15-year long bloody civil war whose repercussions are still devastating for everyone who participated, EXCEPT SLOVENIA; and which made him into the superwealthy multimedia star that he is today.

    The Revolutionary Act asserted Spartan pardon Slovenian nationalism while successfully destroying one of the more successful socialist federations in the Balkans.

  3. I haven’t seen the film for thirty years and can only distantly remember the character. I felt so bad after the film that I was actually checked into a hospital. I needed to have an injection of a tranquillizer because my stomach was in knots.

    Why does the gym teacher resent Carrie?

    Are you sure that she “resents” Carrie?

    Is Carrie a communist in your eyes that is resented by … the gym teacher … who is presumably a Lutheran Surrealist of some sort?

    I’m having trouble following this analogy.

  4. Why do you like Carrie’s mom? Does she strike you as a fellow communist?

    I like her because she is consequentially evil, while the gym teacher pretends to be a saint, but speaks from the same female narcissism that the entire film puts under scrutiny. I think that is the hypocritical motivation of 99.99 percent of Christianity, and one that Orthodox Christianity strongly condemns.

  5. In a similar way, your George Bush Christianity is premised on Phariseism – ”we are better and purer than others” – and this 300 film is par excellance valorization of just such an evangelical sort of Christianity.

  6. So you agree that underneath our hypocritical exterior is complete depravity. Then I believe that we agree at least on human nature. What I can’t then understand is how you arrive at a utopian society based on a completely corrupt being. I salute your Orthodoxy, but I think you have derived a totally false conclusion from your basic understanding of human nature.

    The Romantic notion of utopia stemming from the Jacobin sensibility and its outlawing of the church seems to be at an almost total variance with the Orthodox sensibility.

    Perhaps they come together only in Ceausescu’s dystopian Securitate.

  7. So you agree that underneath our hypocritical exterior is complete depravity. Then I believe that we agree at least on human nature. What I can’t then understand is how you arrive at a utopian society based on a completely corrupt being.

    I don’t think there is depravity under our hypocritical exterior, only fear and desire. I’m no humanist, there’s nothing ”inside”. But we can be seduced by the devil, by external forces.

    The problem with Communists was that they tried utopia by force, not that they tried the utopia. Utopia is already contained in the very notion ”agape” (a banquet for everyone) and as such cannot be in an argument with Christianity. Without that delirious utopic fantasy, believing in brotherhood and equality against ALL odds, Christianity would be some kind of fatalistic demonism. I really am not sure what you’re telling me.

  8. Kirby another reason I like Carrie’s mom is that when Carrie makes her own dress for the Prom, which is pink, Carrie’s mom enters the room and says ”It’s RED” (ignoring Carrie’s polite retort ”no,mama,it’s pink”)

  9. His reading here represents less any ‘fascist tendencies’ he may have, and more his pulling out that which matches the goals of his project.

    But what are the goals of his project? He wants to convince us, namely, that a nationalist statelet like Slovenia/Sparta should protect its sovereignity and purity against the threat of bullying federations. And to me that’s not less fascist just because it appears in a liberal context. This has always been dr. Zizek’s main goal, even if he did some half-assed Hegellianism and Lacanianism as a side dish, for which he is also abundantly overrated given the extent to which he buggered both Hegel and Lacan.

    I don’t think it matters to him that there are other possible readings – finding fascim, sexism, homophobia, etc, and I’m not totally convinced that he would deny some of their validity

    To say that fascism, sexism and homophobia are ”other possible readings” of 300 would be like saying that Leni Riefenstahl offered complex polysemic texts where fascism is one of the possible alternative readings. You really have to be extremely naive and illiterate not to see fascism, sexism and homophobia in 300.

