Archive for the ‘Zizek’ Category

[notes] Zizek and Milbank: The Monstrosity of Christ (part 1)

June 13, 2010

Atheism has never been funnier than from the mouth of Zizek. Anyone can blaspheme about God and rely on absurdest mockery, but only Zizek can take the priest by the cross and tell them with all sincerity that “only atheists can truly believe”. For in the mind of Zizek, it is atheism that exemplifies the properly dialectical logic of the Event of Christ as to truly understand Christ one has to take the death of God through to its traumatic conclusion. This is a series of notes and summaries of some of the important arguments from the book.

The introductory piece by the editor Creston Davis sets the scene between the two theoretical juggernauts that are Slovoj Zizek and John Milbank. It is written in a theory laden and condensed manner that spell out the political implications and emancipatory stakes in both positions (as I exemplified in this quick quote post HERE). The point of the book is to overcome the myopia of contemporary public debates played out in the best sellers lists between figures such as Dawkins and McGrath by exposing the limitation of their rational dismissal of the other. Dawkins relies on belittling metaphors about spaghetti monsters to expose the absurd logic of theism while leaving the presumptions about his own use of reason and logic intact.

What Zizek and Milbank agree on is that the terms of debate need to be reassessed not rehashed and sold as lower-middle class coffee table reading or quotable toilet book material (such must be the destination for Hitchen’s rhetorical The Quotable Atheist). The point of tension for Zizek and Milbank is Hegel: the true thinker of the dialectic and therefore the thinker of the contradiction of atheism and fideism. This takes my mind back to my reading of After Finitude. Here’s a section from my notes that nicely summarizes the state of the situation:

Even after successfully critiquing meta-physico religiosity, this does not disprove God but only a type of God which appeals to natural reason to declare the superiority of its own beliefs. To remove proof of the ‘supreme’ supported by reason reverses the process of the destruction of polytheistic religion suffered at the hands of monotheistic religious reason (p.45). What does this produce? Fundamentalist fideism: a defence of religiosity in general which promotes the superiority of piety over thought, thus removing reason from any ground to a belief in God or gods. The result is a religionizing of reason: beliefs are legitimate as nothing but beliefs, not as reasonable beliefs (p.47). Philosophical works such as by Levinas pursue a sceptico-fideist closure of metaphysics dominated by the ‘wholly-other’ (p.48). Fideism is merely another name for strong correlationism. The correlationist cogito can thus be non-representational and institutes a species solipsism (rather than individual solipsism – Heidegger’s being-in-the-world could be a species solipsist claim).

For me, this was the best stuff from After Finitude, as it explained the resurgence of theology in the modern world impeccably. Obviously, Zizek is looking to reassert the Enlightenment logic of Hegel’s dialectic to overcome the end of the principle of sufficient reason where God is the guarantor of necessary and meaning existence. Milbank, however, is looking to reassert the primacy of theology through a positive ontology that answers Meillassoux’s concerns over the status  of reason itself. Both Zizek and Milbank are determined to use Hegel as the linchpin of their respective positions, but having only read Zizek’s part so far I cannot comment on just how Milbank appropriates the Hegelian dialectic.

For a good overview of how Zizek understands the subject to come from being torn asunder between a barred nature and culture, see my post on Adrian Johnston explaining the ambiguities of Zizek’s reading of the Lacanian ‘death drive’ HERE.

Zizek nicely summarizes his position again and again, here is an example:

It is easy to follow from this just how Zizek’s Communist politics dovetails nicely into this deduction: Communism is true birth of the holy ghost as love and solidarity between subjects that have overcome their reliance on transcendence and embraced the true meaning of Jesus’ message when he says “Lay not up for thyself treasures, whereby thou stealest from thy neighbour and markest him to starve: for when hast thy goods safeguarded by the law of man, thou provokest thy neighbour to sin against the law” (p.70). Zizek interprets this to mean ‘property is theft’, to which Marx’s call for the abolition of private property is an echo of Jesus’ sermon!

