(For those of you who have ready access to a copy of MSOU, the following post refers to and extends the discussion of collusive ploys that are identified on pages 102-106 of the book. For those who are unfamiliar with those pages, I should explain that I use the word collusion to define different sorts of interpersonal ploys that are used without awareness to protect a particular continuity of belief––that is, to protect one's identity.)
As noted in an earlier post (now deleted; I was embarassed by my threshing around in it) I had been struggling to make sense of the particular personas that the Marxist thinker Slavoj Zizek assumes in his various interviews with those who are trying to make sense of him in the journalistic media.
I now have come to think that Zizek conceives himself as the very sort of social "gadfly" that Plato informs us that Socrates himself conceived himself as being. The metaphor stresses the social role of such a gadfly as stinging the ponderous horse of state into activity. A necessary feature of the metaphor is that the state and the gadfly be separate and distinct from one another. The metaphor does not unfortunately pay attention to its other necessary element, that is, that the motive of the horse or the state that has been stung is to get rid of (or indeed kill) the offending biter. This was, as we know, the actual response of the Athenian democracy to Socrates, whom it condemned to death. Socrates' own collusion with that decision is lucidly discussed in I.F. Stone's book The Trial of Socrates. Is Zizek consciously trying to produce something dramatically as powerful in playing up to the media's expectations of his being outrageous?
Well, it's unlikely that in the modern era Zizek would be treated as his hypothesized predecessor in ancient Athens was. He is, after all, safely ensconsed in the University of London, and a pillar of the conversational forum represented by The London Review of Books. It is his very gadfly stance, however, that makes him vulnerable to the symmetrically collusive responses of other thinkers, such as those itemized in pages 140-143 of my book. Shocking people fairly often, as Zizek (ambivalently, I think) does, isn't a very productive strategy, since his opponents already have a number of dismissive characterizations of his activity readily available to them.
Zizek's posturings remind me of the poet Baudelaire's rather similar behavior in late 19th century Paris. I suspect the motives are similar, too. I think they go something like this: "I'll fulfill your fantasy image of me; indeed I'll caricature it in order to show my contempt for it, and for you." If I am right, this particular indulgence is a way of dissociating oneself from one's interlocutor, and thus giving up on any kind of more productive exchange. It thus perversely affirms Zizek's alienation from the very people who might benefit from a more honest engagement with the issues that he ostensibly cares so much about. It is, in short, a way of contributing to the very problem that it was designed to dramatize.
In that earlier (now deleted) post, I believe I contrasted this with Zygmunt Bauman's consistent efforts to prevent his being placed in the kind of conceptual box that assures that his ideas will be easily dismissed. He knows, in fact, that all of us are faced with similar dilemmas, and that contributing to symmetrical collusions with one another is not a satisfactory way of engaging with them.
There are further issue to be addressed in relation to this, though. More, later . . .
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