Negative or oblique?

K-punk, summarizes and responds to both my last post and antigram’s somewhat parallel critique of Zizek on 300.

Though largely agreeing with my points (and especially with antigram’s crucial insistence that the “discipline and spirit of sacrifice” lauded by Zizek only make sense as “strategic/organizational principles” for a left movement, not as the “values” in themselves Zizek seemingly wants them to be), k-punk also says, responding to my (overly formulaic, perhaps) discussion of the tiresomeness and impoverishment of Zizek’s rhetoric of negativity, that “it is unhelpful to reject Zizek’s mechanical ‘labour of the negative’, as Steve does, in the name of the Deleuzean interdiction on negativity. Deleuze’s abjuring of the negative is surely equally as wearisome as Zizek’s brandishing of dialectical negativity.” Any mere celebration of the positive, k-punk adds, “remains in thrall to a dreary and reductive model of Good Health, which it prosecutes with all the zeal of a happy-clappy Anglicanism.”

Actually I largely agree with this. Deleuze himself is at his least convincing when, as in the early Nietzsche book, he seeks to expel the negative, converting it to affirmation, via a process that itself seems just as ‘dialectical’ as anything ever dreamed up by the epigones of Hegel (the negative magically turns into the positive, when it goes to the extreme of what it can do, and becomes “active destruction”). Affirmation is at best a merely ethical stance; it doesn’t work either as an aesthetics or as a politics. And at its worst, affirmation is just as hideously and insidiously new-agey happy-faced as k-punk says. While I am inclined (for reasons I have written about before) to prefer the pluralism of William James to the labor of the negative in Hegel, I do take Zizek’s point (and Jodi Dean’s) that such pluralism, in its evasion of real antagonism (or of what the Lacanians would call the antagonism of the Real) always threatens to end up preaching “turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream…”

And so, to the extent that I merely recycled this sort of critique of the negative, I was evidently being sloppy and taking some dubious shortcuts.

However, I’d still defend my main point, which was about obliqueness. The crucial point is not to affirm, but to move in new directions. To create.* We need to get out of the trap of merely reversing, or giving the exact opposite of, a dominant discourse. The important thing is not to reverse direction, but to move in another dimension altogether. Any three points describe a plane, a flat field upon which vectors of antagonism may be locked in battle (excuse the mixed metaphors). Obliqueness means, not staying on the plane, but moving off along another axis, in a third spatial dimension. (This has little to do with “affirmation.” It probably does have something to do with what Deleuze calls “transversality,” but I don’t want to base my own argument on a call to the authority of Deleuze).

To put this in political terms. I am unhappy with the alternatives we seem to be offered on the Left today. On the one hand, there is Hardt/Negri’s vision of a spontaneous rising of the multitude, or Gibson-Graham‘s cheerful sense that lots of inventive practices already exist, so that we have already somehow reached “the end of capitalism as we know it.” On the other hand, we get pseudo-Leninist calls to discipline and sacrifice and a ruthless rupture with everything already existing, so that we may emulate the Khmer Rouge, and enforce the new order with “terror (ruthless punishment of all who violate the imposed protective measures, inclusive of severe limitations of liberal ‘freedoms’).” These equally seem like fantasies to me (fantasies precisely in the Freudian/Lacanian/Zizekian sense of mechanisms devised to cover over and disavow the intolerable contradictions of the real). It’s not that I have any solutions to offer (I am essentially clueless), and a prospective solution will most likely have nothing whatsoever to do with Nietzschean/Deleuzian affirmation. But isn’t there something wrong, and painfully constricted, with Zizek’s fantasy of negativity and terror as the only riposte to Hardt/Negri’s implausible utopianism? Isn’t this a situation where we most need to move obliquely? Isn’t the problem, perhaps, that both negativity and obliqueness strike us as little more than clever advertising slogans? (“obey your thirst”; “think different”). I’m all to aware that we have reached the point where positivity and affirmation are all too comfortably ensconced in the business schools; but negativity (whether in ZIzek’s version, or that of Adorno, or that of the Situationists) is ensconced there also.

So the solution is ?????
———-

*Reading and rereading Whitehead lately has gotten me over my phobia towards the words “create” and “creativity,” my shuddering sense that they are arts-and-crafts-speak, which I have a perhaps snobbish repulsion towards, or Montessori-child-rearing-speak, which — now that I have small children — I tend to reject, because, in the guise of encouraging independence of thought and individual development, it in fact seems to me to be geared to reproducing and reinforcing the obnoxious sense of entitlement that well-do-do people in this society already have way too much of. [I’m aware of Whitehead’s interest in educational reform, and I believe he had some interest in Montessori; but that is a subject for more research, and for another discussion altogether]. One of the things I am hoping to get around to writing about this summer is the way in which “creativity” works in Whitehead (Steven Meyer says that Whitehead in fact invented this word, or at least introduced it into common usage in the English language). For Whitehead, creativity is neither the sturm und drang of Romantic genius (of which Montessori-style promotion of the child’s innate inventiveness would be the baby version), nor the restless cycle of fashion, the continual flood of “innovation” without any greater purpose that is so familiar to us in consumerist society. Rather, it has something to do with how we can negotiate the given — “stubborn fact” — without either merely submitting to it, or imagining that we can just think it away. Whitehead’s notion of creativity has much in common with the aesthetics of sampling and remixing, that we see expressed in so much “postmodern” art, that is theorized by people like Paul Miller/DJ Spooky, and that stands in a very ambiguous relationship to the ubiquitous market; and also with Marx’s sense that “men [sic] make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please.”

38 thoughts on “Negative or oblique?”

  1. Steven, although I completely understand k-punk’s point, he forgets to mention that Zizek’s labor of the negative perfectly fits here into the Bushite ”either-or” binary thinking which also informs Snyder’s fascist video game and that of Christian fundamentalists, who are as well-equipped as Lutheranism to protect the world from America’s decadence that is to say dekline of simbolik efikasy. The dialektik negation operation also enables dr. Zizek to conveniently shift his allegiances from support of the American decadent Empire (bombing of Serbia) to a critique of the decadent American Empire (the ”Persians”), traversing his own profitable Moebius strip, so it’s not like it’s just tiresome, just annoying, it’s obviously a system enabling dr. Zizek to absolve himself of responsibility for all the dreadful things he has said. In this situation, and with all the limitations of Deleuze’s abjuring of the negative, we might want to hold on it for life if we are to render dr. Zizek’s dialektik hydra ineffective!