  10. Kirby,


    In the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition the main purpose of the covenants of God, as stated in the Old and New Testaments and including the humiliation and sacrifice of Christ, was the salvation of man. The Orthodox Church has kept this teaching of salvation, in its
    highest annals, completely recognizing in it the main mission of the Scriptures. The salvation of sinners is wrought by Christ Himself as God-Man “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven” (Nicene Creed). The Church believes that Christ enlightens the minds of the people, purifies their hearts and frees their wills from the bondage of the devil. Christ became flesh “to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17). In that respect, the Church fought against two extremes:
    that in the innate sinfulness of mankind human nature is able to practice virtue by itself, making Christ’s sacrifice only a moral example (Pelagianism);
    the theory that the human soul is totally corrupted, and man’s salvation is God’s work alone, predestining man to salvation or to perdition (Augustine).
    The Church teaches that Christ the Son of God “was made in the likeness of man … humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7-8).

    The Orthodox Church holds the truths of morality closely with those of faith. The fact is, this Church maintains and practices the theme of the Scripture, “faith which worketh through love” (Gal. 5:6), and this is evident when applied to the intentions and conduct of its members. The Ten Commandments of the Old Testament (cf. Exodus 20:1-17) are considered the minimum of rules for right living, enabling reason and free will to discern right from wrong. For the Orthodox Christian who desires to devote himself to the principles of right living along with right faith, the instructions of the Lord to His disciples are to be studied and practiced, as is recorded in Matthew (chs. 5, 6 and 7), where is found a higher level of life in the Christian society.

    In the Orthodox Church, the truths of faith and morals are correlated to such a degree that one cannot exist without the other. The practice of these truths of conduct and morality cannot be achieved without the help, mercy and Grace of Almighty God. This is the reason that faith in and prayer to God are correlated with morality. The Orthodox Christian is assigned by his own faith to be the steward of God’s love for God’s people who are in need, “the least” not only materially but also spiritually.

  11. And Kirby from this fundamental of Orthodox teaching you can see that there is nothing corrupt in human nature, but in Satan. The subject of Orthodox Christianity is decentered, much like in Lacanian psychoanalysis.

    To understand the Orthodox view and practice of exorcism, one must know the Orthodox presuppositions of evil and its doctrine of Satan. The patristic evidence points to the fact that the cause of evil in the world is the devil. The devil was created by God as an angel, who was free, and as a free agent chose to oppose the plan of God. That is, the devil is a fallen angel. Satan is not evil by nature, but by will and action. In Satan there is no truth whatsoever; he is absolute falsehood and deception. Satan is not just a negation or deprivation of good, but a positive force with free will that always chooses evil.

  12. For some reason Lutherans have a slightly different take on these issues, but I respect the Orthodox view. Luther did, too. The differences are so slight that they’re not worth getting into a wrangle over.

    One of our top theologians Jaroslav Pelikan defected to the Orthodox denomination. I think he did this because women are now ordained in the Lutheran church of America (though not in the Missouri Synod) but they are not ordained in the Orthodox tradition.

    Don’t worry too much about Zizek. He’s at most a bubble in the fizzy water of postmodernism, which almost no one deigns to drink any longer except out of nostalgia.

    Zizek has cute titles but no one takes him seriously, and no one ever did. We like to egg him on, the way we used to egg on the singer Tiny Tim and tell him that his nostalgic ukelele playing was really quite competent. We are doing something similar to Zizek. It’s partially because he is from a country that almost no one here can even find on the map.

    We keep doing this to people from tiny countries.

    We did it to Bjork, too. We like to egg on funny eccentrics and assure them that they are marvelous. But no one in America really cares about Bjork or Zizek. They’re just fun to egg on.

    Oddly I agree with your theology almost completely in the above by the way. And then you know that nothing good can happen without God. And since Zizek is a mindless bubblehead and not a sincere believer in anything except perhaps blowing zany bubbles, nothing he will do can ever matter except to himself and his two closest friends.

    Do we really need to worry about the Hoplite tradition of the Spartan military in its cartoon version?

    This movie has not appeared anywhere within 50 miles of me. If it does, I promise you that I won’t go to see it.

    God bless you, Dejan! You made sense in these last two posts!!

  13. The differences are so slight that they’re not worth getting into a wrangle over.

    Kirby I don’t feel that knowing a lot about Lutheranism would help me a lot in life, especially since I don’t know enough about Orthodoxy yet. Apologies for that. The idea you stated about the corruption of human nature doesn’t appeal to me, either religiously or philosophically speaking. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find your own way through that, towards the only idea that matters, which is that God is love – to everyone.

