Sunday, July 08, 2007
For the committed postmodernist, what's interesting in Slavoj Žižek's articles in the Washington Post isn't so much their content, but the politics of their style. This is the introduction to an article Žižek contributed to the Washington Post of the 24th March this year:
"Since the release of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's dramatic confessions, moral outrage at the extent of his crimes has been mixed with doubts. Can his claims be trusted? What if he confessed to more than he really did, either because of a vain desire to be remembered as the big terrorist mastermind, or because he was ready to confess anything in order to stop the water boarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques?"
...which is really antiphilosophical: presenting a tangle of discursive elements unattributed to any speaker. For whom is moral outrage mixed with doubts? Who is vacillating over whether claims apparently extorted from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed under torture can be trusted? Who wonders if Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's vanity precedes his humanity, or vice-versa?
The affectivity of this paragraph is the affectivity of structuraism. By structuralism I mean philosophy not as a practice, but as a transcendental structure.
Structuralism is first conjured in this opening paragraph, with the gaping discrepancy between Žižek's philosophical credentials and his antiphilosophical practice. His statement is a variation of Baudrillard's practice of presenting an inverted truth and alongside it a fantastic justification. The complete inversion of truth suggests the infinite extension of philosophy: a structuralism.
"It is as if not only the terrorists themselves, but also the fight against them, now has to proceed in a gray zone of legality. We thus have de facto "legal" and "illegal" criminals: those who are to be treated with legal procedures (using lawyers and the like), and those who are outside legality, subject to military tribunals or seemingly endless incarceration.
Mr. Mohammed has become what the Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben calls "homo sacer": a creature legally dead while biologically still alive. And he's not the only one living in an in-between world. The American authorities who deal with detainees have become a sort of counterpart to homo sacer: acting as a legal power, they operate in an empty space that is sustained by the law and yet not regulated by the rule of law."
...working the schema a different way. Perhaps Žižek intended only to advertise the work of his colleague, arch antimaterialist Giorgio Agamben. Here, a tangible problem concerning institutional inconsistancies is given a fantastic solution. To the reader perhaps inclined to query this line of reasoning, references are duly produced (Agamben: homo sacer). This referencing is important because Žižek here can only hint at the properly opaque style of his books.
(the apparent legal problem stated above is in fact soluble: in US law evidence extracted by the state under torture is inadmissible)
Again what's suggested is a version of structuralism; and this is what's important for the newspaper. Because it allows the reader to suppose there's (so to speak) another level of discourse above that of the newspaper, authorising and correcting what the newspaper has already said.
The affectivity of structuralism is built around the logic of (pre whig era) conservatism. Structuralism isn't selling conservatism but it does dramatically ask: what if conservatism is after all reasonable? It restates the idea of a mysterious quasi-divine social order, not as the basis of political commitment but as a horrifying possibility undermining political commitment. It's surely of a piece with the vague politics of the middle class; predicated on a worried sort of liberalism. But again it's not too far from conservatism proper, which was always an orthodoxy of absent arguments; the arguments of conservatives being nearly always bad (there's also a relation to masochism).
The tendancy of the newspaper reader to countenance every kind of insult, albeit to only a small degree, probably derives his everyday use of two incompatible forms of argument:
1. ordinary arguments from experience
2. "reverse induction" arguments such as are required to understand newspapers*
but it truly is only the middle classes whose permanent tutelary role allows them to dream so profoundly the bureaucratisation of all social practice.
* i.e. what I later call arguments based on "naturalistic-inductive" logic