  2. just annoying, it’s obviously a system enabling dr. Zizek to absolve himself of responsibility for all the dreadful things he has said.

    And to ensure that he will never really be called to responsibility for whatever he ever says, which has been the case so far in the Zizek cult worship culture of the West.

  3. Blimey, you were quick off the mark there, Steve… you quoted my post before I (slightly) reworded it in an edit…

    Yes, I think the point about the oblique is a good one – but at the same time I don’t think we need to surrender the negative either to Deleuze’s critique of it or to Zizek’s (increasingly shopworn) version of it.

    Of the two positions you have outlined, Hardt-Negri’s strikes me as the more absurd. (Indeed, as China Mieville observed after the Lovecraft event last week, the Hardt-Negri position lost most of its credibility after 9/11 and the resultant War on Terror). But that doesn’t make Zizek’s alternative either plausible or savoury: to build in Terror and authoritarianism even before the revolution has happened seems not only peremptory, but revelatory of an unpleasant libidinal investment. What makes Zizek’s Leninist tales of Terror particularly unpersuasive is the failure to provide any alternative economic model – it is the indivisibility of politics and economy that is the crucial Marxist notion (even if the political and the economic are in a relation of parallax).

    Still, this provides no advance in thinking what WOULD be an effective anti-capitalist strategy. If neither H-N nor Z are convincing, it might be worth reminding ourselves that the current default – capitalism continuing as it is now – is perhaps the most far-fetched contingency of all. Things can’t carry on like this – and it might be the Real of environmental casatrophe that first punctures capitalist realism.

    (For what it’s worth, I still have your former loathing of ‘creation’ and ‘creativity’. I hear the words and recoil in horror…)

  4. In this and your last post, one thing is missing: any kind of proof that the straw man you’ve erected and burnt down has anything to do with Zizek. From one or another defiance of common opinion, or even a multitude of such reversals, you simply can’t infer that this one is simply contrarian, or worse, “a sort of idiotic macho one-upmanship,” as you put it.

    For your criticism to hit its target, you’d have to show that the common opinion here is correct: that 300 the film–or more to the point, the Spartan action itself–has nothing redeeming in it and is just a piece of neocon propaganda. That, I think, no one can do. One of the very few points Zizek makes in that tiny piece is that the story itself is what matters: Small Group substantially hinders Big Group’s plans, by asserting their freedom, their sovereignty, with their very flesh and life. What could be more subversive to neoconservative readings of the film, or any kind of imperial yearning, than that obvious truth about the battle of Thermopylae? The film may well be crap, but if the revolution can’t acknowledge the good in the past, even as steeped in moral impurity as it is, then it’s not my revolution.

    Here’s a little Simone de Beauvoir from “Ethics of Ambiguity” (ch. 3):
    “All that a stubborn optimism can claim is that the past does not concern us in this particular and fixed form and that we have sacrificed nothing in sacrificing it; thus, many revolutionaries consider it healthy to refuse any attachment to the past and to profess to scorn monuments and traditions […]. This attitude is self-confirming; let us turn away from the past, and there no longer remains any trace of it in the present, or for the future; the people of the Middle Ages had so well forgotten antiquity that there was no longer anyone who even had a desire to know something about it […]. I would distrust a humanism which was too indifferent to the efforts of the men of former times; if the disclosure of being achieved by our ancestors does not at all move us, why be so interested in that which is taking place today; why wish so ardently for future realizations?”

  5. What’s always annoyed me about Zizek and contemporary Lacanians generally is their complete unwillingness to ever engage with anything but their field. Deleuze? Oh, he’s actually Hegelian. Or a Lacanian. Same with Badiou. Everything is Hegel/Lacan to such an extent that I have witnessed this crowd actively sniggering at people at conferences who present papers that don’t agree. And what’s the result? The fact that they never seem to produce anything new. They never seem to create, because it always comes back to some ahistorical mechanism that should never be questioned (until they decide that in fact it’s not Seminar such-and-such but rather the other Seminar such-and-such that’s the *real* and *best* Lacan). Zzzzzzz. . .

    I don’t share a distaste or mistrust for creativity and I expect that a positive politics is more likely to be found in the problematic search for the new rather than an endless “There it is and there it is again” which is about all I ever see Zizek produce. If there is something useful here in Deleuze it’s that, for the most part, he does not critique. He rarely even implies that someone is wrong. He moves forward, while most of us build our arguments against (as does Zizek). I find the same to be true in my limited reading of Whitehead, where creation is balanced with destruction and the trick is to know just how to achieve the balance (and I don’t see the dialectic here; no third term). For more on the subject of creativity and Whitehead see the most recent issue of Configurations (yes, it’s really Winter 05) featuring an introduction by Meyer.

  6. In this and your last post, one thing is missing: any kind of proof that the straw man you’ve erected and burnt down has anything to do with Zizek.

    What exactly is the straw in this alleged straw man? The idea that Zizek is a contrarian, or that he systematically reverses common opinion? Do you seriously want to claim that these two things are not the case?

    From one or another defiance of common opinion, or even a multitude of such reversals, you simply can’t infer that this one is simply contrarian

    No, you can’t assume before you read it that it will fit into that genre. But as soon as you read the first sentence and see that Zizek is situating his argument in reference to the way in which the film ‘was attacked as the worst kind of patriotic militarism with clear allusions to the recent tensions with Iran and events in Iraq’ then I think that you have a strong warrant to think that it will be yet another example of this strategy.

