Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Poetic-Industrial Complex

There aren't may critical theorists who threaten a welcoming UCLA moderator like Kenneth Reinhard with a reeducation camp, but Slavoj Žižek is never one to be shy in public, and apparently Žižek thinks his frequent collaborator Rheinhard suffers from an excess of religious sensibility.

In today's talk entitled "From the Critique of Religion to the Critique of Political Economy," Žižek also tried to outrage his audience by asserting that Plato was right about banishing poets, because far too many dictatorial regimes Indeed, as he observed, Karadžić was not a bad poet. He also entertained the standing room old crowd by noting the importance of various "informal social rules" that dictate behavior, including those that govern spiritual observance. For example, he told the story of Niels Bohr and horseshoe with the punchline about how "it works even if you don't believe in it." "Like democracy," said Žižek, adding his own punchline. This pragmatism, he noted, could be seen as somewhat akin to Golda Meier's syllogistic quip about how "the Jewish people believe in God, and I believe in Jewish people."

Much of the talk was also devoted to intellectual sparring with an absent Alain Badiou, who Žižek insisted was wrong about alliances between poets and philosophers, wrong about 1968, and wrong about prioritizing helping workers achieve legal status. Most of all, Badiou was wrong about anti-Semitism, according to Žižek. One can’t even engage in debate with anti-Semites, although he did find Arab and Zionist anti-Semitism worth explicating, which he read through a resurgence of nationalism

He also argued that nationalism had appropriated old communist interests. Now, he said, critics should be wary of the "poetic-industrial complex" that was supplanting the "military-industrial complex" in many parts of the world. These nationalism preyed on "divisions of the working class" that included clans of intellectual, fundamentalist, outcast populations. During the question and answer, he argued that language itself could be seen as torture, when "thinking about the sonnet" and even the "torturing of images in cinema." Žižek then shared his imagined scene of "Tarkovsky and Eisenstein debating like two torturers" rather than two artists of different generations. "What prevents actual torture is truth," he asserted.

However, the talk was also an extended reading of Marx, albeit one introduced by a reference to the Wikipedia's entry on Marx and its accurate depiction of the division between the early humanistic Feuerbachian Marx and the later Marx. For Žižek, Marx makes a critical mistake by focusing overly much on "the material and the worker" and denying "the social character of labor."

This is obviously a connection that could be drawn out by critics of computational media, but Žižek did some of the drawing out himself by discussing Bill Gates in his talk, which except for a throwaway line about Bono and Bob Geldorf was his only reference to a named celebrity. Not only is a figure like Gates, who might otherwise seem unobjectionable since he pays workers high wages "privatizing intellect," but his cultural and economic ascendancy also indicated a "movement from profit to rent."

He closed with some of his gems about his skepticism regarding the value of "tolerance" and Internet-ready stories of the kind with quotations, jokes, and anecdotes that have made him welcomed by Authors@Google and a university YouTube channels. Using his frequent consumption of the Starbucks ambiance as an example, he also shared some newer observations about what is now called "experience marketing" and the ways that it has succeeded both use value and exchange value.

When it came to political economy, the other advertised subject of his talk, he suggested that in a multi-centric world the United States might not necessarily be the bad guy, because capitalism had been allied toward a push toward democracy until the era of "capitalism with Asian values" and authoritarian states like Singapore with more wild, dynamic, and productive market strategies. In explaining his encounters with Chinese political subjects, he described what he called the "weird metaphysical experiments" taking place where the lexicon refused to confuse leftism (workers) and Marxism (science of society), so that trade unionisms of the European model could be censored.

His parting shot was praise for "doing useless things," which he described as "one more reason to do theory."


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