    I think Bjork is very talented, has a tremendous voice, and several of her numbers were really good. I do however dislike her arrogant little pose, and the New Agey messages in her clips.

    Of course that Mitteleuropean pompous hack Zizek is not important per se; the thing that is disturbing and upsetting here is that Christianity (of
    the evangelical variety) is being invoked in a narrative that seems to be all about killing murder and conquest by the suprema
    cist Western civilization that deems itself above and beyond all others. Whether Lutheran, Marxist, Spinozian, or Orthodox, you can’t accept that – the result can only be a clash of civilizations – bloodshed, misery, war.

    But I think by now enough has been said on the Zizek subject.

    In Serbia we say ”long may you live” instead of ”bless you” but it means the same thing.

  14. Your concerns are interesting and I don’t know how to address them except to say that they are good concerns.

    I don’t know enough about anything. I think we can only follow our concerns and try to gently urge others out of genocidal black and white frameworks such as Marxism (historically much worse than any variant of Christianity because it adopts the idea that we are superior to others and uses its narrative to smash and enslave anyone in its way. Islamofascism appears to me to share this sense of supremacy.

    I don’t think that Christianity even in its worse phase is anything as bad as those two. Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan is in fact an invocation to see the good in others of a different stripe. There is no parallel in Marxist tradition.

  15. I don’t think that Christianity even in its worse phase is anything as bad as those two. Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan is in fact an invocation to see the good in others of a different stripe.

    I don’t think comparisons are useful, let’s deal with the individual situation on hand. Right now a virulent form of Christian fundamentalism is pretty strong in the USA – or at least that’s what I see from the US’s cultural production. It isn’t much different from Islamofascism.

  16. There you go again — comparing them when you say we shouldn’t compare them. I may be blind — but I don’t see anything that can compare with the Islamic genocide going on in the Darfur where at least 200,000 are now dead. Perhaps I missed something?

    Or East Timor?

    Or the wish to extinguish Israel not only as a nation but seemingly as a people.

    Isn’t it true that Hamas is devoted to that end, and says so publicly?

    I don’t see anyone in America arguing for the extinction of any other nation. No Republican, no Democrat, and no independent is arguing for such a thing at least that I’m aware of.

    Compare the leader of Iran and his view of Israel (and his refusal to take the Holocaust seriously).

    I know, you said, let’s not compare, but then you did.

    Find me a concrete equivalent among American “fundamentalists” to the current leader of Iran (I can’t spell his name without looking it up!).

  17. Kirby I am sorry I indeed fell into an aporium there, which was not the intent.

    I wanted to say that a proper Christian, for me, cannot define his moral responsibilty by way of comparing it to the Islamic one. We are not given that authority by God. Just like you can’t expect Paradise to come to Earth, so you can’t expect Justice to be reached on Earth, even less to be the arbiter of that Justice on behalf of humanity. I don’t want to discuss to what extent the Islamic religion is fundamentalist, I want to discuss why the current American government and a large number of religious formations are calling on evangelism to defend their positions, which you could see in this Hollywood film – not so important in itself, but important as a symptom. This is definitely not Christian, although it erroneously carries that name thanks to George Bush.

    The Orthodox church does not meddle in politics as a matter of principle. I believe it sees this operation as directly heretic and all the more dangerous for that.

  18. 2 problems here:

    1. George Bush is a Methodist, same as Hillary Clinton, but almost all Christian denominations have been forced to rally in this country as they face an enormous attack from a secular left that has driven prayer from the schools, that has pushed a pro-abortion agenda, which is increasingly trying to marginalize any kind of Christian position of any kind in this country even though some 80% of the country is self-declared as Christian. A sleeping giant has awakened. We do not have a single candidate in either major party who is willing to distance themselves from God. To do so would mean automatic defeat. That’s part of what you’re hearing. We have a winner takes all system unlike the more parliamentary systems that are mostly in place throughout Europe where very small parties can still get representation. (That, too, is bad, because it means that the National Front for instance can broker power in countries such as France and thus effectively have much more power than their constituency would otherwise merit.)