    For your criticism to hit its target, you’d have to show that the common opinion here is correct: that 300 the film–or more to the point, the Spartan action itself–

    Why ‘more to the point the Spartan action itself’? Are you claiming that the film is some ideologically neutral representation of real historical events? What if Leni Riefenstahl had made a film about the ‘Spartan action itself’, in that case would the ‘action itself’ still be ‘more to the point’?

    has nothing redeeming in it and is just a piece of neocon propaganda. That, I think, no one can do. One of the very few points Zizek makes in that tiny piece is that the story itself is what matters: Small Group substantially hinders Big Group’s plans, by asserting their freedom, their sovereignty, with their very flesh and life.

    But that characterisation DOES make it sound like a piece of neocon propaganda, with a dash of neoliberalism thrown it. Small Group of Freedom Lovers against the Islamic Hordes; or perhaps Small Group of Freedom Lovers against the Big Group that threatens to take individual liberties away. The ‘very flesh and life’ adds a nice touch of fascist vitalism, too – very blood and soil…

  7. It’s Zizek’s insistence on discussing violence and terror as general categories that’s so frustrating. It also distances him from Badiou. As I understand it, Badiou’s mature position is that since genuine political invention can’t by definition base itself on established values, each political sequence will need to address the question of violence anew, and from “within its own interiority”, to use the lingo. The question then becomes how to think a political sequence, and the place of violence within it – again, not generally, but from within its interiority (this would also preclude attaching a general value to negativity or positivity). What’s depressing about Zizek’s piece is that it represents a total refusal of this task, and the related problem concerning the role that cultural analysis might play in it.

    (I think the latter is still up in the air. What K-Punk calls Stekelmanism – I take this to be the “it’s only a film” routine? – includes an important intuition: we really don’t know in what sense a film is political. The real Stekelman injunction bears on something much closer to home: it’s basically against thought as such, and more particularly against certain things being thought about and certain people thinking.)

    As for Zizek’s individual insights, on the film’s celebration of sacrifice, discipline and so on, seems to me they can be referred to a basic concept from postcolonial criticism – is it annexation? – that addresses the way in which the coloniser appropriates what values of its enemies it deems admirable, and uses them in a kind of splitting operation on its own culture and on its host’s. So the Persians can equally well represent what’s loathsome about Home (weird sex, femininity) and the Middle-East (tyranny, hordes, general foreignness). As Zizek says, there’s nothing inherently fascist about the concept of discipline. The point is that films do something specific with concepts. But what follows from that, politically, I don’t know.

  8. In terms of possible political strategy I’ve just started reading Massimo De Angelis’s ridiculously over-priced (ironically) The Beginning of History (Pluto 2007). Autonomist, but opposed to Negri & Hardt, he suggests we look to outside resources that already exist, ie that capital has not achieved complete immanent dominance or real subsumption. This doesn’t seem to imply we have already got beyond capital but we can create against it – that there are “commons” of non-capitalist / anti-capitalist value(although I haven’t got very far yet). In fact capitalism works by negation to create the positive – “what exists is good so please don’t negate it.”
    Hence I’d still want to retain the negative in Bataille’s sense of negativity without employment, not as dialectical but as a force/effect of rupture with the capitalist fantasy of a seamless social order. When I find the time (…) I’m trying to work on a rehabilitation of negation in this kind of non-dialectical sense. I think this is linked to revolutionary violence but not in the kind of “terror” mode of Zizek/Badiou, which to me always seems linked to State formation. Although the Situationists are often painted with the ‘burning with the pure flame of negativity thesis’ (TJ Clark & Nicholson-Smith) their film practice in particularly demonstrates how negation is also linked to the memory and practice of struggles, ie. we don’t just decry the spectacle but also show and develop the new relations outside/against the spectacle (Fortunately not with a Leninist fantasy of discipline).
    I would like to negate my own viewing of 300, however.
    Benjamin Noys (Ben)

  9. The post ascribes a childish and aggressive motivation (“macho one-upsmanship”) to Zizek, childishly and aggressively. That’s what is a straw man. As for the rest, take back insinuating that I subscribe to fascist and a Nazi ideals and we can talk. Or if not me, then at least grant de Beauvoir the same favor.

  10. The post ascribes a childish and aggressive motivation (”macho one-upsmanship”) to Zizek, childishly and aggressively. That’s what is a straw man.

    That isn’t a straw man; if what you say here were true, the post would be guilty of the ‘two wrongs’ fallacy, not of the straw man fallacy.

    Isn’t a degree of reflexivity in order, here, by the way? How is that you are able to confidently ascribe ‘childish and agressive’ motivations to Steven, but rule out of court his attributing those same motivations to Zizek? What is it that prevents your calling Steven childish and aggressive being childish and aggressive?

    As for the rest, take back insinuating that I subscribe to fascist and a Nazi ideals and we can talk. Or if not me, then at least grant de Beauvoir the same favor.

    Don’t be so melodramatic. I know nothing about you, evidently, and was only referring to the use of one phrase, ‘flesh and life’, which you deployed as part of a gloss on Zizek’s account of the film. As for the bizarre de Beauvoir non sequitur – how is it any of that relevant? Who is ‘scorning the past’? I can’t see how that has any purchase, unless you are making the claim that 300 is an accurate documentation of real historical events – which would be a bold claim, to say the least.

  11. What K-Punk calls Stekelmanism – I take this to be the “it’s only a film” routine? – includes an important intuition: we really don’t know in what sense a film is political. The real Stekelman injunction bears on something much closer to home: it’s basically against thought as such, and more particularly against certain things being thought about and certain people thinking.

    I’m happy with the idea that we don’t know in what sense a film is political. But that isn’t Stekelmanism, and is indeed opposed to Stekelmanism as I understand it – Stekelmanism is the view that we DO know that a film is NOT political (unless it comes with the word ‘propaganda’ or its equivalent stamped on it). Naturally I agree that the Stekelman injunction is also against thought and thinking.

  12. As Zizek says, there’s nothing inherently fascist about the concept of discipline.

    Well, I do think Daniel has a strong point on Antigram when he argues that discipline as a value – rather than as a strategic contingency – is deeply dubious.

