Hegel’s 250th Anniversary: ‘Too late?’ | International Philosophical Conference in Ljubljana, September 7th – 9th, 2020


At the beginning of September 2020, the Ljubljana Hegelians associated with the Aufhebung society made a very risky move and in midst of total lockdown of public space in Slovenia still somehow managed to pull off an international scholarly conference for the 250th anniversary of Hegel’s birth.

This is a collection of video recordings from the event itself, organised according to the schedule of the event as it happened.

Participating philosophers: Mladen Dolar, Luca Illetterati, Ana Jovanović, Zdravko Kobe, Bara Kolenc, Christian Krijnen, Giovanna Miolli, Gregor Moder, Sebastian Rödl, Frank Ruda, Jure Simoniti, Klaus Vieweg, Sven-Olov Wallenstein, Violetta Waibel, Alenka Zupančič and Slavoj Žižek.


September 7th: The “Slovene” day


The Razpotja Magazine panel discussion: Hegel for People

4:00 – 5:30 pm, ZRC SAZU Atrium
Moderated by: Martin Hergouth

The 40th issue of the Razpotja Magazine took it upon itself to offer its reader a widely accessible yet still themed set of articles about Hegel. Jernej Kaluža, Mirt Komel and Jan Princl explain how they set about tackling this task.


Panel discussion about translating Hegel: How to Translate Concretely?

6:00 – 7:30 pm, ZRC SAZU Atrium
Moderated by: Goran Vranešević

A lot has been said and written about the usefulness of philosophy for life and a lot assumed about translating it. Since the problem of translating Hegel is completely intertwined with the perspective of his philosophy, Marko Bratina, Božidar Debenjak and Zdravko Kobe discuss the challenges of translating Hegel in practice.



September 8th: The First Day


10:00 am – 11:45 am, ZRC SAZU Atrium, Panel I
Moderated by: Gregor Moder


Sebastian Rödl: Thinking Nothing

Ana Jovanović & Bara Kolenc: Being and Too-lateness

Panel I Discussion

12:00 am – 1:45 pm, ZRC SAZU Atrium, Panel II
Moderated by: Jure Simoniti


Mladen Dolar: On Being too Early or too Late in Hegel’s Philosophy

Giovanna Miolli: The Challenge of Hegel’s Metaphilosophy

Panel II Discussion

2:00 – 3:45 pm, ZRC SAZU Atrium, Panel III
Moderated by: Peter Klepec


Frank Ruda: Turn-Over. Hegel and the Actuality of the Revolution

Gregor Moder: What is to be done? Philosophical Thinking and Political Action through the Metaphor of Theatre

Panel III Discussion

6:30 pm: French Revolution Square (“Trg francoske revolucije”)
Moderated by: Bara Kolenc


Sven-Olov Wallenstein: Adorno’s Beethoven: Undoing Hegel from Within
Slavoj Žižek: The Spirit of Distrust
Slavoj Žižek & Sven-Olov Wallenstein: Discussion


September 9th: The Second Day


11:00 am – 12:45 pm, City Museum of Ljubljana, Panel IV
Moderated by: Zdravko Kobe


Christian Krijnen: “What if anything has not been called philosophy or philosophizing?” On the Relevance of Hegel’s Conception of a Philosophical History of Philosophy

Klaus Vieweg: Die Philosophie „als Hahnenschlag eines neu anbrechenden Morgens, der eine verjüngte Gestalt der Welt ankündigt“

(German)


Panel IV Discussion

1:00 – 2:45 pm, City Museum of Ljubljana, Panel V
Moderated by: Martin Hergouth


Jure Simoniti: Hegel and the Opaque Core of History

Luca Illetterati: Nature’s Externality. Hegel’s Antinaturalistic Naturalism.
Panel V Discussion

3:00 – 4:45 pm, City Museum of Ljubljana, Panel VI
Moderated by: Goran Vranešević



Zdravko Kobe: The Time of Philosophy

Violetta Waibel: „Consciousness provides its own criterion from within itself.” Hegel and the Spirit of Process of Thinking

5:15 – ca. 6:15 pm
online contribution

Nadia Bou Ali & Ray Brassier: Hegel from Beirut: After Too Late

6.30 pm: French Revolution Square (“Trg francoske revolucije”)


Hegelian Debate: Is it too late for Hegel?

A short statement about Hegel’s (im)possible too-lateness as an introduction, followed by a discussion.


Participants: Zdravko Kobe, Sebastian Rödl, Frank Ruda, Violetta Waibel, Sven-Olov Wallenstein, Alenka Zupančič

Moderated by: Gregor Moder


‘The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India’ by Christophe Jaffrelot

Published by Columbia University Press in 1996. Also available as: The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics: 1925 to the 1990s : Strategies of Identity-building, Implantation and Mobilisation (with Special Reference to Central India) (C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 1996)

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A detailed account of the Hindu nationalist movement in India since the 1920s arguing that political uneasiness, created by real and imagined threats of colonialism and the presence of minority groups, paved the way for militant Hinduism on the Indian subcontinent.


Although the peaceful, inward-looking doctrine of the Hindu religion hardly seems to lend itself to ethnic nationalism, a phenomenal surge of militant Hinduism has taken place over the last ten years in India, precipitating a wave of Hindu-Muslim riots in India in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Indeed, the electoral success of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has proven beyond a doubt that these fundamentalists now pose a significant threat to India’s secular government. In a historically rich, detailed account of the Hindu nationalist movement in India since the 1920s, Christophe Jaffrelot explores how rapid changes in the political, social, and economic climate have made India fertile soil for the growth of the primary arm of Hindu nationalism, a paramilitary-style group known as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), together with its political offshoots. Jaffrelot argues that political uneasiness, created by real and imagined threats of colonialism and the presence of minority groups, paved the way for militant Hinduism on the Indian subcontinent. He shows how the Hindu movement uses religion to enter the political sphere, and argues that the ideology they speak for has less to do with Hindu philosophy than with ethnic nationalism, borrowing from modern European models. Using techniques similar to those of nationalist groups in other nations, Jaffrelot contends, the Hindu movement polarizes Indian society by stigmatizing minorities – chiefly Muslims and Christians – and by promoting a sectarian Hindu identity. Jaffrelot’s close empirical research informs his case studies of party-building at the local level and strengthens his incisive interpretations of the pastfailures and Hindu nationalism, as well as recent successes beginning in the 1980s. This analysis takes into account the subtle interaction between long-term strategies for changing a country’s culture and short-term tactics of political accommodation.


Christophe Jaffrelot is director of the Centre d’Etudes et Recherches Internationales (CERI), part of the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques in Paris. He is the author of India’s Silent Revolution.

‘Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1’ by Karl Marx

This translation published by Penguin in 2004. Download link updated on 28. June 2021.

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One of the most notorious and influential works of modern times, Capital is an incisive critique of private property and the social relations it generates. Living in exile in England, where this work was largely written, Marx drew on a wide-ranging knowledge of its society to support his analysis. Arguing that capitalism would cause an ever-increasing division in wealth and welfare, he predicted its abolition and replacement by a system with common ownership of the means of production.


Karl Marx was born in 1818 in Trier, Germany and studied in Bonn and Berlin. Influenced by Hegel, he later reacted against idealist philosophy and began to develop his own theory of historical materialism. He related the state of society to its economic foundations and mode of production, and recommended armed revolution on the part of the proletariat. Together with Engels, who he met in Paris, he wrote the Manifesto of the Communist Party. He lived in England as a refugee until his death in 1888, after participating in an unsuccessful revolution in Germany. Ernst Mandel was a member of the Belgian TUV from 1954 to 1963 and was chosen for the annual Alfred Marshall Lectures by Cambridge University in 1978. He died in 1995 and the Guardian described him as ‘one of the most creative and independent-minded revolutionary Marxist thinkers of the post-war world.’

This edition translated by Ben Fowkes with an Introduction by Ernest Mandel.


‘The Slovene Re-Actualization of Hegel’s Philosophy’ | Edited by Jure Simoniti

Journal: Filozofija i društvo | Issue Year: 26/2015 | Issue No: 4

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An issue of the open-source Serbian journal, Philosophy & Society from 2015.

From the introduction:

“. . .the theoretical aspiration of the Ljubljana School of Psychoanalysis is to make use of Hegel’s philosophy in order to rigorously re-examine not only the Hegelian concepts of teleology, absolute knowledge, providence, cunning of reason, or absolute religion, but also of all the concepts of Nietzsche’s, Heidegger’s, or of the proponents of linguistic turn and postmodernism, the concepts of eternal recurrence, Geschick, the open processes of language games and deconstructions, to name just a few. It could be said that the only way to restart history, which had ended according to Hegel, was to end the post-Hegelian end of grand narratives.”