    2. The Orthodox Church was DEEPLY involved in Ceausescu’s administration. They closed the doors on little children in Timisoara when they sought to escape the bloodbath that Ceausescu’s goons had prepared for them on Christmas 1989. It was a Lutheran Pastor named Tokes who stood up to Ceausescu and brought down that evil communist twit.

    Sometimes you need someone who will stand up to an evil power. And sometimes that person can be Christian. It was Christians in Eastern Germany who brought down that Communist shithouse. They started in Bach’s church in Leipzig. In Estonia, too, there was a large Lutheran minority that stood up to the Russian tanks. In Poland, of course, it was the Pope himself. How many divisions has he got, Stalin once asked.

    He’s got them all.

    I think this is part of what’s happened in this country, too. The secular left has tried to make the country turn toward communist and an enormous backlash is under way. It’s a tsunami, and in some instances it’s going to go too far. But there’s no way to get anything aside from a Christian president in the next election. No one else is even running.

  19. Um, back to Zizek’s review of 300:

    I think that the “perversity” of his reading of the film resides in that reading’s complexity. The Left’s predictability in denouncing the film is part of the Left’s problem…such simplistic denunciations are the stuff of conservatives. It’s the same old tired denunciations we’ve heard a thousand times: “bad representations of homosexuals and women + praise of discipline and sacrifice=automatic fascist undertones”.

    Zizek is not so much successful because of the cult of his personality as he is because of his refusal to submit to such simplistic interpretations. If his thought can be described as parasitic upon common leftist thought, then common leftist thought can be described as hegemonic, no? Zizek represents a new sort of leftist thought that, even with all it’s flaws and near idiotic reversals, still refuses to join the chorus of simple minded political correctness that has allowed so many conservative political victories in recent years.

    Steven, I am very surprised to see you refer in a negative sense to any thought as being parasitic….where would you, or any other academic (or for that matter, any marketing executive) be without the mass embrace of deleuzian thought? I would very much like to see you expound upon the differences between parasitic and non-parasitic thought.

  20. I think that the “perversity” of his reading of the film resides in that reading’s complexity.

    I don’t understand what you see as ”complex” about Zizek’s reversal of the commonly held opinion that the Spartan state in the film is represented as fascist?

  21. The Orthodox Church was DEEPLY involved in Ceausescu’s administration.

    I actually know very little about this, but Romania is a special case in every way – a very bad case of Communism, too – so I wouldn’t be surprised if it did really happen. However, one rotten apple does not yet spoil the barrel or whatever you say in English. The general policy of the Orthodox Church is not to dabble in politics.

    Anyway Kirby we’ve wandered too far off Shaviro’s thread which was about Zizek, so maybe we can continue on your blog or something

  22. Dejan, I think that Zizek’s reversal is more complex than the typical reactionary liberal response because it takes more things into account than does said liberal reading.

    Zizek takes into account the style of the film, its digital backgrounds with real characters as opposed to the opposite, digital characters mixed with real ones. As he states, this creates a new aesthetic autonomous space within the film, and this aspect would of course be overlooked by the typical academic in favor of the quick and easy fascist stamp. The closed world created by the technology represents something like Badiou’s “capitalism as background”, a world that the characters are surrounded by, an inescapable ether of ideology that is reinforced by the form of the film.

    Zizek’s reversal is not as simplistic as many here seem to think. Do you not agree that stretching the dialectical approach to the film to include reversals can only serve to create a more complex reading than a simple denunciation? Even if his reading itself is not “complex” in the sense of being rife with academic babble and justification, then his reading has created a more complex response. Would we be having this conversation if Zizek gave the “commonly held opinion”?

    I don’t necessarily think that Zizek is trying to dissuade others from seeing the Spartans as fascist. I think he is attempting to create a space where academics can stop denouncing anything with fascist undertones, can stop being so reactionary and maybe look at aspects of fascism in a more “complex” manner. It’s quite telling the level of bitterness exhibited by academics in response to Zizek’s refutation of their reactionary tendencies. I would hope for much more.

  23. Zizek takes into account the style of the film, its digital backgrounds with real characters as opposed to the opposite, digital characters mixed with real ones.