  13. steve, thanks for linking in the other post.

    mark k-p, i am not sure that 911 and the WoT in themselves convincing debunk N&H’s thesis from _Empire_. I would like to see some argument. _Multitudes_ on the other hand is less satisfactory…

    but anyway the intersection of the commercial and the political within a singular affective economy propels Empires (plural, as refrains) like drunken masters completely imbalanced but nevertheless lethal as they sway from event to event of collective individuation of those contained ‘within’ (ie processed/subsumed by the biopolitical sovereignty machine) or seeks to violently repress the neo-colonial outside (that may be ‘inside’). this is captured in the dual notions introduced in _Empire’s_ biopolitical production chapter of there only being police actions and the legitimation of intervention through the selective deployment of metanarrative.

    what they miss is the complicit media apparatus that:

    1) produces a myopic vision on the world (in the sense of visibilities ala Deleuze’s foucault, there are not enough visibilities on the action for enough of the population)
    2) produces affective ‘fitness landscapes’ that enable only certain individuated habituses to ‘belong’
    3) enables the synergistic biopolitical relation within which these populations are suspended as consumers and as citizens

    300 is some fascist shit because it affectively furnishes the audience with _expectations_ (every grunt, every brawny man chest, every floral blood splurt of blood sport) *anticipated* by the WoT in the services of the WoT. ‘Anticipation’ here in the sense developed by massumi (PotV) as a process of superposition of ‘in connection’ and which occur on a continuum between pure potential and ‘possibilization’. In other words, 300 has been deployed as part of the media apparatus as described above by conditioning the passage from the vitual to the actual (ala N&H).

    on and on.

    massumi needs to stop stuffing around with simple examples like the terror alert warning spectrum thing and analyse the problematic-events of the spectacle and how it individuates the affective mainstream. the affective fitness landscape of the mainstream is not in good shape.

  14. “Stekelmanism is the view that we DO know that a film is NOT political”

    Sorry, I wasn’t being very articulate: that’s kind of what I meant by the “important intuition”. More precisely: there may be situations in which it’s helpful to SAY that a film is not political, or that we are treating it as such, at least until we can figure out what the opposite proposition means. This bears on the “closer to home” stuff, especially the question, “Who thinks?” – which really is a political question, since it concerns political capacity and who might be said to have it (I’m getting this from Lazarus, BTW). To say that a film is only a film excludes it as an object of serious thought, and indirectly nominates a non-thinking subject (it’s fodder for the proles, whose only demand is pleasure). But to say then that a film is important because it’s political more often that not involves a direct nomination of the non-thinker, and the thinker. It’s difficult to avoid even with a sophisticated approach: Glen can correct me, but the stuff above on anticipation seems to suggest that the masses are getting innervated without their knowledge, and that the task of experts (Massumi) is to better understand how such manipulation works. That’s really the state’s job. It’s difficult to take on without taking on a state problematic.

    As for discipline, I think the value/strategy distinction is bound to miss the actual determination of the concept in specific sequences. Discipline was more than a strategy for Bolshevism, it was invested with a certain value. If discipline, as a value, is proto-fascist, does this mean that Bolshevism has to be understood as corrupted by fascist tendencies? That would be a real barrier to thinking it in its singularity. However, to suggest that “discipline” is empty as a political operator isn’t to say that it’s an empty signifier. It might well have resonances that we could say are dominant. But does that mean that we should accept them?

  15. “As for discipline, I think the value/strategy distinction is bound to miss the actual determination of the concept in specific sequences. Discipline was more than a strategy for Bolshevism, it was invested with a certain value.”

    I cannot see how it was invested with anything more than a certain strategic value. To speak of specific sequences: Bolshevism was born out of a 1903 split with Menshevism, in which the point of contention was the formal organization of the party, and the question of who was entitled to party membership. Lenin argued that only full-time professional revolutionaries were, as against Martov, who claimed that sympathizers should be entitled as well.

    In this, Lenin never claimed that discipline was a good thing in itself, or that he stood for discipline abstractly, as a value – and I challenge you to find one single extolling of discipline qua value in his writings – but rather only that the party must itself be restricted to professional members for real strategic reasons. Among these reasons was the principle of democratic centralism, which was democratic as much as it was centrist, and thus this was an organizational question of making policy as much anything, and also the issue of Tsarist infiltration – which had thoroughly penetrated the Russian political underground before the time of Lenin, and still remained a potent threat in his period.

    “If discipline, as a value, is proto-fascist, does this mean that Bolshevism has to be understood as corrupted by fascist tendencies?”

    This would be a very strange argument to make, supposing that we are still resting content with looking at determinations of concepts in specific sequences. There were, of course, no fascist parties, such as we would now understand the term, when Bolshevism formed. Rather than saying that Bolshevism was corrupted by fascist tendencies, it would be more true to say that fascism was a corruption of Bolshevism. Moreover, what this corruption, in part, amounted to, was indeed elevating strategic/operational principles into positive moral values in themselves. Fascism states that one should be disciplined, because it is good to be disciplined. Bolshevism states that the party needs to be disciplined, if it is overthrow the Tsar. Apparent scholasticism, vital truth.

  16. sean,
    “Glen can correct me, but the stuff above on anticipation seems to suggest that the masses are getting innervated without their knowledge, and that the task of experts (Massumi) is to better understand how such manipulation works. That’s really the state’s job. It’s difficult to take on without taking on a state problematic.”

    correcting?!? pffft, no way, lol.

    only that ‘knowledge’ is tricky, in that if thought is understood materially as immanent and processed as part of an assemblage including the body and ‘environment’ (ala whitehead), then people can of course ‘know’ of things but not necessarily (or only) in the normative sense of knowledge as a function of a rationality. that is why I read massumi as post-foucauldian in that his diagnoses of the micro-physics of power do not seek to ascertain the array of rationalities that define the ‘truth’ (field of possibility) of a discursive formation, instead they follow the affective dimension of relationality which may very well escape the logos/rationality/law-of-father of discursive formations.

    this is relevant because if ‘knowledge’ is understand as a complex relational process that emerges across discourse and bodies then explicit knowledge of oneself or of a course of action or event to which one feels a belonging may not actually be forthcoming. By ‘explicit knowledge’ I mean in the traditional sense of the masses doing not what they know they are doing. I am suggesting a nuanced perspective in that ‘knowledge’ is the product of assemblages of which the masses are part so they have some relation to what they are ‘doing’ but it is not as fully realised as ‘knowledge’ as such (althought fully actualised in behaviour, etc) compared to an understanding of someone whose job it is to have such an understanding (‘expert’ maybe). In other words they know *exactly* what they do.