Contents:

In Defense of Hegel’s Madness
Slavoj Žižek (University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts, Department of Philosophy, Ljubljana, Slovenia)
Catherine Malabou’s Hegel: One or Several Plasticities?
Gregor Moder (University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts, Department of Philosophy, Ljubljana, Slovenia)
True Sacrifice. On Hegel’s Presentation of Self-Consciousness
Zdravko Kobe (University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts, Department of Philosophy, Ljubljana, Slovenia)
Hegel’s Logic as the Exposition of God from the End of the World
Jure Simoniti (University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts, Department of Philosophy, Ljubljana, Slovenia)
The Owl of Minerva from Dusk till Dawn, or, Two Shades of Gray
Mladen Dolar (University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts, Department of Philosophy, Ljubljana, Slovenia)

STUDIES AND ARTICLES

How is a Philosophy of Photography Possible?
Valery Savchuk (Professor, Philosophy Department the University of St-Petersburg, Russia)
Why Does a Woman’s Deliberative Faculty Have No Authority?
Aristotle on the Political Role of Women
Irina Deretić (Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade)
Mimesis, Gesetz, Kampf. Ein Beitrag zur Sozialontologie
Rastko Jovanov (Research Associate, Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory, University of Belgrade)
(Re)acting Together: Grexit as Revival of Intellectuals
Gazela Pudar Draško (Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory, University of Belgrade)
Science et philosophie chez Gilles Deleuze
Igor Krtolica (Institute For Philosophy and Social Theory, University of Belgrade)
INTERVIEWS
Anselm Jappe: La fin du capitalisme ne sera pas une fin pacifique
Mark Losoncz (Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory, University of Belgrade)”

Crisis and Critique: Hegel(‘s) Today

Journal Volume 4, Issue 1, 2017

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“According to Marx’s famous saying, “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Displacing this well-known quip, if only a bit, one might ask: Does this also hold for world-historic personages and facts of philosophy? Could one read Hegel’s philosophy itself as first, the tragic event? . . .”


Crisis and Critique, is a journal of political thought and philosophy, appearing two times a year. It has international authors and editorial board. Our commitment is equally between three disciplines: philosophy, psychoanalysis and politics.


Contents:

Introduction: Hegel(‘s) Today by Agon Hamza and Frank Ruda
Hegel Political Theologian? by Stefania Achella
Hegel’s Master and Slave by Alain Badiou
The Future of Hegelian Metaphysics by John W. Burbidge
Hegel’s Big Event by Andrew Cole
Being and MacGuffin by Mladen Dolar
Hegel Amerindian: For a Non-Identitarian Concept of Identification in Psychoanalysis by Christian Ingo Lenz Dunker
On Threat by Andrew Haas
Hegel and Picture-Thinking, or, an Episode in the History of Allegory by Fredric Jameson
Holding Lenin Together: Hegelianism and Dialectical Materialism—A Historical Excursus by Adrian Johnston
Normative Rationality: Hegelian Drive by Jean-François Kervégan
Substance Subjectivized by Zdravko Kobe
Hegel and the Present by Pierre Macherey
Learning to Love the End of History: Freedom Through Logic by Todd McGowan
The Germ of Death: Purposive Causality in Hegel by Gregor Moder
Ethical Form in the External State: Bourgeois, Citizens and Capital by Terry Pinkard
Hegel on Social Pathology: The Actuality of Unreason by Robert B. Pippin
The Absolute Plasticity of Hegel’s Absolutes by Borna Radnik
Hegel and the Possibility of a New Idealism by Jure Simoniti
Freedom and Universality: Hegel’s Republican Conception of Modernity by Michael J. Thompson
Freedom is Slavery by Oxana Timofeeva
The politics of Alienation and Separation: From Hegel to Marx… and Back by Slavoj Žižek
Hegel and Freud: Between Aufhebung and Verneinung by Alenka Zupančič
Interview with Fredric Jameson: Hegel, Ideology, Contradiction by Agon Hamza & Frank Ruda

Inventions of the Imagination: Romanticism and Beyond

Published by University of Washington Press in 2011.

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The dialectic between reason and imagination forms a key element in Romantic and post- Romantic philosophy, science, literature, and art. Inventions of the Imagination explores the diverse theories and assessments of this dialectic in essays by philosophers and literary and cultural critics. By the end of the eighteenth century, reason as the predominant human faculty had run its course, and imagination emerged as another force whose contributions to human intellectual existence and productivity had to be newly calculated and constantly recalibrated. The attempt to establish a universal form of reason alongside a plurality of imaginative capacities describes the ideological program of modernism from the end of the eighteenth century to the present day. This collection chronicles some of the vicissitudes in the conceptualization and evaluation of the imagination across time and in various disciplines.


Richard T. Gray is the Byron W. and Alice L. Lockwood professor of Germanics at the University of Washington. Nicholas Halmi is University Lecturer in English Literature of the Romantic Period at the University College, Oxford. Gary J. Handwerk is professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Washington. Michael A. Rosenthal is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Washington. Klaus Vieweg is professor of philosophy at Friedrich Shiller University.


Contents

Introduction by Richard T. Gray
1. Imagination on the Move
2. The Poetics of Nature: Literature and Constructive Imagination in the History of Geology
3. Between Imagination and Reason: Kant and Spinoza on Fictions
4. Herder on Interpretation and Imagination
5. William Blake: Imagination, Vision, Inspiration, Intellect
6. Imaginative Power as Prerequisite for an Aesthetics of Freedom in Friedrich Schiller’s Works
7. The Gentle Force over Pictures: Hegel’s Philosophical Conception of the Imagination
8. The Status of Literature in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: On the Lives of Concepts
9. Difficult Freedom: Hegel’s Symbolic Art and Schelling’s Historiography in “The Ages of the World” (1815)
10. From Art to History: Schelling’s Modern Mythology and the Coming Community
11. “To impose is not to discover”: A Romantic-Modernist Continuity in Contradiction
Biographies of Editors and Contributors
Index

Hegel – 200 Jahre Wissenschaft der Logik

Veröffentlicht von Felix Meiner im 2019.

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Vierundzwanzig international renommierte Hegel-Forscher bewerten im zweihundertsten Jahr nach Erscheinen des ersten Bandes von Hegels Wissenschaft der Logik die Bedeutung des Werks im Kontext seiner Philosophie und unter dem Aspekt seines fortwirkenden Einflusses bis in die Debatten der Gegenwart.

‘Hegel: Der Philosoph der Freiheit’ von Klaus Vieweg

Veröffentlicht von C.H. Beck im 2019. Download link updated on 25th July 2021.

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Jedes Jahr am 14. Juli soll Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel ein Glas Champagner auf den Beginn der Französischen Revolution getrunken haben. Diese Revolution war das sein Leben und Denken prägende Ereignis. Das Grundmotiv der Freiheit durchzieht den gesamten Denk- und Lebensweg des bedeutendsten Philosophen des 19. Jahrhunderts. Zu Hegels 250. Geburtstag erscheint die erste umfassende deutschsprachige Biographie dieses Meisterdenkers seit 175 Jahren.

Nach Kindheit und Jugend in Stuttgart und Studium im benachbarten Tübingen ging der junge Philosoph zunächst als Hofmeister nach Bern und nach Frankfurt am Main. Die akademische Laufbahn begann mit einer Privatdozentur in Jena, wo Hegel eng mit dem einstigen Tübinger Kommilitonen Schelling zusammenarbeitete. Erst nach zwei Stationen in Franken ereilte ihn der Ruf nach Heidelberg. 1818 schließlich wurde Hegel Nachfolger auf dem Lehrstuhl von Johann Gottlieb Fichte im königlich-preußischen “Mittelpunkt” Berlin, wo er zum herausragenden Philosophen des Zeitalters aufstieg.

Der in Jena lehrende Philosoph Klaus Vieweg zeichnet in dieser Leben und Werk Hegels gleichermaßen würdigenden großen Biographie ein neues Bild des bedeutendsten Vertreters des deutschen Idealismus.

‘Heidegger and the Jews: The Black Notebooks‘ by Donatella Di Cesare

Published by Polity in 2018.

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Philosophers have long struggled to reconcile Martin Heidegger’s involvement in Nazism with his status as one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century. The recent publication of his Black Notebooks has reignited fierce debate on the subject. These thousand-odd pages of jotted observations profoundly challenge our image of the quiet philosopher’s exile in the Black Forest, revealing the shocking extent of his anti-Semitism for the first time.

For much of the philosophical community, the Black Notebooks have been either used to discredit Heidegger or seen as a bibliographical detail irrelevant to his thought. Yet, in this new book, renowned philosopher Donatella Di Cesare argues that Heidegger’s “metaphysical anti-Semitism” was a central part of his philosophical project. Within the context of the Nuremberg race laws, Heidegger felt compelled to define Jewishness and its relationship to his concept of Being. Di Cesare shows that Heidegger saw the Jews as the agents of a modernity that had disfigured the spirit of the West. In a deeply disturbing extrapolation, he presented the Holocaust as both a means for the purification of Being and the Jews’ own “self-destruction”: a process of death on an industrialized scale that was the logical conclusion of the acceleration in technology they themselves had brought about.

Situating Heidegger’s anti-Semitism firmly within the context of his thought, this groundbreaking work will be essential reading for students and scholars of philosophy and history as well as the many readers interested in Heidegger’s life, work, and legacy.

‘Hegel’s Theory of Intelligibility’ by Rocío Zambrana


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Hegel’s Theory of Intelligibility picks up on recent revisionist readings of Hegel to offer a productive new interpretation of his notoriously difficult work, the Science of Logic. Rocío Zambrana transforms the revisionist tradition by distilling the theory of normativity that Hegel elaborates in the Science of Logic within the context of his signature treatment of negativity, unveiling how both features of his system of thought operate on his theory of intelligibility.

Zambrana clarifies crucial features of Hegel’s theory of normativity previously thought to be absent from the argument of the Science of Logic—what she calls normative precariousness and normative ambivalence. She shows that Hegel’s theory of determinacy views intelligibility as both precarious, the result of practices and institutions that gain and lose authority throughout history, and ambivalent, accommodating opposite meanings and valences even when enjoying normative authority. In this way, Zambrana shows that the Science of Logic provides the philosophical justification for the necessary historicity of intelligibility. Intervening in several recent developments in the study of Kant, Hegel, and German Idealism more broadly, this book provides a productive new understanding of the value of Hegel’s systematic ambitions.

‘Beethoven: The Philosophy of Music’ by Theodor W. Adorno

Published by Polity in 2008. Download link updated on 23. June 2021.