    Sixfoot I think you should read Shaviro’s philosophy on aestheticization because it applies to this case much more than dr. Zizek’s dialectic reading. In fact dr. Zizek’s dialectization of this issue only supports his own argument, disregarding what you actually see on the screen. First of all it is not that real characters are blended with a digital background: the characters are also digital, half-automatons. They are monstrous hybrids sampled out of cinema cliches, and they move in unnatural ways. They are much more defined by their roaring than by any sort of character development. There is no individual psychology here, or if there is, it is almost entirely subjugated to a transpersonal Affect. And that Affect, primarily, is fascist: a death instinct – in the Reichian sense. The film is literally a destructive orgasm. Just look at the character design, the Spartans look like skeletons, and how photography privileges black contrasted to bright red, and how nature in the background is illuminated from within by the white omni-light… And then how the act of mass murder is aestheticized, a kind of a necrophile ballet. That all this should be plugged into a narrative context where the macho and the virile accomplish their mythical destiny through a noble sacrifice against a horde of Lovecraftian queer degenerates only underlines the fascism – and if you call that a cliche reading, then I must appeal to the common wisdom that cliches are usually true. This film is a perfection of Leni Riefenstahl’s aesthetics, made possible by advanced digital technologies.

    It’s quite telling the level of bitterness exhibited by academics in response to Zizek’s refutation of their reactionary tendencies. I would hope for much more.

    I don’t understand what you’re trying to say: that we should find something positive about fascism, and that would be progressive as opposed to reactionary?

  24. I’m trying to say that the constant academic and cultural knee-jerk response to anything that could be interpreted as representing fascist ideology is like McCarthyism’s corpse dressed up in tweed and made to dance around ineffectually on these blogs and in classrooms. It is precisely Zizek’s insistence on dialectical negatity and the reversal that makes him truly “progressive” and not reactionary.

    This is what has bothered me about academic thought and philosophy for years now. I’m not an academic, I’m a musician and an artist. I dropped out of grad school philosophy because after a year i began to feel as though I were in a twilight zone episode where fascism had been turned inside out into a negative of itself; liberal progressives who fascistically pushed their ideals of what constitutes “progressive” thought to the point of reducing all other arguments to being “dangerous” or, of course, fascist. I began to realize that i had never met more reactionary people than these so-called “progressive” thinkers. They were truly terrified of an idea that they had not had, no matter what its substance or novelty. However, if there was any indication that work a student was doing reinforced their conservative views on what makes progressive thought, that student was afforded favor. I began to feel as though I had been accepted into the Communist Party and must now show allegiance to its ideals in order to proceed up the chain.

    Discovering Zizek and his critiques of Deleuze and his work on ideology opened my eyes more than a thousand lectures on aestheticization and cybernetics, etc….I realized that he was attempting then to create a dissensus in order to counter the poisonous consensus of current academic hegemony on progressive thought. As he says himself, no one is more dependent on the current order than academics. How else to procure tenure but to reinforce the front?

    Do not any of you here think that the constant academic insistence on Deleuzian heterogeneity and creativity only feeds back into the viral rhizomatic nature of current capitalism? I know Shaviro does. But as soon as anyone mentions “discpline and sacrifice” they are thrown into a gulag and ignored.

    I’m not dismayed that you and yours find flaws and fault with Zizek’s particular form of reverse dialecticalism. I’m dismayed that such scorn is heaped upon him. “Idiotic, macho”? C’mon, can you make your fear smell any stronger?

    I can only think that Zizek’s popular appeal and his lack of obscurantism is what fuels this, and not his ideas. Why is it so horrible for a progressive to get popular? Is it because the common man can latch onto the discourse without an institutionallly approved theoretical background? Is it because non-college graduates can be interested in him? I’m curious…

  25. Do not any of you here think that the constant academic insistence on Deleuzian heterogeneity and creativity only feeds back into the viral rhizomatic nature of current capitalism? I know Shaviro does. But as soon as anyone mentions “discpline and sacrifice” they are thrown into a gulag and ignored.