    I am not sure how the state is fitting in with your distribution of responsibilities (ie it is the state’s job to do something). i take what is an essentially biopolitical perspective on things and think about how a single population is not only an audience of a media broadcast/apparatus, but a market of a commodity/business (perhaps advertised during media broadcast), and a constituency of a political bloc (whose views may be positively represented in media broadcast, etc). See how there is a sliding or transversal synergistic relation between the three functional groups here? Much can be said about how the capacities of each assemblage (media, commercial, political) affect the single population in similarly synergistic ways. Labour is subsumed into each of the three assemblages. The problematic would be of the ‘population’ as a biopoltical event differentially repeated as part of assemblages known as the media, commercial or political apparatus.

    hmm, a slightly controversial example would take ‘interest’ as conceived by classical economists as a discursive technology for the reductive representation of the complexities in the biopolitical production of populations in terms of what needs to be valorised for the given assemblages to function. Much of the progressive politics either coopts or seeks to destroy this technology of reductive interest by demonstrating how it reduces the complexities of the various assemblages within which populations find themselves (nike, 3rd world labour, etc vs interest in looking spiffy in new runners). Most neocon, neoliberal governments do the same thing and talk about ‘economic interests’ (ie interests of capitalism) or ‘national interests’ (interests of a particular territory of capitalism).

    hmm we are hijacking threads… thread terrorists!

  17. Daniel,
    It’s the opposition that I object to, which is what allows value to be understood as abstract in the first place. So you’re quite right, I’d be surprised to find that Lenin ever “claimed that discipline was a good thing in itself” and would never argue “that he stood for discipline abstractly, as a value”. But I understand the key argument of What Is To Be Done? to be that “freedom of criticism”, precisely as an abstract value, was disastrous, and in more than a strategic sense: it’s a principle that effects the absence of real principle – real principle being that which one refuses to compromise in the face of organizational or strategic exigencies. Now, I’m not saying that discipline is in itself a real principle for Lenin; but “discipline” would seem to be included in “principle” in some way that goes beyond its strategic or technical deployment. It gets determined, real thought goes into it, and its purport within Bolshevism is not obvious – certainly it’s not obviously empty – from without.

    I’m not sure that discipline is ever an abstract value. When we think of it as such, especially when we think of it as inherently “dubious”, I’d suggest we’re generalizing a particular idea we have of its fascist deployment, which was itself complex. Wasn’t it also a strategy for the Nazis, whatever else it may have been? This is why I use the “corrupted by fascism” line. Investigation of Lenin’s principled stand against the principle of tolerance is often blocked, in my experience, by the insight that that’s where the rot set in: the descent into Stalinism (included in fascism in this kind of discourse) was programmed into Bolshevism right from the beginning. What allows this blockage is precisely the generalization of discipline from fascism as an abstract value, rather than as something that is determined from within a particular political sequence.

    Ach. The argument might not be scholastic but I’m probably making it so. Basic point: Zizek’s right to say that “discipline” shouldn’t be surrendered to fascism, wrong then simply to say that it’s communist, and the abstract value/strategy choice misses what’s going on.

    And I guess I am clogging up this thread – Glen, I’ll respond to your own blog.

  18. For anyone interested, this is where dr. Zizek’s reading of 300 comes from, and if I was American, I’d be worried right now that we’re about to have a rerun (in America) through religious fundamentalism:

    http://www.haverford.edu/relg/sells/reports/memorandumSANU.htm

    In order to understand the primacy of ethnicity in the present practice of the League of
    Communists of Yugoslavia it is necessary to consider the influence of the Comintern on the
    Communist Party of Yugoslavia between the two world wars. The Comintern’s strategyduring that period derived from the conclusion that following the failure of the proletarian
    revolution in Western Europe, the Communist parties of Eastern, Central, and Southern
    Europe had to depend on national movements, even though they were expressly
    anti-socialist and based on the idea of national rather than class unity. Stalin engaged in crushing all opposition to such a strategy (as, for example, in the case of Sima Markovic, one of the founders of the Yugoslav Communist Party). In this spirit, the solution to the national question was formulated and developed theoretically by Sperans (Kardelj) in his book “Razvoj slovenskoga narodnoga vprsanja” (The Development of the Slovene National Question), which generally served as the ideological model for Yugoslav development in the direction of a confederation of sovereign republics and autonomous regions, which was finally achieved by the Constitution of 1974.

    The two most developed republics, which achieved their national programs with this
    Constitution, are now the most ardent defenders of the existing system. Thanks to the political position of their leaders at the centers of political power, they have held (both before
    and after the decisive years of the 1960s) the initiative in all matters affecting the political and economic system. They modelled the social and economic structure of Yugoslavia to suit their own desires and needs. Nothing would seem more normal that they now defend the
    structure that they stubbornly took so long to build, a structure that represents the attainment of most of their national programs.

    No one needs convincing that separatism and nationalism are active on the social scene,but there is insufficient understanding of the fact that such trends have been made ideologically possible by the Constitution of 1974. The constant reinforcement of and the competition engendered by separatism and nationalism have driven the (ethnic) nations further from one another to a critical degree. The manipulation of language and the confinement of scientific and cultural professionals within the ranks of the republics and regions are sorry signs of the growing power of particularism. All new ethnogeneses are unfortunate products of locally closed, regional ideologies and shackled logic, and they are also symptomatic of a retreat from a common past, a common present, and a common future. It is as if everyone wished to flee as fast and as far as possible from a collapsing house. Mental attitudes warn us that the political crisis has reached the critical point,threatening the complete destabilization of Yugoslavia.