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Beethoven is a classic study of the composer’s music, written by one of the most important thinkers of our time. Throughout his life, Adorno wrote extensive notes, essay fragments and aides-memoires on the subject of Beethoven’s music. This book brings together all of Beethoven’s music in relation to the society in which he lived.

Adorno identifies three periods in Beethoven’s work, arguing that the thematic unity of the first and second periods begins to break down in the third. Adorno follows this progressive disintegration of organic unity in the classical music of Beethoven and his contemporaries, linking it with the rationality and monopolistic nature of modern society.

Beethoven will be welcomed by students and researchers in a wide range of disciplines – philosophy, sociology, music and history – and by anyone interested in the life of the composer.


Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969), a prominent member of the Frankfurt School, was one of the most influential thinkers of this century in the areas of social theory, philosophy and aesthetics.

What is Philosophy?


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Philosophy is primarily a form of thinking, reading and writing texts, and specifically a very abstract form if not the most abstract form of thinking. It’s first of all a theoretical conception of various kinds of objects of thought, often it’s object of thought being different forms of thought itself.

It’s procedure is classically divided into two main different modes of functioning, which are epistemology and ontology.

Epistemology primarily concerns of the nature of knowledge and our acquisition of it, an activity which mainly falls under the broad umbrella of questioning such as ’what do we know?’, ’how do we get to know it?’ and ’what kind of knowledge is it?’

Ontology is primarily primarily thought which deals with the questions of being and existence, activity which deals with the questions of ’what exists?’, ’what is the way of its becoming?’, that is, ’how does it come to exist?’ and ’what is the nature of that existence?’, ’what sort of existence is it?’, and with ’what is real?’ It thus deals with the questions pertaining to the nature of reality.

In general I would relate epistemology as the theory of knowledge and ontology as being the theory of truth. By this division it becomes fairly quickly obvious that ontology gets quite a logical priority as a mode of thinking, that knowledge and truth are thus always necessarily divided and very different in their modes of functioning, and am ready to claim that ’philosophy is ontology’. Although ontology mostly concerns the questions of grasping the nature of reality correctly, it is without a doubt very often produced by, and thus starts with, various kinds of illusions and illusory beliefs, it’s beginnings and motivations often having very problematic origins, for example often stemming from very personal existential anguish or different kinds of crisis. Then the task of a philosopher is not simply to be dismissive of illusions, but to proceed in a way as to show the course through those illusions towards more real forms of apprehending reality.

The equation of philosophy and ontology would be considered without a doubt a very problematic way of explaining things for many philosophers, but I am ready to stand by this specific claim.

An often used term standing in the place of the expression of philosophy is also ’dialectical thinking’ or ’dialectics’. Although usually quickly associated with the names of Hegel and Marx in their work and those of their followers, equating the expressions of dialectics and philosophy is actually not really that misguided.

There is a very strange belief operating regarding dialectical thinking I will mention at this point, and that is that it has some special method operating somehow hidden within it. Finding the exact laws of the dialectical method of course in itself in this way becoming a certain obsession of various thinkers who have tried to find its precise definition of it, making the finding of it intro a sort of an unofficial holy grail of philosophy.

And in fact by looking for the definition for long enough, one can actually find a very simple three step procedure, something akin to a three step programme of loosing weight quickly, a precise explicit definition of three specific laws under which the dialectical method supposedly operates, more precisely within the unfinished work written by Friedrich Engels, specifically in his ’Dialectics of Nature’ published in 1883, which was a kind of a continuation of his better known work titled Anti-Dühring.

Engels was mostly known for being the main friend and theoretical companion of Marx. And in the entire terminology of Marxism, a form of thinking which was in various ways built upon the Marx’s major theoretical work of an unfinished trilogy of books, that of ’Das Kapital’, more specifically the very first book subtitled ’Critique of Political Economy’. Most importantly in the very first chapter of it, which is his most condensed form, the most abstract and theoretical and thus the most philosophical writing of his one can find, which could ironically be called a very condensed and short version of ’the Science of Logic’ as developed by Marx, here with the obvious reference to the book of Hegel of that title. Now Marxism as itself a form of dialectics can be mostly divided mostly in two separate forms of division. The first usual kind of division of it being the most common example one will find, since there was always an effort to consider Marxism as a form of science by it’s followers and practitioners. The main division of Marxism would thus be the classical one into dialectical materialism and historical materialism. The interesting thing here is that in most cases, among all of those those actually engaged in Marxism as a form of thought, nobody will be actually able to quite remember that the dialectics in the first example of this division actually refers to philosophical thinking as such, specifically as practised by Hegel as it’s most concrete case of its use, but not the earliest one, as we will see later.

Marx can be categorised to be a case of anti-philosophy, the recent philosophical development of the very concept of anti-philosophy being primarily done by Alain Badiou. Here let me just point out that anti-philosophy is not quite outside philosophical thought, but an occurrence within in it, something akin to having the status of standing officially outside of it, but still somehow remaining within it with one foot, as an inherent negation of philosophy itself. Other cases of prominent anti-philosophers being various authors, if we try to list them, for example Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Søren Kierkegaard, Samuel Beckett and Jacques Lacan.

The main example of the anti-philosophical stance regarding Marx is of course his entire official effort of ’turning Hegel upon his head’, as exemplified in his often repeated 11th Thesis on Feuerbach, the epigrammatic and final thesis famously explicating that ”Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it”.

The only proper dialectical response to this vulgarity of the 11th thesis being nothing else but to apply its very own logic to itself: by turning Marx upon his head this time, we can thus literally say that ”Philosophers have hitherto only tried to change the world in various ways; the point is to interpret it”. Which can itself be quite easily be proven, the most prominent case of and example of this being Plato’s Republic as an effort to change society already at the very origins of Philosophy in ancient Greece.

The second division of Marxism would be the unofficial one, that would be that of dividing it into Marxism as the official socialist state ideology, a form of ossified thought which a third of the planet had to undergo in their formal education within the countries of really existing state socialism, mine included. And the second camp being that of the so-called Western Marxism.

This would be form of thought often practised with varying degrees of naivety by those in the West, in non-socialist countries, who were still very sympathetic to the ideology and thought of the Soviet Union. The most prominent example of an author within Western Marxism is the case of the Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukacs, especially in his classical book ’History and Class Consciousnesses’, which argued for the concept of the unity of thought and practice.

And it I return to Engels and his fragmentary text of the Dialectics of Nature, what I’ve referred to as the so-called ’holy grail’, or what I also described as following the logic of a three step diet programme, would be the remark made within the book, which defines the method of dialectics as:

  1. The transformation of quantity into quality. That could of course also be called as a qualitative leap, which follows the insight that no matter how great the amount of quantitative accumulation is, it by itself does not, without there being an additional logical twist at work, ever produce a change in quality.
  2. The insight into the occurrence in which opposites often turn out to be the same as what they officially negate and oppose, what can also be referred to as the coincidence of opposites. A contemporary case of this being the example of China, where an officially contemporary Communist regime, by a way of the logic of the coincidence of opposites, turns out to be the very same as the most extreme example of a hyper-capitalist country run under an authoritarian regime of a so-called party system.
  3. The negation of negation, the simple point that very often negating an already negated content of something does not simply get one back to the starting point, as in mathematical algebra. This mostly refers to the difference between form and content, and the necessity of the double negation being the logic according to which it is said to be structurally required, since a first negation of something first necessarily negates the content in question while leaving the logical form of it in tact, and another negation of it being requited to negate the form itself and thus arrive at en entirely different logical frame. A very simple example of this this case being that of religion: while a direct negation of let’s say Christianity thus produces a form of direct anti-Christianity, that of ’satanism’ as the direct negation of its ten commandments as its most directly antagonist form possible, a second negation is then required to arrive at a properly atheistic standpoint of rejecting the entire logic within which religious belief itself functions, for example by seeing how the entire perverse logic of transgression being something under which both Christianity and satanism operate, which is not directly an antagonist form of thought, but something entirely foreign to its logic of functioning, a logical step beyond its mode of functioning.

Since Plato’s dialogues can be taken as the first historical example of dialectics, due to’dialogue’ or ’dialect’, also discourse or conversation between two individuals being it’s primary form, one can easily equate dialectics with philosophy. The most prominent example Plato’s writings is his book titled Republic, and his various other dialogues are then the first example of philosophical work done in history.

Although in his Republic, Plato wanted to have philosophers as the rules in a society, I don’t agree with this particular idea, as it would make governance into a form of meritocracy, which is problematic due to an explosion of envy and resentment that would occur within such a society, since individuals would have to believe that someone is a ruler due to his own merit, effort, intelligence and objective personal superiority over them. I think societies are far more easily governed if the people in that society don’t see the ruler as inherently any better then them, but just having the contingent fortune of becoming one, like by hereditary right, which doesn’t say anything about that person’s strength or weaknesses, thus making a society where the ruler would be elected via a form of lottery and thus random chance, objectively one where the populace would most easily accept their subordination.

Socrates, as is the name of protagonist, Plato’s teacher, is the main character in the writing of Plato’s dialogues. The question to what extent is the textual figure of Socrates as presented in these dialogues a literary work of fiction and to how much it relies on the actual life of the historical Socrates himself. Ancient Greece is then the first historical background in which Philosophy as a mode of thought started. Though it is often also deemed as the birthplace of democracy and the polis (which translates rughly into ’the city’), inside Athens more precisely, the political notion of isonomia as referred to by Plato in his Republic was more closely associated with the birth of philosophy and the mode of its functioning than actual democracy itself.

