Slavoj Žižek. From the myth to agape. Journal of European Psychoanalysis. No. 8/9, p. 3-20, 1999. (English).
all of below written by Slavoj Zizek
Back in the late 1960s and 70s, in the heyday of the Lacanian Marxism, a lot of Lacan’s French followers were attracted by his anti-Americanism, discernible especially in Lacan’s dismissal of the ego-psychological turn of psychoanalysis as the ideological expression of the “American way of life.” Although these (mostly young Maoist) followers perceived Lacan’s anti-Americanism as the sign of Lacan’s “anticapitalism,” it is more appropriate to discern in it the traces of one of the standard conservative motifs: in today’s bourgeois, commercialized, “Americanized,” society, the authentic tragedy is no longer possible, which is why great conservative writers like Claudel tried to resuscitate the notion of tragedy in order to return dignity to human existence… It is precisely here, when Lacan endeavors to speak in favor of the last vestiges of old authenticity barely discernible in today’s superficial universe, that his words sound as (and are) a heap of ideological platitudes. However, although Lacan’s anti-Americanism stands for what is most “false” and ideological in his work, there is nonetheless a “rational kernel” in this ideological motif: the advent of modernism effectively undermines the traditional notion of tragedy and the concomitant notion of the mythical Fate which runs human destiny.
Hamlet Before Oedipus
When we speak about myths in psychoanalysis, we are effectively speaking about ONE myth, the Oedipus myth – all other Freudian myths (the myth of the primordial father, Freud’s version of the Moses myth) are variations of it, although necessary ones. However, with the Hamlet narrative, things get complicated. The standard, pre-Lacanian, “naive” psychoanalytic reading of Hamlet, of course, focuses on Hamlet’s incestuous desire for his mother. Hamlet’s shock at his father’s death is thus explained as the traumatic impact the fulfillment of an unconscious violent desire (in this case, for the father to die) has on the subject; the specter of the dead father which appears to Hamlet is the projection of Hamlet’s own guilt with regard to his death-wish; his hatred of Claudius is an effect of Narcissistic rivalry – Claudius, instead of Hamlet himself, got his mother; his disgust for Ophelia and womankind in general expresses his revulsion at sex in its suffocating incestuous modality, which arises with the lack of the paternal interdiction/sanction…
So, according to this standard reading, Hamlet as a modernized version of Oedipus bears witness to the strengthening of the Oedipal prohibition of incest in the passage from Antiquity to Modernity: in the case of Oedipus, we are still dealing with incest, while in Hamlet, the incestuous wish is repressed and displaced. And it seems that the very designation of Hamlet as an obsessional neurotic points in this direction: in contrast to hysteria which is found throughout all (at least Western) history, obsessional neurosis is a distinctly modern phenomenon. Continue reading
Below written by Slavoj Zizek | December 6, 2013
In the last two decades of his life, Nelson Mandela was celebrated as a model of how to liberate a country from the colonial yoke without succumbing to the temptation of dictatorial power and anti-capitalist posturing. In short, Mandela was not Mugabe, South Africa remained a multi-party democracy with free press and a vibrant economy well-integrated into the global market and immune to hasty Socialist experiments. Now, with his death, his stature as a saintly wise man seems confirmed for eternity: there are Hollywood movies about him — he was impersonated by Morgan Freeman, who also, by the way, played the role of God in another film; rock stars and religious leaders, sportsmen and politicians from Bill Clinton to Fidel Castro are all united in his beatification.
Is this, however, the whole story? Two key facts remain obliterated by this celebratory vision. In South Africa, the miserable life of the poor majority broadly remains the same as under apartheid, and the rise of political and civil rights is counterbalanced by the growing insecurity, violence, and crime. The main change is that the old white ruling class is joined by the new black elite. Secondly, people remember the old African National Congress which promised not only the end of apartheid, but also more social justice, even a kind of socialism. This much more radical ANC past is gradually obliterated from our memory. No wonder that anger is growing among poor, black South Africans.
South Africa in this respect is just one version of the recurrent story of the contemporary left. A leader or party is elected with universal enthusiasm, promising a “new world” — but, then, sooner or later, they stumble upon the key dilemma: does one dare to touch the capitalist mechanisms, or does one decide to “play the game”? If one disturbs these mechanisms, one is very swiftly “punished” by market perturbations, economic chaos, and the rest. This is why it is all too simple to criticize Mandela for abandoning the socialist perspective after the end of apartheid: did he really have a choice? Was the move towards socialism a real option?