Zizek goes on to use Meister Eckhart’s notion of the Godhead, the void-One beyond Word that Zizek will characterize as ‘un-God’. The un-God does not have positively existence (1) as it is nothing (0). Creation thus comes from nothing:

This lead into the final stretches of his chapter which frame his Hegelian dialectics within the atheistic confines of Badiou’s mathematical ontology: the background of multiple multiplicities of the void (as zero) which can never have a final substrata (‘the One is not’). This is materialist without the assertion of a foundational material density, but a materialism taken to its limit assumes only void. To demonstrate how the ground (0) is also the place of figuration (1) I’ll illustrate Zizek’s example using international floor numbering principles for buildings:

Poland has the  correct solution, Zizek assures us, as the ground floor is that which is “always-already given, and as such, cannot be counted”, but “the moment one starts to count the floors the ground floor itself must be counted as one”. The ground as nothing comes before any count, and anything that is counted has, ultimately, nothing as its ground. Zizek’s negative ontology converges with Badiou’s on this point, but separtes over the understanding of human animality.

Badiou’s seemingly realist stance towards man is that he is an animal that is governed by pleasure principle and mediated by the reality principle. The human animal becomes an (infinite) subject only through fidelity to Truth-proceedurs known as Events (which are unschematized openings, unlike Heideggerian Ereignis). Zizek chastises Badiou for not recognizing the way the subject retroactively constitutes his nature and thus has no natural nature, as Badiou insists, to be elevated from. For Zizek, the subject is already distorted by ‘death drive’ and thus it is only materialism that can explain consciousness, rather than as Badiou’s work suggests, the natural state of man can be understood through evolutionary-positivist type of materialism yet subjectivity proper can only be understood through his brand of materialism.

Zizek ends his piece with as statement of ‘infinite’ negation: “I believe in un-God”, as the pure form of belief deprived of its substantialization. It is clear from this why Zizek is known as a materialist theologian, as by following Badiou’s mathematical ontology, and theory of the subject, the quest for universality comes into view through the dialectizing of the logic of atheism and theism. Both Zizek and Badiou see the figure of St Paul as a model here (he universalized the teaching of Christ without placing them into prescriptive dogma): as it is through the Universality attempted by Christianity that becomes the model by which capital, which cannot fulfil the position of ‘a signifier that matters’ (Master-signifier), can be deposed.

There is a lot more from this chapter I would like to write about, but I will go into some more detail, primarily concerning Zizek’s reading of Eckhart, only after I have read through Milbank’s contribution.

Advertisements

“these seats are for paying customers only”

June 11, 2010

Ever high-street in England could be a duplicate of the next. Or at least, in some of my more angst filled moments, it seems that way. Franchised coffee houses, bars and pubs have appropriated whatever architectural spaces they can find to install the same mass made signs and shop fronts. In Brighton there are areas designated called ‘The Lanes’ kept for quirky and semi-exclusive shops and boutiques which have unique and extravagant building decoration. These shops are classic bo-ho fashion and retro cool intermixed with other petite-bourgeois delights such as the now mainstream tattoo parlour and high quality organic food shops. But many places are not quite as ‘lucky’ as Brighton to have such shops. And what’s more, these shops are the domain of the tourist budget and generally serve more of an aesthetic appeal for many Brighton residents. It seems that there is a distinct lack of spaces to gather and places such as pubs, bars and cafes are tempered with the banal mood music of the easy-listening safe list, and those which don’t play up to the mass market appeal of a popular brand are reserved for quirky and idiosyncratic establishments that pack a premium for the exclusivity. The only areas where there is a non-monetarily driven opening are churches and spiritual ‘friends’ meeting houses, which always feel like they have other, let’s say, meta-physical transactions in mind. What is most striking for me is the absolute lack of places to gather that are not over-determined in function or don’t have a profit incentive for their existence. Jameson was right to note that the ‘end of history’ actually mean the end to non-capitalist space.

Take any art or media complex and you will see that although many galleries and exhibitions are free and thus ‘public’ spaces, it is the surrounding zones which promote a form of elitism (and therefore class division – in terms of which members of the public can use the area for social assembly). It is not the arts themselves which are elitist but their associative environments. For example, “Mozart belonged to the poor in the upper stalls who spent their last dollars to see the opera. Far from making the exclusive temple of high art more accessible, it is the very surrounding of expensive cafeterias etc. which is effectively exclusive and “elitist.”, as Zizek notes in Architectural Parallax. Jameson and Zizek agree, it is the trick of the postmodern to play up to the ‘end of ideology’ motif at the ‘end of history’, and it is thus these places of supposed openness and equality that replicate ideology at its purest.