    Subwoofer, as I tried to tell you on my blog, it’s one thing to critisize the naivette of queer theory for explaining homosexuality as something that bypasses the dynamics of the Oedipal narrative, constituting an ”identity” all its own, while ignoring the fact that gay communities are often more heteronormative than heteronormativity itself, and that they do for whatever reasons still go through the Oedipal narrative; it’s quite another to champion heteronormative anal pederastic sadism (Spartans) as the proper ”progressive” answer. The Spartans of the film strike me more as sadistic heterosexuals, the Phalange actually, who repress their gay desires by raping the queer, than homosexuals who indulge in sex for jouissance. Sex as a method of conquest is not the same as gay sex. Besides that you have to remember that queer theory isn’t a theory of homosexuality per se, even as it may address homosexual issues.

  26. Thanks, Dejan, but i think you might have missed my point.

    I agree with you that queer theory is almost hopelessly inadequate to adress issues of sexuality, not to mention comtemporary identity. I think that what you’ve missed is that neither I, nor Zizek, are “championing” heteronormative anal pederastic sadism, as fun as that sounds.

    I think that Zizek, as well as any pseudo-intellectual who has seen the film, could easily denounce it on the grounds of “championing heteronormative anal sadism”. That’s the problem. It’s an easy reading, too easy. Failing to make a dialectical reversal in the case of such a film is as hopelessly ignorant and naive as queer theory failing to adress the Oedepal narrative in gay sexuality. I can’t understand the anger with which academics are responding to Zizek’s reading; it seems the only responsible one to me. To ignore a reversal in this case is more dangerous than using it, adding to a consensus that has crippled the left and buried progressive theories under mountains of obsurantism and micro-debates like this one.

    I think many of you have failed to see the context in which Zizek is making his reversal(s). It;s in the context of a global Leftist theoretical standpoint, a world without reversals, a one sided cadre of academics who rely on the current consensus to maintain their affluent positions, or the people who are trying to attain those positions. Zizek isn’t “lending his voice” to an opposition to those academics, he is the ONLY one voicing these reversals. He is a shock artist, and much in the way that Shaviro (kind of timidly, even) says that he is losing his fear of the word “creativity”, Zizek and his readers are losing their fear trying to shock the theory community into seeing things from multiple perspectives. The difference is Zizek is less careful, he;s much more bold in laying his reputation on the line for the sake of theory and, as he sees it, its efficacy. If you truly think for a moment that Zizek is “championing heteronormative anal sadism” then I think you have completely fallen into his trap.

    I mean, Shaviro is talking about obliqueness…how else are we to move obliquely unless someone opens up both the poles first? How are we to fill in the space between affirmation and negation if we only get affirmation and everyone is too timid to venture a negation?

    This is the issue I’ve raised, why exactly is it so dangerous or irresponsible to venture radical negations like the one Zizek has? I can only be convinced that it simply imposes on the current academic consensus the directive to think more. Why is creating a dissensus so threatening?

  27. If anyone’s interested, a passage from a recent interview with Zizek called “Divine Violence and Liberated Territories: SOFT TARGETS talks with Slavoj Zizek”:

    ….With the dynamics of contemporary capitalism, the opposition between rigid State control and carnivalesque liberation is no longer functional. Here I agree with what Badiou said in the recent interview with you published in Il Manifesto: “those who have nothing have only their discipline.” This is why I like to mockingly designate myself “Left-fascist” or whatever! Today, the language of transgression is the ruling ideology. We have to reappropriate the language of discipline, of mass discipline, even the “spirit of sacrifice,” and so on. We have to do away with the liberal fear of “discipline,” which they characterize—without knowing what they’re talking about—as “proto-fascist.” But back to Negri…

    from SOFT TARGETS v.2.1

  28. Those who have nothing but do have a work ethic have everything that they need. In a sense, that is not just discipline, it is also desire.

  29. While it’s clearly a digression of a digression, i feel the need to say…
    Bjork is a super talented singer and performer! To dismiss her and Zizek as some “clowns” no one really takes seriously, what a silly comment…maybe that’s the real fascism here, because it seems like we can argue endlessly about every other aspect of it.

    And also…thanks sixfootsubwoofer.

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