It is easy to ridicule Ayn Rand, but there is a grain of truth in the famous “hymn to money” from her novel Atlas Shrugged: “Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns or dollars. Take your choice – there is no other.” Did Marx not say something similar in his well-known formula of how, in the universe of commodities, “relations between people assume the guise of relations among things”?
In the market economy, relations between people can appear as relations of mutually recognized freedom and equality: domination is no longer directly enacted and visible as such. What is problematic is Rand’s underlying premise: that the only choice is between direct and indirect relations of domination and exploitation, with any alternative dismissed as utopian. However, one should nonetheless bear in mind the moment of truth in Rand’s otherwise ridiculously-ideological claim: the great lesson of state socialism was effectively that a direct abolishment of private property and market-regulated exchange, lacking concrete forms of social regulation of the process of production, necessarily resuscitates direct relations of servitude and domination. If we merely abolish market (inclusive of market exploitation) without replacing it with a proper form of the Communist organization of production and exchange, domination returns with a vengeance, and with it direct exploitation.
The general rule is that, when a revolt begins against an oppressive half-democratic regime, as was the case in the Middle East in 2011, it is easy to mobilize large crowds with slogans which one cannot but characterize as crowd pleasers – for democracy, against corruption, for instance. But then we gradually approach more difficult choices: when our revolt succeeds in its direct goal, we come to realize that what really bothered us (our un-freedom, humiliation, social corruption, lack of prospect of a decent life) goes on in a new guise. The ruling ideology mobilizes here its entire arsenal to prevent us from reaching this radical conclusion. They start to tell us that democratic freedom brings its own responsibility, that it comes at a price, that we are not yet mature if we expect too much from democracy. In this way, they blame us for our failure: in a free society, so we are told, we are all capitalist investing in our lives, deciding to put more into our education than into having fun if we want to succeed.
At a more directly political level, the United States foreign policy elaborated a detailed strategy of how to exert damage control by way of re-channeling a popular uprising into acceptable parliamentary-capitalist constraints – as was done successfully in South Africa after the fall of apartheid regime, in Philippines after the fall of Marcos, in Indonesia after the fall of Suharto and elsewhere. At this precise conjuncture, radical emancipatory politics faces its greatest challenge: how to push things further after the first enthusiastic stage is over, how to make the next step without succumbing to the catastrophe of the “totalitarian” temptation – in short, how to move further from Mandela without becoming Mugabe.
If we want to remain faithful to Mandela’s legacy, we should thus forget about celebratory crocodile tears and focus on the unfulfilled promises his leadership gave rise to. We can safely surmise that, on account of his doubtless moral and political greatness, he was at the end of his life also a bitter, old man, well aware how his very political triumph and his elevation into a universal hero was the mask of a bitter defeat. His universal glory is also a sign that he really didn’t disturb the global order of power.
Above written by Slavoj Zizek a Slovenian philosopher, psychoanalyst and social theorist at the Birkbeck School of Law, University of London. He is the author of many books, including “Less Than Nothing, “The Year of Dreaming Dangerously” and “Demanding the Impossible.”
The Dalai Lama of Mountain Goats
“There are, however, some potentates I would kill by any and all means at my disposal. They are Ignorance, Superstition, and Bigotry — the most sinister and tyrannical rulers on earth.”
Emma Goldman, responding to audience questions during a speech in Detroit (1898); as recounted in Living My Life (1931), p. 207; quoted by Annie Laurie Gaylor in Women Without Superstition, p. 382
Perhaps one of my top five humans ever. She lived near Queen and Spadina, and her body was laid in state at the building which today is that big Dim Sum restaurant at St Andrews and Spadina, which was in 1940 a Labour Lyceum. Toronto has been cool (culturally/politically influential) for a pretty long time….
Although she only lived in Toronto on three occasions over a 14-year period, and never for more than a year and a half at a time, Emma Goldman had an outsized cultural impact on the city. The well-known anarchist and feminist whom J. Edgar Hoover dubbed “the most dangerous woman in America” filled local lecture halls for talks on topics ranging from birth control and women’s rights to literature, communism, and anarchism. After her death in Toronto in 1940, she become a feature of the Toronto literary landscape, appearing as a character in John Miller’s A Sharp Intake of Breath (2006) and Steven Hayward’s The Secret Mitzah of Lucio Burke (2005). But she spent much her time in Toronto trying to leave it, desperate to return to the United States.