Even libraries are designed not as a place for groups to gather but studious individuals and book lovers to go and keep quiet. The library is the sacred space of Gutenberg Man, the reader of the printed page, which as McLuhan noted, produced the alienated individual enframed by the linearity and repeatability of the movable typed phonetic alphabet. This abstract uniformity of visual space on the printed page works in distinction to the variables of speech and the acoustic space it necessitates. Libraries can be entered by anyone, but their logic as spaces of social production is definitively individualistic: one pursues ones interests and tastes in literature, history and so on within the muted environment of a speechless vacuum. This is perhaps why some of the more interesting architectural projects in inner-city areas are focused around the rejuvenation of libraries (as an investment in libraries is an investment into the social reproduction of the liberal subject, although now libraries are sites of internet terminals and newspaper archives, so maybe they are polyvalent media zones that replicate the pastiche of late-modern thinking). This is not a call for a stop to libraries as a way out of capitalism, it is only a reflection on the ideas of McLuhan’s media theory that gives a second more questing look towards the library book maelstrom, to which I’m sure the ubiquitously applauded library can handle. It is curious that libraries are meant to be dying and illiteracy in school children rising when these are supposed to be the hallmarks of the literate, rational, liberal subject. Libraries take on an especially disconcerting character, as some of the last vestiges of covered and open public space for quiet literary consumption, as what ever was left of a sense of community for many towns and cities has been decimated under the excessive presence of super-shopping centres and supermarkets.

The phenomenon of out-of-town shopping centres, and supermarkets (which, ironically, are both in and out of town) shows a logic of the architectural envelope that requires mechanisms of spatial displacement that promote huge crowd volumes and threshold populations. To enclose public spaces but allow for a smooth flux and flow of people in and out of artificially controlled environmental micro-climates (through air conditioning and electric lighting) produces, as Alejandro Zaera Polo claims, a politically charged zone in conflictual relationship with the locality (due to their brutal prefabricated construction). These types of structure usually have  flat and horizontal envelopes and are privatized and strictly controlled. The atmosphere is sterile and homogeneous, where  the flat and effortlessly smooth ground allows for complete focus upon the shop front rather than concern for ones feet. The experience is one of intensive commodity ‘wonder’ with a reification of spacial reality through shining white and mirrored surfaces. Hygienic sterility is an imperative to maintain at all times, to keep a high quality gloss to the surroundings, making shopping as ‘pleasurable’ as possible: this hygiene includes human and non-human pollutants, as private security teams militantly patrol the entrances to check for ‘hoodies’, baseball capped youths, and other ‘unsightly’ reprobates. The spaces are not public or private but a privatized public, with the shopping centre as the centre of consumer life, where the ‘Mall’, as it is known across the pond, is naturalized and mocked by films such as Kevin Smith’s Mallrats and even built into utopian fantasies of super abundant societies, such as The Venus Project.

I’m not sure if many people have heard of The Venus Project but it is basically a utopian pseudo fantasy masquerading as politically revolutionary thought. The first thing that sprang to mind while gazing at the glossy architecture porn that makes up the bulk of the site’s content was Fredrick Jameson’s notion that capitalism colonizes the future through finance capital and land speculation, and as such, architecture is the closest of all the arts to replicating economic models rather than breaking them. Jameson quotes Manfredo Tafuri’s assertion that “one cannot ‘anticipate’ a class architecture (an architecture for a liberated society)”. To which Jameson follows with:

The conclusion of which is a condemnation of architectural fantasies such as The Venus Project. It takes the logic of, as Zizek would say, ‘ecology as the opium for the masses’, where the delicate balance of nature is appeased and man has learned to act as one with natural forces to create a harmonious society of leisure and spiritually driven subjects. The ‘pleasure’ of such a rationality controlled collective of control runs contra to the aesthetic sublime and jouissance of modernist architecture that aimed to change the mode of social production, not glorify the bourgeois fantasy of infinite leisure time. The Venus project has very little in the way of sociological critique, and seems to think that one can transplant society, as it is, into a new society of perfectly sustainable super-abundance without need to reconsider public (work) and private (family) formations that wouldn’t be solved by the replacement of the workforce by robotic automation. My gripes about the possibilities of space and the architecture that generates such spaces are not to be solved through such naive utopian fantasy (although I am not against utopianism or fantasy, but only when it is done with a sense of a genuine break, rather than apologetics for the status quo). Jameson argues that architecture reveals the historical materialism of the economic (capitalism), while architecture’s exterior is the economic conditions that influence the design as a judgement of history itself. The problem with The Venus Project is that it conflates the aesthetic for the political and the desires of today for the desires of the future. As Jameson states…