  19. I don’t get this distinction between sacrifice/discipline as a strategy/organizational principle and a value (and “strategic value” makes me even more confused). Either as a strategy or as a value, I can’t read sacrifice/discipline other than transcendentally–as a something that must be arrived at, as a preexisting form that “the poor” must come to, and ultimately as the metric for all action. In other words, action doesn’t create its own principles and strategies, but is measured against already determined ones. Zizek held that discipline is an essential organizational principle in his article on the banlieu riots, and it was no less repulsive than the recent articles for it.

  20. Great post Steve.

    It seems to me that the postivity/negativity or joy/discipline-and-sacrfice dichotomies have a lot less mileage politically if they’re not explicitly interpreted with regard to class content or communist content. Otherwise one can continually redescribe phenomena – “no, it’s _really_ positivity” “no it isn’t, it’s a second negation” etc. Actually one can do that anyway, so I take that back.

    What I mean to say is, the dichotomies are of terms which are interpreted from theoretical discussion into other areas and in that intrepretation and transition a lot of redescription can occur such that the invocation of dichotomous principles loses a lot of its weight. Some capitalists have said since at least Marx’s time that they were disciplined and they made sacrifices and that the rest of the populace lacked those virtues. (Zizek in a way repeats at least the latter – “the obstacle to our success, comrades, is a lack of discipline and sacrifice among the masses!”) And some Marxists have countered that the capitalist class are hedonists etc and really its the proletariat who has discipline etc. Neither set of rhetorical moves seems to do much work to me.

    Also, while I’ve never been in a revolutionary situation and much of the activist stuff I’ve wasted so much time on was rather crap, from my experience there are elements of organized oppositional projects (much like having a family) which map onto both discipline and hedonism – it’s a pain and tiresome to discuss the content, write up, print, and distribute leaflets, say. There’s also a certain joy and revelry to it, a feeling of closeness to comrades, a feeling of being part of something important, etc. (Incidentally the song “Pamphleteer” by the Weakerthans expresses this ensemble of feelings in politics pretty well I think, if you don’t already know it.)

    At this point personally I find the expression “patient labor of the negative” quite compelling, not the negative part so much as the patience part – a recognition that revolution building (again much like building a family) is a slow and pretty unromantic process involving planning and organization. That patience of course needs to be balanced with impatience – outrage, hatred – at the blood and fire of present and historical capitalism.

    take care,
    Nate

  21. two points; one is that 300 has distinct racialist overtones….and actually Dan Savage had the best review. The gay pride parade in hyper-drive aspect is clear….and the author of the comic book….er graphic novel, is a rabid supporter of Bush and of militarism.

    So, Zizek is acting in bad faith to not address these things….not to mention the corporate production of the film.

    And the word “discipline” is here, in Zizek, linked to some nebulous physical-culture sado-masochistic worship of authority — discipline is spoken of in the context of militarism…..of SPARTANS…..of what amounts to necrophillia, actually. Discipline can have a negational aspect, no? Zizek is writing, really, to achieve a certain response, which he can later sort of subvert and contradict. He’s not to be taken seriously with this stuff. But fetishizing the word discipline….in this context, is highly reactionary I think.

  22. It is pretty obvious that discipline isn’t about oiling up and joining the spartans today – it is, as Nate points out, all about the exploitation of ‘externalities” – free unstructured time – to continue a system of production that has gone mad in order to reward an upper class a disproportionate share of the wealth it produces. The logic of the system comes strictly out of that. Keynes predicted that, given curve of economic growth, the average British worker would work a 15 hour week in 2000. But just the reverse happened. Leisure time is now structured to be ever more complicitous with its own exploitation, its own emptying, its abjection before the more ‘serious’ things of life, which are identical with their measurement – money. There’s nothing more disciplined than a shopping mall – it makes the Spartans look like slackers. The game that becomes the movie that produces the next game is thoroughly disciplinary, thoroughly scheduled down to the end of its shelf life. In fact the disciplinary regime penetrates every part of life. It is ludicrous to argue for discipline against a modern ‘hedonism’ which has been contoured to the tiniest degree to destroy one’s ability to enjoy free time, implanting the disciplinary parameter that beats all others: boredom. Now, if Zizek called for tarrying with more boredom, I might be down with that….

  23. Zizek is writing, really, to achieve a certain response, which he can later sort of subvert and contradic

    Exactly John, this is the brilliance of dialectic negation, it enables you to contradict and subvert at exactly those convenient points which make your argument absolute. But it can’t go on forever, because I am not going to let him. He’s already caused too much disaster in the world.

  24. roger….my point is that in zizek, it IS exactly oiling up and getting martial……which definition links to a morbitity regards the physical……its pyscho-sexual as well as sadomasochistic…….but nate’s point seems to be right, the way class is conveniently absent…..as is real history….instead we get comic book history…which is actually totally a-historical.

  25. J. Steppling – It isn’t class I was objecting to – it is the very definition of discipline. The discipline-sacrifice military form is obsolete, although it did lend its form of discipline to the early modern era. Discipline has been for defined, for a long time, in terms of efficiency, and those models came out of the system of industrial production. When a soldier salutes his commanding officer, that is ceremony – when an office worker laughs at his boss’ joke, the same one he has heard 100 times before, that is the triumph of discipline. My brothers, who have a small remodeling firm, don’t like to hire ex military people for the same reason that you hear from other small businesses – they don’t work. The middle class view is that the all volunteer army is mostly taken from the poor (which isn’t really true), and the poor have never been the image of discipline.

