Friday, December 17, 2010

Intolerance: a plea

""""The key moment of any theoretical (and ethical, and political, and - as Badiou demonstrated - even aesthetic) struggle is the rise of universality out of the particular life-world. The commonplace according to which we are all irreducibly grounded in a particular (contingent) life-world, so that all universality is irreducibly colored by (embedded in) a particular life-world, should be turned around: the authentic moment of discovery, the breakthrough, occurs when a properly universal dimension explodes from within a particular context and becomes "for-itself," directly experienced as such (as universal). This universality-for-itself is not simply external to (or above) the particular context: it is inscribed into it, it perturbs and affects it from within, so that the identity of the particular is split into its particular and its universal aspect. Did already Marx not point out how the true problem with Homer is not to explain the roots of his epics in the early Greek society, but to account for the fact that, although clearly rooted in their historical context, they were able to transcend their historical origin and speak to all epochs. Perhaps, the most elementary hermeneutic test of the greatness of a work of art is its ability to survive being torn out of its original context: in the case of a truly great work of art, each epoch reinvents/rediscovers its own figure of this work, like there is a romantic Shakespeare, a realist Shakespeare, etc. Take Wagner's Parsifal: a lot of historicist work was done recently trying to bring out the contextual "true meaning" of the Wagnerian figures and topics: the pale Hagen is really a masturbating Jew; Amfortas' wound is really syphillis... The idea is that Wagner is mobilizing historical codes known to everyone in his epoch: when a person stumbles, sings in cracking high tones, makes nervous gestures, etc., "everyone knew" this is a Jew, so Mime from Siegfried is a caricature of a Jew; the fear of syphillis as the illness in the groin one gets from having intercourse with an "impure" woman was an obsession in the second half of the 19th century, so it was "clear to everyone" that Amfortas really contracted syphillis from Kundry... """
"""However, the first problem here is that, even if accurate, such insights do not contribute much to a pertinent understanding of the work in question. One often hears that, in order to understand a work of art, one needs to know its historical context. Against this historicist commonplace, one should affirm that too much of a historical context can blur the proper contact with a work of art - in order to properly grasp Parsifal, one should abstract from such historical trivia, one should decontextualize the work, tear it out from the context in which it was originally embedded. There is more truth in Parsifal's formal structure which allows for different historical contextualizations than in its original context. It was Nietzsche, the great critic of Wagner, who was nonetheless the first to perform such a de-contextualization, proposing a new figure of Wagner: no longer Wagner as the poet of Teutonic mythology, of bombastic heroic grandeur, but the "miniaturist" Wagner, the Wagner of hystericized femininity, of delicate passages, of bourgeois family decadence. Along the same lines, Nietzsche was repeatedly reinvented throughout the XXth century, from the conservative-heroic proto-Fascist Nietzsche up to the "French" Nietzsche and the Cultural Studies Nietzsche. Convincing historical analysis can easily show how Nietzsche's theory was embedded in his particular political experience (the "revolt of the slaves" was for him exemplified by the Paris Commune); however, this in no way contradicts the fact that there is more truth in the "decontextualized" French Nietzsche of Deleuze and Foucault than in this "historically accurate" Nietzsche. And the argument is here not simply pragmatic: the point to be made is not that Deleuze's reading of Nietzsche, although "historically inaccurate," is "more productive"; it is rather that the tension between the basic universal frame of Nietzsche's thought and its particular historical contextualization is inscribed into the very edifice of Nietzsche's thought, is part of its very identity, in the same way that the tension between the universal form of human rights and their "true meaning" at the historical moment of their inception is part of their identity.""""

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Many Americans probably object to Zizek's neo-hegelian programme and his shock-schtick (that is, assuming they've bothered to read a few paragraphs of it).  They look in vain for an affirmation  of  Democracy-- liberty, rights, free discussion and debate so forth.  Admittedly the european left tends to irritate the usual resident of Consumerland.  Yet the real question should be....why? why this odd Hegelian jargon--universal/particular-- the fairly obscene gestures, the endless references to writers and artists  they know nothing about.  They don't know enough about History, European, World or American for that matter, to really tackle something like the Hegelian World Spirit, and  his writing on the State, or most complex economic or scientific issues.  That's not to say Zizekism  is... inviolate or unassailable.     Karl Popper's criticisms of Hegel's system, however "retrograde" (or boring)  should be considered (then, where's Popper these days either) in light of the Zizekeans . The authentic Democrat, or dare we say, Burkean sort of conservative heritage-panderer, could bring up important objections to the Hegelian leftist, certainly in this post-Stalinist age, might quote the US Constitution and those aged hypocrites Jefferson, Madison, Locke, et al.   Or ...old fashioned Religion perhaps.  

We contend, however, that the average Merican simply isn't qualified to take on something like Hegelianism or Marxism with any degree of competence or intelligence.  'Mericans want their politics and economics, and Reality, for lack of a better word, like they want their fast food: easy, fast,  sound-bite-sized. Simple binaries--conservative vs liberal. In essence they want Rush Limbozo: carny-barker politics. Ten thousand  Limbozos.   The issue of  Agency thus creeps in---or vanguardism as the gauchistes term it.   Few people want to sound like a snob or elitist (even an euro one) yet just as Pierre Boulez knows much more about Stravinsky's music than Pierre the street accordionist, Zizek the philosopher knows much mo' about politics than you (or the average US Pundit-puppet for that matter).


Rawls/Zizek II


Little Umbrellas(Contingencies annual feature for Z-Dan)

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