The desire for radical change to both our private and our public places comes, for me, through the sight of the city malls and high streets succumb to a non-place logic of consumption that undermines non-normative social practises and opportunities of assembly. But, in thinking and theorizing about architecture it is important to take not only an ideological view (for which Jameson criticizes Tafuri), but also a phenomenological view. It is through experience that architecture (as a singular building or considered as a total city) creates affective changes. I see architecture not as an epiphenomena of social ideologies but a sight that retroactively transforms the subject through its phenomenological engagement with it. In Understanding Media (which I’m sure is not the first thing many architectural theorists reach for) McLuhan views architecture as something that, through its forms, changes our perceptions of visual and tactile space and displaces ‘equilibriums’ between our senses and changes our ‘attitudes and preferences’. This phenomenological dimension needs to be considered not only from the inside of the building/city/zone itself, but also from the perspective of planning itself.

Architectural art, such as that seen on The Venus Project website, should be viewed through both ideological and phenomenological lenses: as a Marlau-Ponty style ‘reading’ of art would see, art is not just a visual field of experience but a tactile one, where the viewer is transported into the projected world of the image and gathers a sensual impression from its figures and forms. The feeling I get from the pictures on The Venus Project is of a kind of bourgeois leisure paradise, an anaesthetized dream image of rationally dominated landscapes eliminated of risk, surprise and contingency. There’s no intensive exertion or activity, just the feeling of a polymorphically perverse amniotic zone of total control and tamed nature. As Tafuri explicitly states, such ideological fantasies are a drive for “constant victory over the uncertainty of the future”, this envisioned utopia becomes capitalist real abstraction, its ‘judgement of history’.

So, as Jameson testifies, a revolutionary architecture is not possible to create from within the framework of capitalist social relations and the desires thus associated, but through the contingency of a break/reclamation of the reified space that enables an architecture that confirms the disequilibrium of such a space. Zizek suggests that we reclaim spaces known as ‘spandrels’, which is an architectural term for the forms and spaces left as a by-product of the design process. These are “interstitial spaces” are the site of appropriation, as they are the contingent opening for possible non-normative function. This reclamation of excess is what Zizek calls exaptation, where something is used for a purpose other than which it was specified, where the design feature can be used as an accident of the design or adaptive process. Either way, my guess is that this exaptation works in the same sense as Marx understood the factory as a site of class struggle for the workers, as the inventiveness of a child who transforms any environment into a playground, and as the students who ‘occupy everything’. Just as Zizek argues we should not aim to destroy the state but to make the state do something it is not meant to do, I feel the same way for the architectural playgrounds that are our cities.

I want to work at lot more on issues around architecture in the future (namely the distinction between the inside/outside, and architecture taken in the context of the personal and the social – what Jameson calls ‘cognitive mapping’, and re-reading Heidegger’s Building Dwelling Thinking) which has been largely inspired by Owen Hatherly’s book Militant Modernism, which I suggest you check out (or just look at his blog, if you get the chance   HERE).

A theologian and a materialist walked into a barred nature…

June 11, 2010

Having just had to take a couple of longish bus journeys, I got the chance to listen to two audio lectures by two provocative but very different thinkers. The first was Adrian Johnston’s paper read at the Real Objects or Material Subjects conference and the other was Anthony Paul Smith’s paper ‘Nature is not’, where and when it was given I don’t know. It was pure chance that I listened to these side by side but they were essentially a response to each other.

