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<nettime> Up Close and Impersonal
Ed Phillips on Wed, 12 Jul 2006 04:48:37 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Up Close and Impersonal

Here is a belated review of the Zizek movie, which I attended some
time ago. It must have hung up in Sendmail.

I'm including an update on the subject of Ziz.
and something of a start of a response to the discussion of the
society of control.

Up Close and Impersonal

A portrait of the manic intellectual at the end of time:

Your nettime correspondent, sent by the central committee with a very
modest stipend to report on the premiere of Zizek! the movie,
encountered a flash mob at the same day first show ticket sale line,
and did contemplate scalping a ticket or two, partly for the novelty
of it and partly to defray the cost of getting some other members of
the collective into the screening. And quite the flash mob it was; the
Roxie staff the day before did not even know who the hell that guy
with the Z name was, and there was no advertising; the show sold out.

You don't really know who the hell Z is at the end of the movie either
and that is I think something of the point. In fact, I would wager
that one of the biggest sources of his appeal as a speaker as much as
a writer is his very impersonality, his dis-concern with the trappings
of what is supposed to pass for a thinker addressing a public.

It's not the jokes per se or even the pop culture references, but what
he does with them, how he uses them to try to understand or to short
circuit his own and other's understandings of the contemporary
condition. His willingness to turn insights into one-liners and to see
if they stick is interesting in and of itself. And at the talks I've
attended in San Francisco, his engagement with and concern for the
questions and not the personalities is refreshing. It is a relief to
not be burdened with another personality and with more personal
experience. It is more about common experience than pop culture per
se, it is as he said after the movie, simply about using common
experience to question.

Up close and impersonal, the movie is as Doug Henwood wrote, mostly
just Z talking, about philosophy and about himself from the
perspective of philosophy or of analysis or what have you.

Why would a crowd of people pack uncomfortably into a theater to stare
at a monstrous mug on the screen telling us that he is a monster?

He riffs on his ideas and remixes familiar, signature Ziz tropes, that gain a
certain charm with repetition.

Zizek is a jolt of meth-spiked coffee in the tedium of the talking head genre.
I was not bored; I laughed, I squirmed, I felt as if Zizek were
jumping up and down on my chest in a cramped seat, boxed in. And I
walked out of a couple of hours of rapid fire Zizek-chiasmus

Classical writers had a name for this, a mania, and it is this in its
classical sense more than a psychoanalytic sense, that sums up Slavoj
Zizek. It is an erotics more than a polemic, and that is where the
emphasis on the pop culture references and the jokes miss the heart of
an encounter with Zizek. Eros is passionate and impersonal, ruthless
and earnest. The jokes would be so much less without that earnest

The very disavowal of attention, of the conventional trappings of
"thinker" draws attention. It is not unlike Foucault who attempted to
disappear in his writings and all the more drew attention. It is a
clever move. It also requires a willingness to prove one's ideas; to
attempt to make them understandable to one self and to others. 

It is disingenuous of Zizek to say that this aims are modest, to
attempt to read so many things and to attempt to make them
understandable is not modest, and ultimately he fails. So, he repeats
himself. He shows the failure. Stages the impossibility of thought. of
the deadlock. It is the payback that is modest; the attempt is
ambitious. If there are short-circuits enough for you; the benefit is
modest. And doesn't one risk sounding like Heidegger, repeating the
most banal tautologies as if they were poetry.

But Zizek is honestly trying to say something. It is a relief to see
someone actually try to say something. After the late Derrida and the
endless time he takes before he even says anything and one is left
wondering did he say something?

He says it himself, utopia is what you are driven to. It's not his
tics, the constant pulling on his nose, the wild gesticulations, but
dare I say it, the ideas that are interesting, the ideas and the
impersonal searching eros.

Lacan makes an appearance looking and acting bizarre in some made for
French consumption intro to his ideas. Zizek calls him on the
absurdity of his didactic pose.

There is a particularly funny excerpt from an american psychoanalytic
brochure film of the 50's or some-such in which the "doctor" introduces
a film about a neurotic subject, and then Zizek's over-sized mug takes
over the frame, talking again in a constant stream. 


His latest books contain confrontations with cognitive science, with
the philosophical and political problems confronting the
pharmaceutical and genetic science industries and the political
subject of the late empire of "affiliated nations." end of time. end
of history. but no end to slogans. Zizek is the fool who points at the
moon here. Ignore the fool. Try to study the moon.

Afterword for Nettime:

It is Kojeve again and again who rears his ironic head behind so much
of this theorizing about the end of time, the end of the
human. Agamben has at this subject matter in his precious literary,
mannerist essay, The Open. The empire(s) are loose agglomerations of
affiliated nations and their various interlocking parts of
transnational system of global capital. This beast, which Jameson has
never ceased going on about, is the cyborg at the end of time. 

What drives the beast? Or put differently and I think wrongly, who controls the

Respectfully, to those folks on nettime and elsewhere, if you want to
look for a culprit in the society of control, it might just lie with
a study of what your classical types tried to call "human nature" and
what the seditiously atheistic Hobbes called the lowest common
denominator of every fools desire for self-preservation. Hobbes
thought he was a scientist. He captured something of our condition;
Strauss calls Hobbes' a "natural right of folly."

How did what we at least like to call "civil society" but which Hobbes
baldly called consent to the Sovereign emerge out of a state of
nature? How did it evolve? More pointedly, what keeps everyone in
their place as a part of the game? Even if the state of nature thought
exercise is rigged, does it offer something in the way of getting a
handle on political econ?

A naive Darwinian-Marxist might see analogy with evolutionary cell
biology. The individual actor is like a lone flagellate in the
primordial political soup swimming against a glucose gradient in
search of preservative monies and reputation goodies. At some point
some of these actors start drawing glucose from a collective larger
corporate entity. Driving their heads into their desks every Monday
morning, they can still let their free tails fly. The tail is just as
free even as all their efforts serve the purposes of something larger.

And then, their seemingly individual and free choices get into
entrainment with one another and appear from the outside as harmonious
and perfectly choreographed. 

They get more glucose out of the bargain, but they are split from head
to tail. Their tails as the ever wider wackier edge of private
experimentation only show how controlled they are as they drive their
heads ever deeper into the beast. Groaning like Blake's eternals, they
are condemned to merely witness the performance of their spectral
emanations, a display of freedom.

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