Classical philosophy will also try to tell us that Plato was then himself the teacher of Artistotle, who is supposedly equally or more important than Socrates and Plato, but the truth is, he is not. He is simply a darling of the current mainstream liberal establishment, enforced upon students of philosophy everywhere, which in practice means that unfortunately today most of the academic departments formally dedicated to the teaching of Philosophy are filled with countless Aristotelian professors. Aristotle is among other things known for denying women their right to vote, and to be in favour of slavery, going so far as defining a slave as ’a talking tool’, ideas he couldn’t have learned from Plato, whose Republic didn’t deny women any political rights, neither did it have a place for slavery in it.

Since it is true that philosophy has very often throughout history been done by those who do not have the need to personally work in order to survive, something which has often placed it into the hands of aristocracy, the fact of slavery or at least different forms of the subordination of servants and maids, has no doubt been its ugly secret historical companion. But there is no inherent reason for this particular occurrence within the form of philosophy as such, whose entire nature is necessarily universal, whose mode of functioning is thinking, and its practice that of reading and writing, which means that as long as one is able to think, read and write, one should thus also be able to engage philosophy, at least at the very basic level (like me, admittedly), no matter whom that particular person might be.

Along the same lines, philosophy has without a doubt been historically specifically a part of Western European culture, to a great degree practised particularly by white male authors, often those of wealth, but again, this does not prevent it having a universal reach.

There are also of course authors who appeared before Socrates and Plato, who are important within philosophy, and these are aptly called the pre-socratics. The first of these pre-socratics and who is also often referred to be the very first philosopher in history is Thales of Miletus. Among other important presocratics were Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Democritus, Epicurus and the Sophists.

There is a very short story that should be mentioned regarding Thales concerning the very nature of philosophical activity. It talks about him taking a stroll and stargazing, that is observing, thinking about, or discussing the stars and their mysterious nature, a form of early astrology being therefore considered one of the metaphors for pre-philosophical activity. While he was walking along in this way, watching the stars and contemplating their very strange constellations, he found himself accidentally falling into a pit in the ground, not noticing it due to his focus on the stars themselves. And a young girl by chance happened to have stood nearby, seeing the entire accident and started to laugh at our poor Thales, thus shaming him due to the unfortunate event that happened to him for his focus on the stars.

At this point a book called ’The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature’ written by Karl Marx as his doctoral thesis in philosophy in March 1841, first published in 1902, accessible online via the French variation of the Marx Internet Achive, is quite worth mentioning. It’s mostly a comparative study on atomism of Democritus and Epicurus, where Epicurus argued in favour of the notion of clinamen (the declination, swerve of the atoms) coming most closely to today’s understanding in physics.

The main enemy of Plato were the Sophists. They were dealing with what today would be called rhetorics, a form of argumentation and handling of language which does not have much to do with the notion of Truth, truth being that which should be the main concern of Philosophy as such, instead mostly attempting to manipulate language to create pure, empty appearances in order to earn some money with it’s use.

Today, Barbara Cassin, a French philologist and philosopher, an author who often collaborates in writing and discussion with Alain Badiou, argues in favour of sophists, saying that sophistry has always been the negative alter-ego of philosophy, it’s disavowed and hated companion, it’s double, an inherent part of it since its very inception, as in for example her book ’Jacques the Sophist’, which argues for the close relation between sophistry and psychoanalytic theory, especially as it concerns the work of Jacques Lacan.

Since we know that the Ancient Greece universe was one of mythology, because it existed before the advent of Christianity, the ancient Goddess to whom the notion of Philosophy was mostly associated with was Athena, because of her association with the notion of wisdom in the mythological universe. Although wisdom as a notion is today mainly related and associated with so-called eastern forms of belief, none of which have much to do with philosophy as such, which is concerned with truth and knowledge. Due to her simultaneous role as the goddess of warfare, she was depicted as wearing a helmet and a spear. Her depictions also presented her as being accompanied by an owl, which makes an owl the primary mythological animal that historically philosophy’s origin was associated with. Athena was later renamed into Minerva within the later Roman appropriation of Greek culture.

To be continued…

Why Write? If You Can’t Explain (or Show) Something, You Don’t Understand it


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If you are unable in some form, whatever that might be, to demonstrate an idea through exemplification, if you are unable to show it in some way, then you can’t claim to have any kind of understanding of that idea at all. And the more precise way in which you’re able to explain, the better examples you’re able to provide along the way of your reasoning behind it, the more elaborate one is apropos a certain theoretical point, the better it can be said the understanding of something that person has.

The very way of providing an example shows the fact of understanding it, and the entire point of giving privilege to writing, instead of any other form of expression (painting or dancing or calculating… ), is my conviction that every and any form of human activity is already structured through thought, that is, that at some level, no matter if conscious or not, every action or activity a person engages is decided by his or her own understanding, and is always done according to some specific logic, and that very logic of an action can always also be exemplified and proven through the use of language, since for me proving and providing an example of something are one and the same.

I’m precisely not saying that all human activity is somehow inside language, since that would be quite an extreme case of reductionism. Being fully aware of the experience of ’not being able to express something in words’, of there being a sort of a failure of expression in using language as the primary medium of transmission, as in the case of a traumatic experience. What I am claiming though, is that in some theoretical way, every and any possible logical operation can be translated into the form of language, even for example the fact of being unable to put something into words.

Even the logic of trauma itself, the precise way trauma distorts language and the logic it follows, can itself be accurately represented. Maybe not by the very subject experiencing and undergoing it, due to the very presence of trauma distorting language, but it can maybe mostly be roughly outlined and hinted to, so at least in principle it is possible to translate it. It’s not only trauma that distorts language, it is in it’s very structure always already continously distorted, and that very distortion of language points to a particular singularity of experience of the writing subject.

So privileging writing as a form of expression, at this point purposefully done, and in this way also privileging language, has a certain reasoning behind it. So why not speech, that is, expression through voice, but rather the choice of writing, if language is here put as the privileged mode of expression? Isn’t the use of speech far more sincere, personal and intimate than the impersonal written form?

That in itself is already a very difficult problem and dilemma, something with which many authors have dealt with. Of course speech is in some way more sincere and expresses a person’s emotional experience far better than an individual might be able to demonstrate in pure written form. We’re all familiar with the fact of misinterpreting someone’s writing simply due to there being a lack of provided punctuation and emphasis, and the entire emotional colouring that the human voice could and does provide to the texture of writing. But the very fact of providing one’s own logical reasoning behind some specific idea is best achieved through the entirely abstract written form itself.

Even emotions can be entirely accurately expressed in written form, although it’s true that in this way of translation some impact, the very emotional impact of the message conveyed in this way, is to a great extent lost. I’m not arguing against the use and expression through emotion: emotional experience is no less important or somehow less valuable than the boring categories of reason and the use of formal argumentation. But emotional experience is often very deceiving, and doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with truth as such.

Emotional experience has more to do with the current state of mind and bodily experience in a given situation, and far less with any sort of understanding; in any case, emotions themselves can be (and often are) entirely logically analysed and described in written form, even though that might have a reductive effect in the way it leaves an impact. Let’s take an experience of listening a complex piece of music as an example—anyone vaguely familiar with the theory of music can see precisely how even what appears to be extremely subjective and emotional experiences of listening to a musical piece, can in fact be carefully analysed, described, translated into, explained and communicated through the use of language, no matter how difficult that task may appear to be. It’s not that we should replace the music and just always focus on writing; it’s just that no matter how complex something might appear to be, it is in principle translatable into writing, even if certain situations might prevent an actual realisation of that in a specific case.

Individual experience and emotions are something very real, but the the use of, and translating that into language, is what makes those obtain a universal form. I choose to privilege language and writing as a form of expression, because I believe those have much more to do with their specific relation to the very universal dimension of human experience, far more than any other practical concern.

Katarina Peović Vuković: ‘Marx u digitalnom dobu. Dijalekticki materijalizam na vratima tehnologije’


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Marx u digitalnom dobu. Dijalektički materijalizam na vratima tehnologije knjiga je koja propituje razumijevanje političke emancipacije uz pomoć novih tehnologija. Ona postavlja pitanje: kako nove tehnologije, posebice novi mediji, mogu pridonijeti demokratizaciji društva i emancipaciji manjinskih kultura? Pritom se sustavno i epistemološki precizno obrazlažu temeljna pitanja kao što su: politička emancipacija i emancipacijske politike na internetu, ideologija i njezina refleksija na probleme novih medija, promjene do kojih dolazi u strukturi i karakteru rada u doba kognitarijata, razumijevanje koncepta »virtualnosti«.

U knjizi se primjenjuje teorija brojnih autora, napose filozofa kao što su Martin Heidegger, Michel Foucault i Jacques Lacan, premošćujući pritom granicu između klasične filozofije i sfere tehnologije. Studija je vrlo precizna i elokventna elaboracija suvremenog tehno–znanstvenog, političko–ekonomskog poretka. Pritom ona ukazuje na nekoliko ključnih problema s razumijevanjem uloge i konteksta novih tehnologija. Prije svega, riječ je o ozbiljnom utemeljenju teorije novih medija iz perspektive kritike političke ekonomije. Drugo, o svakom se od ključnih problema elaboriranih u knjizi stvaraju pretpostavke za primjenu filozofskog i fenomenološkog pristupa novim medijima. Studija se naslanja na novoobnovljeni teorijski interes i školu dijalektičkog materijalizma (S. Žižek, A. Badiou). I konačno studija, neizravno, raspravlja i s hrvatskim kontekstom proučavanja novih medija, koji je kronično zarobljen u onome što je Heidegger nazivao »aktualnost«. Takvo razumijevanje novih medija u studijima komunikologije, mediologije, politologije i sociologije najčešće ne uspijeva sagledati svu širinu problema. Djelo je relevatna znanstvena studija koja će pridonijeti razumijevanju fenomena novih tehnologija.

