lecture for the Slovenian Slavoj Žižek. I heard of Žižek only last year because of his articles on the Occupy movement. One of my friends mentioned him to me before and recently in one of my classes we read parts of his famous work "The Sublime Object of Ideology." Žižek, like many intellectuals, give his lectures based on the work he's concerned with at the moment. He has been speaking about capitalism with Asian values, the death of capitalism, and the protesting movements world wide.
Žižek started his lecture saying there is a search for a new capitalism; an attempt to rescue the world's system. He refers here to the rising capitalism in China and Singapore; capitalist systems without democracies. This presents Asian capitalism that will soon die. "Revolutions never happen after things get really bad. It happens when the situation is bad and the regime starts to compromise" he explains. Žižek speculates that the fall of Chinese capitalism will take the form of explosive rioting; something that the police force cannot tolerate. Žižek asked the question "why am I drawing this scenario for the Chinese model? well, because it followed the American one!"
Revolution and Future Signs
When speaking of the 2011 revolts and protests, Žižek drew two models: 1) the Occupy movement, which he is critical of some of its voices, but expressed his support of it as it has diversity in critique and aims to take down capitalism. 2) the European protests which he called a sort of "Lacanian Hysteria" calling for a new master. In this categorizations, Žižek placed the Arab Spring, through the example of Tahrir Square, as a universal movement powerful and parallel to the Occupy movement.
Žižek explained: "After this revolutionary festival has gone by, now we need to create memory." He explained that the existence the Occupy movement reminds us of the weakness of the system and bring the non-stop resistance into space visibly. He said "Occupy is more serious than just a reformative solution."Relatively, Žižek referred to Walter Benjamin and the notion of "signs from the future." He talked of a liberal prejudice towards Arab crowds as being stupid and mobilized crowds and this is why the Arab Spring surprised the west. Žižek added "I do not advocate for taking Tahrir Square, for example, as a sign of a utopian future, but of a coming form getting created."
Let the System Die!
Žižek stated that 'we' need to reject the accusation that we are involved in some sort of an unapproachable utopia. "I am not making a Marxist claim; am not saying I know where societies are going but am saying we should take revolutions as paradoxical signs of the future." Powerfully, he added: "Utopia is if you think that things will keep going the way they are now" and that the belief in a cycle of rioting then restored order, is dangerous.
The peak of his critique came when he stated: "we cannot play this endless worrying game about saving the system. You should allow the system to destruct itself" and he gave the example of European Bankruptcy. "Don't be afraid of crisis. Let the system die, let it kill itself" he added.
Žižek gave the example of Bill Clinton's question to the Occupy protesters to make suggested reforms as an attempt from the system to save itself. He said it is a clear example of the "if you can't beat your enemy, praise him" logic.
Žižek also talked about fundamentalism in relation to global capitalism. He said literally "fuck this stupid pop-sociological claim that new fundamentalism is an answer from the ordinary people to post-modern freedoms." Giving a personal example he observed, Žižek concluded that fundamentalists belong to this or that extreme ideology to practice the freedoms they want- paradoxical freedoms.
Post-Colonial Theory is Bullshit!
After his lecture, Žižek took some questions from the audience. I asked him: "you find all revolutions and struggles as a sort of resistance against global capitalism, what about those who call for different readings within the post-colonial frame?" I explained further "Some revolting countries do not identify themselves with the goal of resisting Capitalism and do not believe they are under capitalist regimes because they define capitalism through the American example."
"I'm glad you asked this question" Žižek said "I heard many argue with such logic. However, I believe that all resistance is against global capitalism and there's no such thing as the post-colonial case." Žižek gave the examples of Congo and Zimbabwe and said that regimes that claim to be anti-capitalist do not exist out of the global capitalist context. He referred to post-colonial studies and Homi Bhabha as 'bullshit' because he believes such frames consume us away from the real struggle; fighting the same oppressor. Žižek gave the example of post-colonial theorist Frantz Fanon and expressed his admiration for him as Fanon is an intellectual and a warrior against colonialism.
Žižek's surely did not please me. This rejection for post-colonial studies and theory was made too easy. Considering his theoretical background, I do understand how Žižek see the world in a class struggle, I also see how post-colonial frames might get dangerous, but calling off the importance of this field is to call off the decades of attempts that worked on deconstructing the colonizer-colonized relationship. It also neglects the fact that the first and third worlds are not on the same level of discussion. This notion of 'universality' irritates me and though it can be constructive and empowering, I still find it very problematic.
Žižek discussed the universal resistance he believes in. He said the whites in South Africa, when discussing whether to give Blacks the same rights they have or not, they practiced a worse form of racism saying "we are afraid if we give them the same rights we have, we will make them bad like us. They would lose their innocence." Žižek called this a form of patronizing. Then he gave an interesting example of a rejection to this patronizing when the U.S became apologetic towards the indigenous groups, the latter replied "oh no, you are not as criminal as we are, we burned the woods and killed the animals and did this and that. We are more horrible than you" meaning, he claims, the indigenous did not allow the 'Americans' to patronize them.
Žižek stated that he is against the United Nations' universalism where you see the UNESCO telling you about how beautiful this African culture or that Japanese culture is. The UN universalism is also 'patronizing' to him and instead he said "I like the Tahrir Square universalism where we needed no translation to understand what the people wanted." He concluded: "Shoot them both; the false non-racists and the local capitalists."
After-TalkI got to talk shortly with Žižek. He asked me "where are you from?" I said "Kuwait," and he started telling me about his visit to Dubai and how he got a Pakistani taxi driver to take him to the poor neighborhoods where migrant workers lived in bad conditions. He also told me that the first Arabic translation of one of his essays appeared in one of Kuwait University publications.