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.”