‘Elements of the Philosophy of Right’ by Georg W. F. Hegel

First published as Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts in 1820, this English translation published by Cambridge University Press in 1991. Download link updated on 25. June 2021.

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This book is a translation of a classic work of modern social and political thought, Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right. As his last major publication, it was an attempt to systematize ethical theory, natural right, philosophy of law, political theory and the sociology of the modern state into the framework of philosophy of history.

Hegel’s work has been interpreted in radically different ways, influencing many political movements from far right to far left, and is widely perceived as central to the communication tradition in modern ethical, social and political thought.

This edition includes extensive editorial material informing the reader of the historical background of Hegel’s manuscript, and explaining his allusions to Roman law and other sources, making use of lecture materials which have only relatively recently become available.

‘Between Kant and Hegel: Lectures on German Idealism’ by Dieter Henrich

Published by Harvard University Press in 2008. Download link updated on 26. June 2021.

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Electrifying when first delivered in 1973, legendary in the years since, Dieter Henrich’s lectures on German Idealism were the first contact a major German philosopher had made with an American audience since the onset of World War II. They remain one of the most eloquent explanations and interpretations of classical German philosophy and of the way it relates to the concerns of contemporary philosophy. Thanks to the editorial work of David Pacini, the lectures appear here with annotations linking them to editions of the masterworks of German philosophy as they are now available.

Henrich describes the movement that led from Kant to Hegel, beginning with an interpretation of the structure and tensions of Kant’s system. He locates the Kantian movement and revival of Spinoza, as sketched by F. H. Jacobi, in the intellectual conditions of the time and in the philosophical motivations of modern thought. Providing extensive analysis of the various versions of Fichte’s Science of Knowledge, Henrich brings into view a constellation of problems that illuminate the accomplishments of the founders of Romanticism, Novalis and Friedrich Schlegel, and of the poet Hölderlin’s original philosophy. He concludes with an interpretation of the basic design of Hegel’s system.

‘Hegel’s Rabble: An Investigation into Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’ by Frank Ruda


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In Hegel’s Rabble, Frank Ruda identifies and explores a crucial problem in the Hegelian philosophy of right that strikes at the heart of Hegel’s conception of the state. This singular problem, which Ruda argues is the problem of Hegelian political thought, appears in Hegel’s text only in a seemingly marginal form under the name of the “rabble”: a particular side-effect of the dialectical deduction of the necessity of the existence of state from the contradictory constitution of civil society.

Working out from a thorough analysis of this problem and drawing on contemporary discussions in the work of such thinkers as Alain Badiou, Jean-Luc Nancy and Slavoj Žižek, the book proceeds to re-examine and reconstruct Hegel’s entire political project. Ruda goes on to argue that only by re-thinking this problem of ‘the rabble’ in Hegel’s thought – the only problem Hegel is able neither to resolve nor to sublate – can the early Marxian conception of ‘the proletariat’ be properly understood. The book closes with an Afterword from Slavoj Žižek.

‘The Dash—The Other Side of Absolute Knowing’ by Rebecca Comay & Frank Ruda

Published by The MIT Press in 2018. Download link updated 20. June 2021.

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This book sets out from a counter-intuitive premise: the “mystical shell” of Hegel’s system proves to be its most “rational kernel.” Hegel’s radicalism is located precisely at the point where his thought seems to regress most. Most current readings try to update Hegel’s thought by pruning back his grandiose claims to “absolute knowing.” Comay and Ruda invert this deflationary gesture by inflating what seems to be most trivial: the absolute is grasped only in the minutiae of its most mundane appearances. Reading Hegel without presupposition, without eliminating anything in advance or making any decision about what is essential and what is inessential, what is living and what is dead, they explore his presentation of the absolute to the letter.

The Dash is organized around a pair of seemingly innocuous details. Hegel punctuates strangely. He ends the Phenomenology of Spirit with a dash, and he begins the Science of Logic with a dash. This distinctive punctuation reveals an ambiguity at the heart of absolute knowing. The dash combines hesitation and acceleration. Its orientation is simultaneously retrospective and prospective. It both holds back and propels. It severs and connects. It demurs and insists. It interrupts and prolongs. It generates nonsequiturs and produces explanations. It leads in all directions: continuation, deviation, meaningless termination. This challenges every cliché about the Hegelian dialectic as a machine of uninterrupted teleological progress. The dialectical movement is, rather, structured by intermittency, interruption, hesitation, blockage, abruption, and random, unpredictable change—a rhythm that displays all the vicissitudes of the Freudian drive.

‘From Myth to Symptom: The Case of Kosovo’ by Slavoj Žižek & Agon Hamza

Published by Kolektivi Materializmi Dialektik in 2013.

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Far from engaging in a debate with existing texts on the subject matter, this book goes at the heart of the problem — dealing with a very specific trajectory in which the Kosovo predicament has been circulating: beginning from a myth, and ending up as a symptom. Divided into two essays, the book provides a detailed analysis of two crucial political and ideological conjunctures: first, the NATO bombing against the former Yugoslavia, and second, the developments that followed thereafter. The underlying premise of these papers is that the occurrences in former Yugoslavia, starting from its disintegration to the independence of Kosovo, cannot be accounted for by any of the existing dominant paradigms that build their arguments around the notions of ethnicity and culture.

‘Reading Marx’ by Slavoj Žižek, Frank Ruda & Agon Hamza


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Marx’s critique of political economy is vital for understanding the crisis of contemporary capitalism. Yet the nature of its relevance and some of its key tenets remain poorly understood. This bold intervention brings together the work of leading Marx scholars Slavoj Žižek, Frank Ruda and Agon Hamza, to offer a fresh, radical reinterpretation of Marxism that explains the failures of neoliberalism and lays the foundations for a new emancipatory politics.

Avoiding trite comparisons between Marx’s worldview and our current political scene, the authors show that the current relevance and value of Marx’s thought can better be explained by placing his key ideas in dialogue with those that have attempted to replace them. Reading Marx through Hegel and Lacan, particle physics, and modern political trends, the authors provide new ways to explain the crisis in contemporary capitalism and resist fundamentalism in all its forms. Reading Marx will find a wide audience amongst activists and scholars.

‘The Most Sublime Hysteric: Hegel with Lacan’ by Slavoj Žižek

Žižek’s doctoral dissertation first done in French under the supervision of Jacques-Alain Miller.
First published in 1982, this edition published by Polity Press in 2014. Download link updated on 26th July 2021.

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What do we know about Hegel? What do we know about Marx? What do we know about democracy and totalitarianism? Communism and psychoanalysis? What do we know that isn’t a platitude that we’ve heard a thousand times — or a self-satisfied certainty? Through his brilliant reading of Hegel, Slavoj Žižek — one of the most provocative and widely-read thinkers of our time – upends our traditional understanding, dynamites every cliché and undermines every conviction in order to clear the ground for new ways of answering these questions.

When Lacan described Hegel as the ‘most sublime hysteric’, he was referring to the way that the hysteric asks questions because he experiences his own desire as if it were the Other’s desire. In the dialectical process, the question asked of the Other is resolved through a reflexive turn in which the question begins to function as its own answer. We had made Hegel into the theorist of abstraction and reaction, but by reading Hegel with Lacan, Žižek unveils a Hegel of the concrete and of revolution – his own, and the one to come.

This early original work by Žižek offers a unique insight into the ideas which have since become hallmarks of his mature thought. It will be of great interest to anyone interested in critical theory, philosophy and contemporary social thought.

‘Absolute Recoil: Towards a New Foundation of Dialectical Materialism’ by Slavoj Žižek

Published by Verso Books in 2015. Download link updated on 25. June 2021.

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Philosophical materialism in all its forms – from scientific naturalism to Deleuzian New Materialism – has failed to meet the key theoretical and political challenges of the modern world. This is the burden of philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s argument in this pathbreaking and eclectic new work.

Recent history has seen developments such as quantum physics and Freudian psychoanalysis, not to speak of the failure of twentieth-century communism, shake our understanding of existence.

In the process, the dominant tradition in Western philosophy lost its moorings. To bring materialism up to date, Žižek – himself a committed materialist and communist – proposes a radical revision of our intellectual heritage. He argues that dialectical materialism is the only true philosophical inheritor of what Hegel designated the “speculative” approach in thought.

Absolute Recoil is a startling reformulation of the basis and possibilities of contemporary philosophy. While focusing on how to overcome the transcendental approach without regressing to naïve, pre-Kantian realism, Žižek offers a series of excursions into today’s political, artistic, and ideological landscape, from Arnold Schoenberg’s music to the films of Ernst Lubitsch.

‘Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology’ by Slavoj Žižek

Published by Duke University Press in 1993. Download link updated on 5. July 2021.

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In Tarrying with the Negative, Žižek challenges the contemporary critique of ideology, and in doing so opens the way for a new understanding of social conflict, particularly the recent outbursts of nationalism and ethnic struggle.

Are we, Žižek asks, confined to a postmodern universe in which truth is reduced to the contingent effect of various discursive practices and where our subjectivity is dispersed through a multitude of ideological positions? No is his answer, and the way out is a return to philosophy. This revisit to German Idealism allows Žižek to recast the critique of ideology as a tool for disclosing the dynamic of our society, a crucial aspect of which is the debate over nationalism, particularly as it has developed in the Balkans—Žižek’s home. He brings the debate over nationalism into the sphere of contemporary cultural politics, breaking the impasse centered on nationalisms simultaneously fascistic and anticolonial aspirations. Provocatively, Žižek argues that what drives nationalistic and ethnic antagonism is a collectively driven refusal of our own enjoyment.