Adrian was arguing against Zizek’s appropriation of theological language in his Janus-faced like stance in both hypostasizing death drive as a supplementary third level of reality over and above a barred nature (or weak/incomplete nature) and culture (the barred symbolic), and also rejecting this hypostasis by defining death drive as the negativity of the pleasure principle’s disruptive malfunctioning, its inability to assert it’s intrapsychical hegemonic dominance. Death drive is that monstrous thing that opens the space for freedom, which is not natural freedom a la Kant, but a non-natural compulsion that needs mastering: human freedom is in nature more than nature itself (nature is auto-negating of its own dictates). It is the mastering of death drive that produces culture which retroactively transforms its own nature (this is essentially the Zizekian reading of Hegelian totality).

Adrian wanted to re-assert and remind Zizek of his proper materialist materialism and to encourage the understanding of neuro-plasticity favourable to brain science research (rather than considering them antagonistic to each other). Adrian brings Zizek’s ontology of the monstrous partial subject in line with contemporary scientific work concerning the brain as ‘kludge’ – a work around, ‘quick and dirty’ solution to a problem – something that just about works, but is by no means perfect, and is confident of neuroscience / dialectical materialism hybrid as attempted in his recent and continuing work with Catherine Malabou.

When Adrian’s lecture has finished I fired up Anthony’s lecture focused upon the axiom ‘nature is not reducible to matter or to the idea of matter’. Essentially, he is replying to the calls of Zizek and Badiou to get rid of nature to be replaced with an ‘ecology without nature’. This is also seen in the work of Latour, but I feel, should be separate from Zizek as he has made it clear he disagrees with Latour’s notion of ‘we have never been modern’. To Anthony, these philosopher’s claim ‘the earth is just a mite in the eye of the universe’, which I feel is note quite what these philosophers have in mind but is a strong rhetorical statement that tallies with the notion of death drive as some kind of irritant of nature. Although Anthony’s lecture wasn’t that long or detailed, it’s call was for one of non-Decision as to nature, rather than a decision on immanence or transcendence.

One of the more interesting aspects of the recording of Adrian’s paper was the quasi-voyeuristic and accidental recoding of the conversation after the paper between Adrian and John Mullarkey. The conversation concerns animality and notions of the human. John, a die-hard vegetarian (and on a side note, I think looks like the bad guy from Die Hard 2), asks Adrian why does one need to be a humanist to be a materialist, as this drags along the baggage of human exceptionalism rather than, as John advocates, degrees of difference? Adrian says that language generates qualities of the brain that we don’t see elsewhere, to which John counters, that is in danger of reinvesting ideological baggage (almost theological) into a materialist humanism. John introduces the need for a generic humanity rather than an ideological one, to which Adrian responds favourably. The notion of a generic humanity is clearly John’s Laruellian influence shining through, as in the paper ‘Principles of a generic ethics’ Laruelle sets out an ethics of the ‘generic human’ based upon the thinking the human-in-the-last-instance according to the Real – as the human does not think towards the Real but is always already within the Real in its immanence, not delivered over from it from a Neoplatonic source.

This notion of a ‘generic humanity’ ties in with the direction of Anthony’s project of a non-theological critical piety, where a Decision qua Real as immanence or transcendence has not been made. This opens up the practise of a speculative philosophy of religion that absorbs Meillassoux’s criticisms of contemporary fidism with a renewed sense of reason. I am keen to not only read these works of non-philosophy infused meditations on religion but also John’s next book, which he told me will be based on a non-philosophy reading of theories of animality, which should be a serious questioning of the exceptionalism he sees in Lacanian infused negative ontologies (which, to me, seem to be reworking of the old Heideggerian worldless-worldpoor-worlded tripartite hierarchical separation of essences). Either way, the non-philosophy approach will be at the forefront of my mind while reading The Monstrosity of Christ over the next few days (as Milbank seemed enthusiast but quite hostile to non-philosophy at the Laruelle conference in Nottingham, and Zizek, I think, is yet to mention it at all).

Zizek and Badiou on HARDTALK: Unapologetic strangers

January 3, 2010

Badiou  HERE and ZIZEK   HERE

When I saw that Badiou and Zizek had been on HARDtalk, I was excited and apprehensive. To have two contemporary philosophical giants given prime TV time to answer questions on topics that are completely neglected by the mainstream media, feels like a progressive move, but also has a kind of ‘lambs to the slaughter’ feel about it, too, as philosophy and philosophers seem to be banished from television. Except for a few programs on existentialism that were made many years ago, I don’t think Heidegger, who seems to be the most important philosopher of the twentieth century, has probably ever been mentioned. For Badiou and Zizek to gain some prime TV time seems like times are changing. However, I do feel that appearances on these programs for both Zizek and Badiou were mixed blessings and also, partially wasted opportunities. I would have though that for a program whose title picture, which is begging to be etched with a hammer and sickle, wouldn’t look out of place in a Soviet style steel mill, may have been a little nicer to these two.