    Discipline once was connected to sacrifice, true. But it is no longer so even in the giant war machine which is always trying to find ways to make war efficient. Not, mind you, that the image of discipline has caught up completely with the reality. In the seventies, Kissinger also used the Spartans to talk about discipline. The Soviets were the Spartans, disciplined and drab, and the Americans were the hedonistic Americans. This happened to be a perfect example of ideological inversion. The soviets, having underdeveloped their own economy – for instance, having no developed financial sector – and having purchased social peace with a variety of benefits for workers, had no whip hand that would force the factory worker to produce. Hence, it was the golden era of farting around in soviet factories. In the U.S., on the other hand, the credit system was expanded and the whiphand slowly shifted to management, in the name of flexible labor markets. So the seemingly hedonistic Americans were actually scared shitless at work and compensating by getting into debts that made them more and more dependent on work. A perfect disciplinary coupling, with efficiency as its logical justification. Nowadays, money has even become the measure of fun – after all, you can’t have generations watch ads continually without getting them getting the notion that the more you spend on something, the more fun it is. This is sort of an ultimate of disciplinary society – when it creates the rules for fun that require ever more discipline. Even the extremely wealthy in the U.S. work – gone are the days of the playboy millionaire. While the surface image of the military is respectful of traditional disciplinary forms, in reality, anybody who has met soldiers (before the Iraq war) has heard stories of hijinx that just seem juvenile. And the military knows this enough to pitch its ads that way. In a system that honors efficiency, this is highly inefficient.

    As for the Greeks – they basically have nothing to say about the new regime of discipline. Efficiency was not part of the ancient meditteranean culture.

  26. roger….discipline comes from the same root as disciple…..its always meant to bring under control. It also used to mean, more frequently, to chatise or correct. Mother’s disciplined their children, etc. The point is that Zizek (not me, see?) Z I Z E K is using the word with specific conotations…..in a specific context.

    I dont quite agree anyway, that its connected to effeciency now. Partly perhaps…..but you cant possibly think the military doesnt demand physical discipline of the sort Ziek envokes when he writes about Sparta. What zizek is doing is refrencing a creepy sado masochistic uber masculinity…..this is where the whole discussion started with dejan on his blog. Zizek uses this word in a context that suggests self flaggelation and a whiff of eros……along with a stronger dose of death instinct.

    And the army *is* made up of the poor in the US.
    And why arent the poor disciplined? Man, thats a very weird remark.

  27. along with a stronger dose of death instinct.

    Indeed John this is Freud’s death instinct we’re talking here, or if you want Deleuzian Affect plugged into a necrophiliac narrative. One doesn’t even need to see the film, it’s in the promo material already.

  28. J. Steppling – the poor have traditionally been considered undisciplined by the middle class since, well, the 19th century. Chevalier’s work on the laboring poor in Paris has produced ample evidence for this in one nineteenth century country. For the modern update, check out the discourse about welfare in the U.S. in the 90s.

    – And it is interesting that you believe that the U.S. army is composed of the poor. This actually unfolds neatly from the bourgeois image of the poor as in need of discipline. In the 1970s, it was the argument made by conservative economists against a volunteer army. Turned out not to be the case. Tim Kane, from the conservative Heritage Foundation, (here: http://www.heritage.org/Research/NationalSecurity/cda05-08.cfm) ran the numbers of median income of recruits, and found that the largest number came from households where the median family income was in the 30 – 40 thousand dollar range. If you have other stats, I’d be happy to say I’m wrong, but just saying recruits are poor because you want them to be seems to enshrine just the middle class image of the army I’m talking about. Which is why the disciplinary regime of efficiency is relevant here. A subset of topics would ask why the insistence on an archaic regime of sacrifice seems to fascinate certain leftist theorists. I think Marx went through the reasons in the German Ideology long ago, re the case of Stirner.

    As for discipline being discipline -well, that simply seems untrue. When you write: “but you cant possibly think the military doesnt demand physical discipline of the sort Zizek envokes when he writes about Sparta.’ Indeed, it does in army advertisements, just as, in cop shows, cops are always athletically chasing down criminals. But the reality is much different. Physical exercise does not discipline make – otherwise prisoners would be the most highly disciplined group in the U.S. Discipline is a social phenomena, and it is as much about self and the relationship of the self to the group as it is about doing push ups. The military emphasis on ceremony – the sirs and ma’ams, the salutes, the uniforms – was, at one point, indeed part of the hegemonic model of discipline. That model lost its hold a long time ago. To believe casual wear at the office is a triumph over “discipline” is really not to understand the contemporary economic system at all, and it is only in the social system that discipline gains its meaning. It is, to say the least, a curious mistake for a Marxist to make.

    Out of curiosity – do you have any friends in the military?

  29. puh-leeze. Roger… first, who my friends are is of little import here……but you manage to miss the point of both my postings….willfully or not I dont know. Perversly to be sure. (but for the record, today’s volunteer army, even if highly UNdisciplined, still embraces the fantasy of traditional physical discipline…..)

    Discipline: do you want the OED definition? perhaps you need it….but the point, AGAIN, is what Zizek wrote….but you seem to suffer severe catagory confusion. That the poor have been *considered* in need of discipline may well be true…..but that hardly means its accurate. Do you subscribe to this belief? That the poor are in need of discipline? Just, you know, curious.

    Next…..30-40 thousand dollar a year range ranks as pretty poor….maybe not dirt poor, but hardly privledged. To my mind, these kids join so they can get a chance at a GI bill education. To deny this reality is in keeping with the rest of your reactionary positions. I mean for fuck sake, try to grasp the realities of a family making thirty grand a year. (speaking of curious remarks for a marxist).

    As for your notion of effeciency regards discipline. Im just confused……the point was that Zizek was invoking a particular trope….follow? ZIZEK…we are talking about ZIZEK here, Roger….so HIS notion of discipline, in HIS article, reflected what I described (above). In terms of the military, again you conflate adverts with what you take to be reality. Yeah….well, army recruitment ads are full of all kinds of bullshit….but the point is that DISCIPLINE, of a very martial and traditional kind, is presented. If that turns out to not be much in demand in todays military, well, fine…..maybe MAYBE thats true….at least to some degree. But I havent been arguing that cops and jar heads are especially disciplined……Im arguing about the trope of physical culture that Zizek writes about . See how this works? Your claim that this *old* model of discipline lost its hold a long time ago is contradicted by your admission that adverts for military recruitment still use it. Obedience to authority is more relevant in terms of casual wear in the office…..meaning such illusions of freedom and autonomy are exactly that….illusions. Because no real disobedience is allowed.