Using examples from popular culture and high theory to illuminate each other—opera, film noir, capitalist universalism, religious and ethnic fundamentalism—this work testifies to the fact that, far more radically than the postmodern sophists, Kant and Hegel are our contemporaries.

‘The Search after Truth’ by Nicolas Malebranche

This edition published by Cambridge University Press in 1997.

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Nicolas Malebranche (6 August 1638 – 13 October 1715), was a French priest, who is now recognized as a major figure in the history of philosophy, occupying a crucial place in the Rationalist tradition of Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz.

The Search after Truth is his first, longest and most important work; this volume also presents the Elucidations that accompanied its third edition, the result of comments that Malebranche solicited on the original work and an important repository of his theories of ideas and causation.

Together, the two texts constitute the complete expression of his mature thought, and are written in his subtle, argumentative and thoroughly readable style.

‘Lacan Contra Foucault: Subjectivity, Sex, and Politics’ by Nadia Bou Ali & Rohit Goel

Published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2018.

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Lacan Contra Foucault seeks to ground the divergences and confluences between these two key thinkers in relation to contemporary philosophy and criticism. Specifically the topics of sexuality, the theory of the subject, history and historicism, scientific formalization, and ultimately politics. In doing so, the authors in this volume open up new connections between Lacan and Foucault and shine a light on their contemporary relevance to politics and critical theory.


Contents:

Introduction: ‘Measure against Measure: Why Lacan contra Foucault?
Nadia Bou Ali, merican University of Beirut, Lebanon

Chapter 1: Cutting Off the King’s Head
Mladen Dolar, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia

Chapter 2: Author, Subject, Structure: Lacan contra Foucault
Lorenzo Chiesa, European University at St Petersburg, Russia

Chapter 3: Better Failures: Science and Psychoanalysis
Samo Tomšič, Humboldt University, Germany

Chapter 4: Merely Analogical: Structuralism and the Critique of Political Economy
Anne van Leeuwen, James Madison University, USA

Chapter 5: Battle Fatigue: Kiarostami and Capitalism
Joan Copjec, Brown University, USA

Chapter 6: Foucault’s Neo-liberal Post-Marxism
Zdravko Kobe, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia

Index

‘The Labour of Enjoyment: Towards a Critique of Libidinal Economy’ by Samo Tomšič

Published by August Verlag Berlin in 2019. Download link updated on 23rd August 2021.

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Enjoyment appears as purely private matter, but this is by far not the case. Ever since Aristotle the philosophical social critique is tormented by the question, whether the libidinal tendencies of human subjects allow the construction of a just political-economic order.

It seemed at first that in modernity this problem had been overcome. Economic liberalism and utilitarianism argued that egoistic private interests and social justice were directly linked and that capitalism united libidinal and political economy in the best possible manner. But the political-economic panorama soon turned out significantly more complex and contradictory; an insight to which Marx’s intervention with his critique of political economy significantly contributed. Another critical turn is to be found in psychoanalysis: Freud’s conception of the unconscious provided a new cartography of political space and his theory of libido revealed the participation of libidinal apparatuses in sustaining the capitalist power-relations.

The book continues a line of thought attempted in Tomšič’s earlier book: The Capitalist Unconscious. It entails a discussion of the ongoing actuality of psychoanalysis for a critique of the mode of enjoyment historically introduced and enforced by the capitalist organisation of social labour and social life, as well as of thinking in general.

‘The Capitalist Unconscious: Marx and Lacan’ by Samo Tomšič

Published by Verso in 2015. Download link updated on 23rd August 2021.

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Despite a resurgence of interest in Lacanian psychoanalysis, particularly in terms of the light it casts on capitalist ideology—as witnessed by the work of Slavoj Žižek—there remain remarkably few systematic accounts of the role of Marx in Lacan’s work.

A major, comprehensive study of the connection between their work, The Capitalist Unconscious resituates Marx in the broader context of Lacan’s teaching and insists on the capacity of psychoanalysis to reaffirm dialectical and materialist thought. Lacan’s unorthodox reading of Marx refigured such crucial concepts as alienation, jouissance and the Freudian ‘labour theory of the unconscious’.

Tracing these developments, Tomšič maintains that psychoanalysis, structuralism and the critique of political economy participate in the same movement of thought; his book shows how to follow this movement through to some of its most important conclusions.

‘Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis’ by Sigmund Freud


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First given between 1915 and 1917, the lectures within this edition explain in detail the theories pioneered by Freud. Delivered in the later part of his career, these lectures can be considered a retrospective summary of the ideas which revolutionized psychology in the early 20th century. Various aspects of Freudian theory are laid bare in Freud’s own words, with the lectures organised into three distinct parts:

Part One, ‘The Psychology of Errors’, attempts to explain the nature of the psychological treatment given to the patient. Consisting of four lectures, it is Freud’s own attempt to demystify and clarify the aims behind the treatment of the sufferer in the throes of mental ill health. He also advances the notion that the everyday, non-psychologist can benefit from the knowledge, in that it may provide a measure of introspective enlightenment.

Part Two, ‘The Dream’, embarks on a thorough explanation of the dream theory which formed a central pillar of Freudian treatment of patients. The various types of dream, the time of their occurrence, and how memorable and poignant they appear to the patient, are identified as factors in treatment. Dreams are interpreted as signifying the desires and fears of the patient, with significant dream events seen as containing intense symbolism.

Part Three, ‘General Theory of the Neuroses’, concerns the means by which individual mental problems are identified and treated. Many of the Freudian theories on sexual desire are alluded to here, being as Freud attributed much mental distress to an inadequate or poorly developed libido. Aspects such as unconscious or subconscious mind, and the methods of psychoanalytic therapy are likewise explained in-depth.

The translation of the lectures to English was accomplished by Freud’s contemporary G. Stanley Hall. Since first appearing in 1920, this rendition of the lectures has been praised for accurately relaying the concepts, theory and practices behind Freudian psychoanalysis. This edition also contains an introductory preface by Hall, who explains the intellectual context and rival theories present in the-then fledgling scientific discipline of psychology.

‘On Death and Dying’ by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Reprint published by Scribner in 2011 (first published 1969).

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One of the most important psychological studies of the late twentieth century, On Death and Dying grew out of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s famous interdisciplinary seminar on death, life, and transition. In this remarkable book, Dr. Kübler-Ross first explored the now-famous five stages of death: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Through sample interviews and conversations, she gives readers a better understanding of how imminent death affects the patient, the professionals who serve that patient, and the patient’s family, bringing hope to all who are involved.

This edition includes an introduction by Dr. Ira Byock, a prominent palliative care physican and the author of Dying Well.

‘Living in the End Times’ by Slavoj Žižek

Published by Verso in 2010.

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(first edition .pdf, second edition .epub)


The underlying premise of the present book is a simple one: the global capitalist system is approaching an apocalyptic zero-point. Its “four riders of the apocalypse” are comprised by the ecological crisis, the consequences of the biogenetic revolution, imbalances within the system itself (problems with intellectual property; forthcoming struggles over raw materials, food and water), and the explosive growth of social divisions and exclusions.

Although signs abound, the truth hurts, and we desperately try to avoid it. To explain how, we can turn to an unexpected guide. The Swiss-born psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross proposed the famous scheme of the five stages of grief, which follow, for example, upon learning that one has a terminal illness: denial (one simply refuses to accept the fact: “This can’t be happening, not to me”); anger (which explodes when we can no longer deny the fact: “How can this happen to me?”); bargaining (in the hope that we can somehow postpone or diminish the fact: “Just let me live to see my children graduate”); depression (libidinal disinvestment: “I’m going to die, so why bother with anything?”); and acceptance (“I can’t fight it, so I may as well prepare for it”). Later, Kübler-Ross applied the same scheme to any form of catastrophic personal loss (joblessness, death of a loved one, divorce, drug addiction), emphasizing that the five stages do not necessarily come in the same order, nor are they all experienced by every patient.

One can discern the same five figures in the way our social consciousness attempts to deal with the forthcoming apocalypse. The first reaction is one of ideological denial: there is no fundamental disorder; the second is exemplified by explosions of anger at the injustices of the new world order; the third involves attempts at bargaining (“if we change things here and there, life could perhaps go on as before”); when the bargaining fails, depression and withdrawal set in; finally, after passing through this zero-point, the subject no longer perceives the situation as a threat, but as the chance of a new beginning.

The five chapters refer to these five stances. Chapter 1—denial—analyzes the predominant modes of ideological obfuscation, from Hollywood blockbusters up to false (displaced) apocalyptism (New Age obscurantism, and so forth). Chapter 2—anger—looks at violent protests against the global system, and the rise of religious fundamentalism in particular. Chapter 3—bargaining—focuses on the critique of political economy, with a plea for the renewal of this central ingredient of Marxist theory. Chapter 4—depression—considers the impact of the forthcoming collapse in its less familiar aspects, such as the rise of new forms of subjective pathology (the “post-traumatic” subject). Finally, Chapter 5—acceptance—discerns the signs of an emerging emancipatory subjectivity, isolating the germs of a communist culture in all its diverse forms, including in literary and other utopias (from Kafka’s community of mice to the collective of freak outcasts in the TV series Heroes). This basic skeleton of the book is supplemented by four interludes, each of which provides a variation on the theme of the preceding chapter.

Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency and Cultural Production

Published by OR Books in 2017.

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Boycott and divestment are essential tools for activists around the globe. Today’s organizers target museums, universities, corporations, and governments to curtail unethical sources of profit, discriminatory practices, or human rights violations. They leverage cultural production – and challenge its institutional supports – helping transform situations in the name of social justice. The refusal to participate in an oppressive system has long been one of the most powerful weapons in the organizer’s arsenal.