Born in Kovno, Russia (now Kaunas, Lithuania) in 1869, Goldman immigrated to upstate New York with her family in 1885. There she became interested in political activism, particularly in the aftermath of the Haymarket Bombing in Chicago in 1886. She moved to New York City and became a well-known orator and spokeswoman of the anarchist movement. By the age of 24, in the words of Sheldon Kirshner in the Canadian Jewish News (May 28, 2004), Goldman was “widely regarded by friends and enemies alike as a compelling professional agitator and public speaker.” A collection of her essays was published as Anarchism And Other Essays (1910). Continue reading this article…
The Cost of Utopia
There is a joke about the Russians, sometimes told by Russians. A young man from the provinces, inspired by a local doctor, travels to St. Petersburg because he wants to study “life.” He reads, he writes and eventually he enters medical school. On the first day of class the professor enters the hushed auditorium and announces, “Gentlemen, today we will discuss the pancreas.” The young man leaps from his seat, enraged. “The pancreas? How dare you mention the pancreas! We are not here to study the pancreas, we are here to study … LIFE!”
Dostoyevsky would have laughed. Even his darkest novels contain comic vignettes about young Russians inflamed by grand ideas and oblivious to the obvious. The comedy ends when somebody picks up a hatchet and tries to put those ideas into practice. That has happened often enough in Russian history to raise the question: Is there something special about the Russian relation to ideas? Throughout the 19th century the so-called Westernizers blamed the Russian character, which after centuries of religious orthodoxy and political repression had become lazy, mystical and prone to fantastical dreams. What Russia needed, they thought, was a dose of Western philosophy and science to sweep out the cobwebs and rationalize society. They got nowhere, and many fled to Paris, where they bemoaned la Russie in flawless French.
The anti-Westernizers were a mixed lot. Some were believers in the old rites of the Russian church; others defended aristocratic privilege against the revolutionary mob. The most interesting minds, though, were the Slavophiles, who loathed the growing influence of Western philosophical ideas and romanticized the Slavic mind. Dostoyevsky was sympathetic to them and believed that modern Western thought was breeding a new kind of fanatic — cold, materialistic, indifferent to suffering. The traditional Russian virtues of compassion and spontaneity were disappearing in the face of utilitarianism, nihilism, anarchism and all the other isms spewed out by the West. Understanding the pancreas is all well and good, but when rationalists wearing square hats deny the demands of the soul they turn us into beasts.
Now, understanding the soul is also well and good. But what happens when soulfulness stands in the way of rational philosophy and science? Isn’t there a price to be paid? That is the question Lesley Chamberlain poses in “Motherland: A Philosophical History of Russia.” The question is not new, nor are most of her answers. There are very fine studies of 19th-century Russian thought available in English — by Isaiah Berlin, Joseph Frank, E. H. Carr, Martin Malia — and the interested reader will want to turn to those first. But by focusing specifically on how Western philosophical ideas from Descartes through Marx were absorbed into Russian thinking, Chamberlain does complicate the received picture somewhat. As she sees it, the decisive struggle was not simply between Westernizers and anti-Westernizers, but between Russians who stood by the philosophical legacy of France and England, and those who drew sustenance from the far murkier thinkers of modern Germany.
Western philosophy first gained a toehold in 18th-century Russia due to the extraordinary efforts of Catherine the Great, who read Locke and adopted some of his educational reforms, corresponded with Voltaire and encouraged Diderot and D’Alembert in their work on the French Encyclopedia. But after the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, Russian aristocrats and many intellectuals turned away from the clear, distinct and universal ideas of the Enlightenment, which were now associated with terror and imperialism. This was an enormous mistake, in Chamberlain’s view, because it meant abandoning the subtle equipoise between reason and skepticism that characterized the French and English Enlightenments at their best. Instead, Russia found itself coming of age philosophically just when German Idealism was at its peak and gaining adherents across continental Europe.