The recent Zizek interview was the more disappointing of the two. This is only because Zizek is the more fluently spoken in English and thus his sparing skills should be more than a match for Stephen Sackur’s antagonistic blunt style. The program is set up to ask the ‘hard’ and tough questions, to harass and force the interlocutor to slip up and generally be exposed as a feeble minded simpleton, who can’t articulate themselves and generally gets a bit flustered when their safety net gets taken away. Both Zizek and Badiou walked straight into the antagonistic form of the program. As philosophers, one would think they would try to undermine the structure of the program to bring a reflexive focus to the polemics at hand. This did not happen, they both tried to answer the questions as normal, falling into trap after boisterously set trap.

Zizek is characterized in the introduction as someone he sees the good in Stalin and thinks Communism is the answer to the ills of the twenty-first century. The antagonisms are set from the start, here is the enemy, now we can expose his nonsense or perversity’ as the interviewer repeats again and again. Zizek, who writes many big and deliberately flummoxing books (his Lacanian postponing the end point of clarity works at the level of form to force the reader to ‘traverse the fantasy’ of the ‘subject supposed to know’, i.e. that Zizek knows and that by reading his work they too will come to know). It seems like an exercise in condensation, but it is more one of intuition. The answers are not cut off because he isn’t given the time to respond properly, or because the program must end at a certain point. No, it is because the form is given credibility to provide a type of truth defined by the program (i.e. watch the interviewee squirm when confronted by their own words and actions), rather then forcing the phantasmatic stance of the program and its viewers out of their comfort zone.

For instance, Sackur exposes Zizek’s hypocrisy by quoting from him that Stalinism is favourable to any liberal democracy, after Zizek announces on the program that Communism was probably the biggest disaster of the 20th century, even more so than Nazism (as under Nazism, there was always a distinct set of persons demonized for a particular reason, while under Stalinism, it could be anybody for any arbitrary reason). Zizek explains that it is because of the possibility of a different social regime, other than liberal capitalism, is opened up by communism, whereas liberal capitalism promotes itself as an ontological realism (I’m paraphrasing here).

Sackur then asks him why is he a communist even after Zizek admits it was a ‘total failure’. Clearly, Sackur completely misses the answer Zizek gave previously or he wouldn’t have asked the same question again. Sackur was probably too busy listening to instruction on his ear piece or thinking about his set questions to give an intelligent answer to Zizek’s comment. Although it could be said that the repetition and incredulous tone of the interviewer is part of the format of the program, and thus a provocative tactic rather than an intellectually sincere one. Zizek stresses the importance of recognising the change in horizon between, what used to be ‘socialism with a human face’ to the now ubiquitous ‘capitalism with a human face’: capitalism, even with a human face, will not be able to solve the antagonisms we confront today at they remain external to the horizon of capitalism.

After being accused of Eurocentricism and ignoring the successes of India and China in raising people out of poverty through bolstering the middle classes, Zizek responds that these are not successes as they have resulted in segregation of public space, through favellas and immigration ‘problems’: in sum, those who are excluded and politically isolated. Unfortunately he then makes a statement about these places being concentrations camps, and then withdraws the comment after being challenged by Sackur. He does make the point that it its because of their isolation that makes it seem like they are in concentration camps, but he should not have conceded as there is a clear linearity between camp and favella that would have been more useful to expand upon. However, to expand upon this would probably not have suited the programs spitting contest style, so would no doubt have been cut.

The interviewer is keen to emphasise his reading of Zizek’s critics, who condemn Zizek’s claim that Islamic fundamentalism is a product of liberal capitalism. Zizek responds with the example of Afghanistan pre-soviet invasion, as an example of secular Islam that becomes fundamentalism through engagement with the international community. This again misinterpreted by Sackur who says that Zizek blames capitalism for all the world evils. Zizek responds with that quip that perhaps his readers (and interviewers) should read him correctly, so as not to confuse his critical examination of capitalism with a complete rejection of it: for Zizek, we cannot go back to a fantasy world untouched by capitalism, but apply our critique from within capitalism, which demonstrates that we cannot reject in its entirety that which founds our very mode of engagement with the world.