The refusal to participate in an oppressive system has long been one of the most powerful weapons in the organizer’s arsenal. Since the days of the 19th century Irish land wars, when Irish tenant farmers defied the actions of Captain Charles Boycott and English landlords, “boycott” has been a method that’s shown its effectiveness time and again. In the 20th century, it notably played central roles in the liberation of India and South Africa and the struggle for civil rights in the U.S.: the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott is generally seen as a turning point in the movement against segregation.

Including essays by Nasser Abourahme, Ariella Azoulay, Tania Bruguera, Noura Erakat, Kareem Estefan, Mariam Ghani with Haig Aivazian, Nathan Gray and Ahmet Öğüt, Chelsea Haines, Sean Jacobs, Yazan Khalili, Carin Kuoni and Laura Raicovich, Svetlana Mintcheva, Naeem Mohaiemen, Hlonipha Mokoena, John Peffer, Joshua Simon, Ann Laura Stoler, Radhika Subramaniam, Eyal Weizman and Kareem Estefan, and Frank B. Wilderson III.


The Case for Sanctions Against Israel

Published by Verso in 2011.

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In July 2011, Israel passed legislation outlawing the public support of boycott activities against the state, corporations, and settlements, adding a crackdown on free speech to its continuing blockade of Gaza and the expansion of illegal settlements. Nonetheless, the campaign for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) continues to grow in strength within Israel and Palestine, as well as in Europe and the US.

This essential intervention considers all sides of the movement—including detailed comparisons with the South African experience—and contains contributions from both sides of the separation wall, along with a stellar list of international commentators.


Contributors: Merav Amir and Dalit Baum, Ra’anaan Alexandrowicz, Hind Awwad, Mustafa Barghouthi, Omar Barghouti, Joel Beinin, John Berger, Angela Davis, Nada Elia, Marc Ellis, Noura Erakat, Ran Greenstein, Neve Gordon, Ronald Kasrils, Jamal Khader, Naomi Klein, Mark LeVine, Ken Loach, David Lloyd and Laura Pulido, Haneen Maikey, Ilan Pappe, Jonathan Pollak, Lisa Taraki, Rebecca Vilkomerson, Michael Warschawski, Slavoj Žižek.

‘Moses and Monotheism’ by Sigmund Freud

First published as ‘Der Mann Moses und die monotheistische Religion‘ in 1939.

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This volume contains Freud’s speculations on various aspects of religion, on the basis of which he explains certain characteristics of the Jewish people in their relations with the Christians. From an intensive study of the Moses legend, Freud comes to the startling conclusion that Moses himself was an Egyptian who brought from his native country the religion he gave to the Jews. He accepts the hypothesis that Moses was murdered in the wilderness, but that his memory was cherished by the people & that his religious doctrine ultimately triumphed. Freud develops his general theory of monotheism, which enables him to throw light on the development of Judaism & Christianity.

‘Totem and Taboo’ by Sigmund Freud

Includes translations by Brill and Strachey. Routledge edition digitally published in 2009, Vintage in 2012.
Download link updated on 24. June 2021.

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Widely acknowledged to be one of Freud’s greatest cultural works, when Totem and Taboo was first published in 1913, it caused outrage. Thorough and thought-provoking, Totem and Taboo remains the fullest exploration of Freud’s most famous themes. Family, society, religion – they’re all put on the couch here. Whatever your feelings about psychoanalysis, Freud’s theories have influenced every facet of modern life, from film and literature to medicine and art. If you don’t know your incest taboo from your Oedipal complex, and you want to understand more about the culture we’re living in, then Totem and Taboo is the book to read.

‘The New Black: Mourning, Melancholia and Depression’ by Darian Leader

Published by Penguin in 2009.

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What happens when we lose someone we love? A death, a separation or the break-up of a relationship are some of the hardest times we have to live through. In this book, Darian Leader urges us to look beyond the catch-all concept of depression to explore the deeper, unconscious ways in which we respond to the experience of loss.

Fifty years ago, the terms mourning and melancholia were part of the psychological lexicon. Today, in a world of rapid diagnoses, quick cures, and big pharmaceutical dollars, the catch-all concept of depression has evolved to take their place. In The New Black, Darian Leader argues that this shift is more than semantic; rather, it speaks to our culture’s complicated relationship with loss, suffering, and grief.

Part memoir, part cultural analysis, Leader draws on examples from literature, art, cinema, and history, as well as case studies from his work as a psychologist, to explore the unconscious ways our culture responds to the experience of loss. He visits a bookstore in search of studies on mourning, and, finding none, moves on to the fiction and poetry sections, where he finds countless examples of mourning in literature. Moving from historical texts of the Middle Ages, to Freud’s essays, to Lacan, to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, Leader provides an innovative tour of mourning and melancholia and our culture’s struggle to understand them.


Darian Leader—the British psychoanalyst who famously described shrinks as mutants scavenging after a nuclear holocaust—gives the profession a sound scolding for mishandling and misunderstanding depression. Our current idea of depression, he says, was created to fit the symptoms (such as insomnia and lack of appetite) that antidepressants treat. Leader goes back to Freud’s classic 1917 essay, Mourning and Melancholia, to show what depression is really about: the loss of an important relationship. He presents a thorough and thoughtful review of what happens when the work of mourning (detaching ourselves from the loved ones we have lost) or melancholia (where what is lost is not so obvious to the patient) goes undone. He also rails at the erosion of public mourning rituals that can ease the process.

‘The Challenge of Carl Schmitt’ by Chantal Mouffe

Published by Verso in 1997.

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A collection of essays concerning Carl Schmitt, edited by Chantal Mouffe.

Carl Schmitt (11 July 1888 – 7 April 1985) was a conservative German jurist, political theorist, and prominent member of the Nazi Party. He wrote extensively about the effective wielding of political power and is noted as a critic of parliamentary democracy, liberalism, and cosmopolitanism. His work has been a major influence on subsequent political theory, legal theory, continental philosophy, and political theology, but its value and significance are controversial, mainly due to his intellectual support for and active involvement with Nazism.

Chantal Mouffe is a Belgian political theorist. She holds a professorship at the University of Westminster in the United Kingdom. She is best known as co-author of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy with Ernesto Laclau. Their collaborative work is usually described as post-Marxism as they were both politically active in the social and student movements of the 1960s including working class and new social movements.


Contents:

Introduction: Schmitt’s Challenge
Chantal Mouffe

  1. Carl Schmitt’s Decisionism by Paul Hirst
  2. Carl Schmitt in the Age of Post-Politics by Slavoj Žižek
  3. Carl Schmitt and the Paradox of Liberal Democracy by Chantal Mouffe
  4. Carl Schmitt and ‘World Unity’ by Jean-François Kervegan
  5. Putting the State Back in Credit by David Dyzenhaus
  6. From Karl to Carl: Schmitt as a Reader of Marx by Jorge E. Dotti
  7. Carl Schmitt and Max Adler: The Irreconcilability of Politics and Democracy by Grigoris Ananiadis
  8. Carl Schmitt versus Max Weber: Juridical Rationality and Economic Rationality by Catherine Colliot-Thelene
  9. Political Order and Democracy: Carl Schmitt and His Influence by Ulrich K. Preuss
  10. Carl Schmitt and European Juridical Science by Agostino Carrino
  11. Ethic of State and Pluralistic State by Carl Schmitt

‘Spinoza and Politics’ by Étienne Balibar

Published by Vers in 1998 (first published 1985)

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With Hobbes and Locke, Spinoza is arguably one of the most important political philosophers of the modern era, a premier theoretician of democracy and mass politics. In this revised and augmented English translation of his 1985 classic, Spinoza et la Politique, Étienne Balibar presents a synoptic account of Spinoza’s major works in relation to the political and historical conjuncture in which they were written. Balibar admirably demonstrates, through fine readings of the principal treatises, Spinoza’s relevance to contemporary political life.

In successive chapters Balibar he examines the political situation in the United Provinces during Spinoza’s lifetime, Spinoza’s own religious and ideological associations, the concept of democracy developed in the Theologico-Political Treatise, the theory of the state advanced in the Political Treatise and the anthropological basis for politics established in the Ethics.

Written with supreme clarity and engaging liveliness, this book will appeal to specialists and general audiences alike. It is certain to become the standard introductory work on Spinoza, an indispensable guide to the intricacies of this most vital of the seventeenth-century rationalists.

‘Celebrity Humanitarianism: The Ideology of Global Charity’ by Ilan Kapoor

Published by Routledge in 2012.

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In the last two decades especially, we have witnessed the rise of ‘celebrity’ forms of global humanitarianism and charity work, spearheaded by entertainment stars, billionaires, and activist NGOs (e.g. Bob Geldof, Bono, Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Bill Gates, George Soros, Save Darfur, Medeçins Sans Frontières). This book examines this new phenomenon, arguing that celebrity humanitarianism legitimates, and indeed promotes, neoliberal capitalism and global inequality.

Drawing on Slavoj Žižek’s work, the book argues how celebrity humanitarianism, far from being altruistic, is significantly contaminated and ideological: it is most often self-serving, helping to promote institutional aggrandizement and the celebrity ‘brand’; it advances consumerism and corporate capitalism, and rationalizes the very global inequality it seeks to redress; it is fundamentally depoliticizing, despite its pretensions to ‘activism’; and it contributes to a ‘postdemocratic’ political landscape, which appears outwardly open and consensual, but is in fact managed by unaccountable elites.

‘The Postcolonial Politics of Development’ by Ilan Kapoor

Published by Routledge in 2008.