  30. Wow. One of us is totally missing the other’s points, steppling. I suspect it is you. My point about the poor and about workers was, precisely, that the image of being undisciplined is the inverse of the reality. My point about the economic level of the recruits stands – the average median income being 44 thousand in the U.S., we are talking about people who come from the same economic level as, say, the managers of hamburger joints, car salesmen, secretaries, etc. If you think your department secretary is poor, fine. You have a nicely elevated view of what people should make. I salute you. I’m with you. But – huh – that view doesn’t correspond to the view of the secretary, or to the way in which income is classified by any economist I’ve read.

    Now, that the lower middle class is squeezed is undoubtedly true. Hence, the use of working for the National guard as a means of picking up money. Who doubts it?

    Other points: I’m no marxist, although I do like marx’s social theories. As for being a reactionary because I think poor people are undisciplined, uh, how you pulled that reading out of anything I said is beyond me. I explicitly located the place in which the image of workers as undisciplined did its work, which is quite another thing, and pointed out how bogus this was. That is called ideology critique, among other things. If I just felt the poor were undisciplined, why would I even bother to read this blog? Well, actually, that is a good question…

    And I was addressing the social theories to the issues raised by Nate and by Zizek, I wasn’t particularly attacking you. So I’m not sure where the hostility comes from in sentences like this: “the point was that Zizek was invoking a particular trope….follow? ZIZEK…we are talking about ZIZEK here, Roger….so HIS notion of discipline, in HIS article, reflected what I described (above).” Am I in disagreement with this? No – I, too, am taking Zizek to be following a notion of discipline. And I take that notion to be obsolete, or, if you will, secondary.

    Finally, the OED definition of discipline is here:
    3a. “Instruction having for its aim to form the pupil to proper conduct and action; the training of scholars or subordinates to proper and orderly action by instructing and exercising them in the same; mental and moral training; also used fig. of the training effect of experience, adversity, etc.”

    This is exactly the definition I was using, re the moral training of workers. The parameters of that moral training aren’t to be discovered by rooting around in the OED, however, especially if the point is that military discipline was historically the very model of discipline until the system of industrial production introduced a rival one of efficiency. Finally, the one point here that does have some conceptual pull:

    “Your claim that this *old* model of discipline lost its hold a long time ago is contradicted by your admission that adverts for military recruitment still use it.” I wasn’t admitting it. I wasn’t under duress. I wasn’t sweating in the spotlight of being caught out here in the comments section. I was actually stating it. Why? to make a point. What point? that the image and reality of discipline are inverted. That point was consistent with all the other points – the contrast between Sparta and Athens in the seventies; the contrast between the image of the disciplined soldier and the social prejudice against real soldiers; the use, by the entertainment business, of the army as a sort of game, and the army’s own use of that in its advertisements, in contrast to the military’s own concern for efficiency.

    So let’s count this up.
    1. no evidence that soldiers are poor or are recruited from the poor. Redefinition, instead, of poverty.
    2. Ideology critique. Often this mean describing an idea of a social situation that is distorted. When doing so, the description isn’t be confirmed as true by the describer. The truth committment is to the fact that this image exists.
    3. OED definition of discipline. Check
    4. Historic change in the ways in which subordination and mastery is described. Check.
    That’s about sums it up.

  31. ok, thats all much clearer….and quite funny…..no irony intended….though i still disagree. But first…..regarding the poor in the military…yeah, I think thirty thousand a year…..a manager at the burger stand….is for all intents and purposes poor. They certainly have limited choices on their menu…..even if they eat every day…..and those limits lead them to the military.

    So, yeah, its the appearance of discipline….a belief in this particular (which we both described) expression of it….as invoked by Zizek. I would never suggest its real………but then the entire notion of discipline is probably slippery……historically and otherwise.

    If thats what you meant…..then great……I agree and if I misread you…..i apologize. But this is what you said….”The military emphasis on ceremony – the sirs and ma’ams, the salutes, the uniforms – was, at one point, indeed part of the hegemonic model of discipline. That model lost its hold a long time ago.”…..

    so its a bit unclear what you mean by lost its hold. It hasnt lost its hold on the imagination of a high percentage of the american populace….thats for sure. It may relate in less and less actual terms in practice…..I will, with qualifications, grant that.

  32. It is essential to underscore that the secession of the Slovenian republic from the Yugoslav federation was simultaneously the success of the Slovenian nationalist project, based on a near-fascist (I have to be careful with the term because it is polyvalent) but certainly nationalist-racist mythology, INSIDE an (officially) liberal-democratic policy. It is thus nationalism-through-liberalism, or (tentatively) a ”left fascism”, drawing on the traditions of Austrian Marxism, that Dr. Slavoj Zizek defended and helped in concretu. Although in his articles and interviews he shares the official views of the British and US government as well as NATO/UN that the breakup of Yugoslavia was caused by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s ”aggressive nationalism”, Milosevic in fact tried to stop Slovenian seccession within the legal framework afforded him by the Yugoslav constitution at the time of the seccession, which was in no way an assertion of ‘”Serbian aggressive nationalism” but a defense of the Yugoslav federation against seccessionism.

    In a similar way, Zack Snyder’s film reproduces racist-nationalist tropes and policies through an (officially) anti-imperialistic narrative – as dr. Zizek explained himself. The Persian ”evil empire” may be substituted with ”the Yugoslav federation”.

    Because dr. Zizek has consistently and not just sporadically defended racist-nationalist positions throughout his body of work and political practice, variously hiding behind and between Marxian tropes, but nonetheless visible upon closer scrutiny, we can logically proceed to call him a quisling – as ”fascist” may be too harsh, given the polyvalence and instability of the term.

    The erasure of history accomplished in this way is even creepier than the erasure of Greek history that 300 accomplishes: by way of diegetic distortion as well as by the simulacral nature of the visuals, which renders the film ”ahistoric” & pluggable into various falsified historical accounts.

  33. Where the ”third order of the simulacrum” (Baudrillard) that the film reaches would be the equivalent of the ”dialectic negation” dr. Zizek applies, as they are both premised on absolute negativity.

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