Sackur is concerned that as there is no clear example or even an abstract thinker who represents an ideal for communism: this, he insists, surely must be a bad sign. Zizek concludes that he isn’t after revolution in the standard sense. He makes it clear that “we need to form a new form of collectivity that will be neither market or state bureaucracy”, but he is a pessimist: democracy won’t deliver us from our problems: it may not be light at the end of the tunnel but a train coming towards us.

If we take out Zizek’s main points, those who have never read or seem Zizek before may be a little put off by the cerebral rants, excessive hand movements and conversational tangents, but I think he recognises the need to cut the crap and say as clearly as possible his position, because Sackur is determined to misrepresent him at every turn. Zizek does deal well with the questioning and he does seem to come off quite well and at times, unusually, focused on the main points.

Sackur applies the same style, albeit slightly slowed down, no doubt recognising the limited English skills of his guest. Although Badiou’s answers clearly weren’t suited to the medium, Zizek seems to have met his challenges with forceful and better presented summaries. It is still discouraging, that while any TV exposure for philosophers is always music to my ears, it is a shame that it is performed not through a careful and sincere dialogue, but through a sensationalist interview that is aimed not at ‘hardtalk’ but discouse that legitimises intellectual confrontation based upon misinformation, misreadings and misdirection of aggression. Sackur doesn’t present ‘hardtalk’ but a fake attempt at provocative discourse that can never agree with or arrive at any conversational synthesises or progression. It plays upon a fantasy of straight talking, ‘cut the crap’ style journalism that is not exposing anything but the farcical format of the show itself. The interviewer doesn’t want to understand Badiou and Zizek, but to attribute to what ever response they deliver to one of a ‘perverse’ nature or purely some form of ‘continental’ intellectual entertainment, suitable for a limited audience of pseudo radicals.

Even if Sackur’s position could be described as playing devils advocate with his guests, one gets the feeling that some of the time it is quite personal: such as this quote towards Badiou, that people at home are thinking “here is a man who is stuck in the romance of 1968, a time of course when you were on the barricade and you want to recreate the romantic idea that the working class can take to the streets and re-order society and you sit there, frankly, with your metaphorical Gauloises in your mouth spouting this French radical ideology but no one really buys it any more”. Partially, I think Badiou may not have heard him properly, as there was little sign of being flustered by this Francophobic question. It isn’t a helpful question and an ironic use of the word ‘buy’ as well. It may well be that people at home are struck in reductive caricatures of cigarette smoking Parisian coffee shop French intellectuals, but the programme, ultimately was giving the same message. What is clear from these interviews is not an open dialogue between communist philosophers and the BBC, but the desire to discredit ‘romantic’ emancipatory philosophies.

As a mobilization of unit operations (see Ian Bogost’s book, Unit Operation), the program advocates a hostile incredulity to the idea of communism which involves the operations of cutting into sentences, swapping and changing topics, not allowing for follow up responses and presenting the interviewee with quotes taken out of context which would require more time than the program can allocate for its examination. The two central unit operation of HARDtalk are reductive positional generalization (to provoke aggression in the interviewee) and incredulous rebuttal (to mock the interviewee’s perspective). In general, I find any reliance on cultural theorists or academics on television tends to end is grotesque simplifications. For example, the pop psychologist analyst on Big Brother. These sound-bite simplifications may swing well into the next dazzling video clip, but offer little extended and more fruitful analysis. For self proclaimed philosophers to be guests on this TV program and to engage the show on its own terms is not only a little disappointing, but it forgets the elementary philosophical lesson of Plato’s Apology. If you remember, this is where Socrates asks the court to consider him a “stranger” to his new trial environment. It isn’t that Badiou and Zizek are “strangers” to television, but they are to the distinctly uncharitable style of the show. A reflexive response and recognition of the problematic televisual medium itself may have been a philosophically more thought provoking response to what were, at times, ignorant and antagonistic questions.