What did the Russians learn from the Germans? This is hard to make out from the badly confused accounts of Kant, Fichte, Hegel and Schelling given by Chamberlain, an English journalist and novelist. The main story, though, she gets about right. What the 19th-century Russian intellectuals found in, and partly projected onto, Germany was a romantic alternative to the supposedly cold, heartless logic of Descartes and his progeny. They were especially drawn to F. W. J. Schelling, whose philosophy of nature, a hash of intuition and metaphysical speculation, was closer to theosophy than to modern science. (Lots about “life,” nothing about the pancreas.) Schelling’s doctrines proved to be infinitely adaptable and unfalsifiable, and thus served as useful defenses against French and English rationalism. Like Napoleon’s troops, the modern ideas of Bacon, Descartes, Locke and Hume were turned back at the gates of Moscow and beat a slow retreat through the snow.
Hostility to the modern Enlightenment is itself a modern phenomenon, though it usually has archaic roots. Chamberlain says surprisingly little about the role of Russian religion, with its noble lineage of mystics and saints, in shaping Russian attitudes toward philosophy. She focuses on another crucial element, nationalism. In the 19th century, Pilate’s question “What is truth?” was transformed into a nationalist question, “What is Russian truth?” Pride and shame motivated the search for a distinctly Russian path through modernity, one where “integral knowledge” would replace Western logic and “organic personality” supplant Western individualism. Yes, Russia might be a backward land of serfs and despots, but by being true to itself it would one day become the leading civilization on earth. That, Chamberlain persuasively suggests, was the operative fantasy.
It is in this light that she considers the history of Marxism, down through the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. These are her most engaging pages. Marxism was in fact a late import into Russia and was never philosophically deep; Lenin, we learn in an endnote, did not read Hegel until 1914. And the bogus science of dialectical materialism, though dogmatically imposed in Soviet education right up until the end, did not decisively shape the vision or practice of Soviet communism, Chamberlain maintains. Rather, Marxism permitted a modern expression of old Russian ideas of solidarity, sacrifice, hope and collective redemption. The noble peasant would be transformed through revolution into the noble laborer; the Holy Fool would be reborn as Stakhanov, the mythic Soviet worker who exceeded every daily quota. It was not the stuffed suits of the Kremlin who were the rationalists, it was the dissidents — the Andrei Sakharovs and Elena Bonners — who became physicists and doctors in order to cut through Russian dreaminess and devote themselves to truth.
How is philosophy faring in Russia today? Chamberlain does not say, though based on her reading of history she is not optimistic. “Russian philosophy,” she writes, “can’t begin until it leaves behind the superstitious, prescientific world of the 19th-century peasant community and the Romanticism which replaced it in educated minds. It has to separate values from facts, personalities from truth if it wants to be considered as more than poetry.” But as her book shows, there are deep reasons that people remain attached to prescientific worldviews and romantic dreams, even while living in the midst of modernity.
At its best, Chamberlain’s account sheds light on the complex cultural reaction set off when modern Western ideas wash up on the shores of cultures simultaneously ashamed of their social and scientific backwardness and convinced of their moral superiority. In the 19th century Russia was the small theater in which this drama played out; today, the theater is the entire world. The value of this book is that it offers a small window into the mental universe of underground men everywhere.
The above quote may or may not be authentic. It really does not matter. Most feel-good kumbayaa (m’lawwwd) clap-trap does not really need to prove its provenance…as the masses nod along, hug and feel ‘inspired’ to another juicy apocryphal morsel.
…But, I used to wonder about Mountain Goats.
Do THEY know that life could be easier on flat ground? Were they meant to just wander on 75 degree sloped surfaces eternally; with 1 or 2 kids falling to their deaths every now and then?
I decided, on the latter; that was indeed just their experience, their reality, their ‘nature’…and then they die–perhaps never realizing life was easier grazing on a prairie–perhaps even only a few hundred metres away– as other ‘prairie’ goats.
So perhaps homo sapien sapiens are just supposed to live the way we always have lived–and evolved–for millennia? Our worry and stress and lack of vision involving complex internal chemistry…our very own ‘nature’…and billions of us (in every corner of the world) are the same way about these things…most of which, only in hindsight do we realize to have been for nought.
But maybe that just IS life.
When death or illness comes close, we ponder things, but otherwise we go back to our perceptual myopism–very much as mountain goats…but there be no mountain goat dalai lama.
Our ‘not having lived’ IS life.