Conservative Žižek?

Slavoj Zizek - missing the revolutionary wave?

In a combative article for AlJazeera Hamid Dabashi, author of Brown Skin, White Masks, challenges the influential Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek over his response to the UK riots, the ‘Arab Spring’ and other recent protests. Contrasting Žižek’s recent article on the global unrest unfavourably with comments by Saidj Mustapha, a prominent Algerian political scientist, Dabashi writes:

The abyss had opened and the postmodern professor has become positively punctilious; yes, indeed, dare we say it: conservative. All it takes is a riot in London (retail therapy on steroids), a terrorist attack in New York, and a misinformed native informer of the Arab Spring in the philosopher’s company to turn the world dark and worldless, filled with Absolute fanaticism, and expose the postmodern existential angst unable to read the signs of time.

Whence the difference between these two perspectives: the Arab intellectual morally invested and politically engaged, while his European counterpart morally aloof and politically pessimistic? One has everything to gain, a world to live; the other nothing to lose, having lost his world to worldlessness. The Algerian political scientist thrives on a visionary reading of a world that Zizek dismisses as already worldless. Why is Saidj Mustapha not afraid of a conspiracy between the Islamists and the generals? Why is Joseph Massad far more afraid of American neoliberals and neoconservatives than of Islamists? A world is unfolding right in front of Zizek’s eyes and he sees the world worldless, the Egyptian revolution suffocated, the Arab Spring lost. How and why is it that the Algerian intellectual celebrates precisely what the European philosopher mourns: the absence of party politics, the rise of a politics beyond clichés?

Zizek mourns worldlessness, and designates absolute Meaning as the cause of terrorism. He does not see the world that is unfolding right before him as a hopeful, purposeful, worldly, life-affirming world. This is because, just like Gaddafi, Zizek is stuck in his old ways. He cannot believe his eyes, he cannot believe what is happening to him: that his world has ended, not the world; that he (embodying a European philosophy at the losing end of its dead certainties) lives a worldless world, not the world.

Dabashi argues that Žižek dismisses the new global unrest because he holds to a purist conception of revolutionary action:

It is in fact the European philosopher himself that is the gravedigger of history, having nothing to see, nothing to say, nothing to celebrate, because this history is not his history, is not History, for History has always been His, and not anyone else’s. It is quite a moment in History when the Hegelian cannot tell between signs of a disease (shoplifting and terrorism) as the thesis and the sights of a cure (the Arab Spring) as antithesis – giving it up to generals and Islamists. London riots and terrorism of one brand or another are the symptoms of a disease, of capitalism and its imperialist fighter jets running amok from the top to the bottom.

Visit AlJazeera to read the article in full.

Visit the London Review of Books to read Žižek’s article.

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