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This book uses a postcolonial lens to question development’s dominant cultural representations and institutional practices, investigating the possibilities for a transformatory postcolonial politics. Ilan Kapoor examines recent development policy initiatives in such areas as ‘governance,’ ‘human rights’ and ‘participation’ to better understand and contest the production of knowledge in development – its cultural assumptions, power implications, and hegemonic politics. The volume shows how development practitioners and westernized elites/intellectuals are often complicit in this neo-colonial knowledge production. Noble gestures such as giving foreign aid or promoting participation and democracy frequently mask their institutional biases and economic and geopolitical interests, while silencing the subaltern (marginalized groups), on whose behalf they purportedly work. In response, the book argues for a radical ethical and political self-reflexivity that is vigilant to our reproduction of neo-colonialisms and amenable to public contestation of development priorities. It also underlines subaltern political strategies that can (and do) lead to greater democratic dialogue.

‘Psychoanalysis and the GlObal’ by Ilan Kapoor


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Psychoanalysis and the GlObal is about the hole at the heart of the “glObal,” meaning the instability and indecipherability that lies at the hub of globalization. The contributors use psychoanalysis to expose the unconscious desires, excesses, and antagonisms that accompany the world of economic flows, cultural circulation, and sociopolitical change. Unlike the mainstream discourse of globalization, which most often assumes unencumbered movement across borders, these contributors uncover what Lacan calls “the Real” of the glObal—its rifts, gaps, exceptions, and contradictions.

Psychoanalysis and the GlObal adopts a psychoanalytic lens to highlight the unconscious circuits of enjoyment, racism, and anxiety that trouble, if not undermine, globalization’s economic, cultural, and environmental goals or gains. The contributors interrogate how unconscious desires and drives are externalized in our increasingly globalizing world: the ways in which traumas and emotional conflicts are integral to the disjunctures, homogeneities, and contingencies of global interactions; how social passions are manifested and materialized in political economy as much as in climate change, urban architecture, refugee and gender politics, or the growth of neo-populism; and how the unconscious serves as a basis for the rise and breakdown of popular movements against authoritarianism and neoliberal globalization. Psychoanalysis and the GlObal represents a major step forward in understanding globalization and also in extending the range and power of psychoanalytic critiques in, and of, geography.


Ilan Kapoor is a professor of environmental studies at York University. He is the author of Celebrity Humanitarianism: The Ideology of Global Charity and The Postcolonial Politics of Development.


“Psychoanalysis and the GlObal brilliantly confirms Jacques Lacan’s thesis that the unconscious is political. It not merely applies psychoanalysis to global economic and political movements; it reveals how the unconscious itself is already traversed by social and political antagonisms. For this reason alone, this edited volume by Ilan Kapoor is obligatory reading, not only for those who want to penetrate the dark underside of our social life but also for those who want to bring out the economic and political mediation of our most intimate traumas.”

—Slavoj Žižek, senior researcher, Institute for Sociology and Philosophy, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia (2018-03-05)

Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography

Published by Canongate Books in 2011. Download link updated on 3. July 2021.

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By the publisher:

“In December 2010, Julian Assange signed a contract with Canongate Books to write a book–part memoir, part manifesto–for publication the following year.

At the time, Julian said: ‘I hope this book will become one of the unifying documents of our generation. In this highly personal work, I explain our global struggle to force a new relationship between the people and their governments.’

In the end, the work was to prove too personal.

Despite sitting for more than fifty hours of taped interviews and spending many late nights at Ellingham Hall (where he was living under house arrest) discussing his life and the work of WikiLeaks with the writer he had enlisted to help him, Julian became increasingly troubled by the thought of publishing an autobiography. After reading the first draft of the book at the end of March, Julian declared: ‘All memoir is prostitution.

In June 2011, with thirty-eight publishing houses around the world committed to releasing the book, Julian told us he wanted to cancel his contract.

We disagree with Julian’s assessment of the book. We believe it explains both the man and his work, underlining his commitment to the truth. Julian always claimed the book was well written; we agree, and this also encouraged us to make the book available to readers.

And the contract? By the time Julian wanted to cancel the deal he had already used the advance money to settle his legal bills. So the contract still stands. We have decided to honour it – and to publish.

This book is the unauthorised first draft. It is passionate, provocative and opinionated – like its author. It fulfils the promise of the original proposal and we are proud to publish it.”

‘When Google Met WikiLeaks’ by Julian Assange

Published by OR Books in 2014. Download link updated on 3. July 2021.

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In June 2011, Julian Assange received an unusual visitor: the chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, arrived from America at Ellingham Hall, the country residence in Norfolk, England where Assange was living under house arrest. For several hours the besieged leader of the world’s most famous insurgent publishing organization and the billionaire head of the world’s largest information empire locked horns. The two men debated the political problems faced by society, and the technological solutions engendered by the global network—from the Arab Spring to Bitcoin.

When Google Met WikiLeaks presents the story of Assange and Schmidt’s encounter. Both fascinating and alarming, it contains extensive, new material, written by Assange specifically for this book, providing the best available summary of his vision for the future of the Internet.

The book also includes an edited transcript of the conversation with Schmidt in which Assange outlines the way WikiLeaks works and why it is so significant for governments and corporations. What emerges is the clearest and most sophisticated picture of the philosophy behind WikiLeaks to date.

Assange proposes a radical overhaul of the naming structure of the Internet, one which would revolutionize the way information is accessed. By coupling the intellectual content of a document to its online name—doing away with the haphazard URL system—Assange outlines a potential future for the Internet that would make it faster and much more difficult to censor.

In contrast, Schmidt’s contribution equates progress with the geographic expansion of Google, supported by the US State Department. In cutting prose, Assange denounces this world-view as “technocratic imperialism” and offers a stringent critique of its methods, goals and effects.

These are vital counterpoints for anyone interested in where the Internet—and by extension human civilization—is heading. The difference between the paths taken by Assange and Schmidt was illustrated subsequently by their responses to the Snowden disclosures: while WikiLeaks aided the whistleblower’s escape, Google scrambled to manage a public relations backlash after the revelation that it had taken money from the NSA to process spying requests from the US government.

‘Permanent Record’ by Edward Snowden

Published by Metropolitan Books in 2019. Download link updated 20. June 2021.

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Edward Snowden, the man who risked everything to expose the US government’s system of mass surveillance, reveals for the first time the story of his life, including how he helped to build that system and what motivated him to try to bring it down.

In 2013, twenty-nine-year-old Edward Snowden shocked the world when he broke with the American intelligence establishment and revealed that the United States government was secretly pursuing the means to collect every single phone call, text message, and email. The result would be an unprecedented system of mass surveillance with the ability to pry into the private lives of every person on earth. Six years later, Snowden reveals for the very first time how he helped to build this system and why he was moved to expose it.

Spanning the bucolic Beltway suburbs of his childhood and the clandestine CIA and NSA postings of his adulthood, Permanent Record is the extraordinary account of a bright young man who grew up online—a man who became a spy, a whistleblower, and, in exile, the Internet’s conscience. Written with wit, grace, passion, and an unflinching candor, Permanent Record is a crucial memoir of our digital age and destined to be a classic.

‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock)’ by Slavoj Žižek


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A modernist work of art is by definition ‘incomprehensible’; it functions as a shock, as the irruption of a trauma which undermines the complacency of our daily routine and resists being integrated. What postmodernism does, however, is the very opposite: it objects par excellence are products with mass appeal; the aim of the postmodernist treatment is to estrange their initial homeliness.

Hitchcock is placed on the analyst’s couch in this extraordinary volume of case studies, as its contributors bring to bear an unrivalled enthusiasm and theoretical sweep of the entire Hitchcock oeuvre, from Rear Window to Psycho, as the exemplar of the ‘postmodern’ procedure of defamiliarization.

Starting from the premise that ‘everything in the films has meaning’, the ostensible narrative content and formal procedures are analysed to reveal a rich proliferation of ideological and psychic mechanisms at work. But Alfred Hitchcock is here also a bait to lure the reader into a more ‘serious’ Marxian and Lacanian considerations on the construction of meaning in general. Already published in its second edition, ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock)’ has without a doubt by now become a long-standing landmark of Hitchcock studies.

‘Hitchcock’ by François Truffaut

A still from the 2015 French-American documentary film based on the book.

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Iconic, groundbreaking interviews of Alfred Hitchcock by film critic François Truffaut—providing insight into the cinematic method, the history of film, and one of the greatest directors of all time.

In Hitchcock, Truffaut presents fifty hours of interviews with Alfred Hitchcock about the whole of his vast directorial career, from his silent movies in Great Britain to his color films in Hollywood. The result is a portrait of one of the greatest directors the world has ever known, an all-round specialist who masterminded everything, from the screenplay and the photography to the editing and the soundtrack. Hitchcock discusses the inspiration behind his films and the art of creating fear and suspense, as well as giving strikingly honest assessments of his achievements and failures, his doubts and hopes. This peek into the brain of one of cinema’s greats is a must-read for all film aficionados.

Nearly 12 hours of the interviews were broadcast on French radio as a 25 part series. Each episode runs for just over 25 minutes.

‘NATO as the Left Hand of God?’ by Slavoj Žižek

The text as published in Law, Justice, and Power: Between Reason and Will, ed. by Sinkwan Cheng and published by Standford University Press in 2004.
The image is used purely for symbolic purposes.

The Impasse of the Left

The winner in the contest for the greatest blunder of 1998 was a Latin American patriotic terrorist who sent a letter bomb to a U.S. consulate to protest against the Americans interfering with local politics. As a conscientious citizen, he wrote his return address on the envelope; however, he did not put enough stamps on it, so the post office returned the letter to him. Forgetting what he had put in it, he opened it and blew himself up—a perfect example of how, ultimately, a letter always arrives at its destination. And is not something quite similar happening to the regime of Slobodan Milošević with the recent NATO bombing? For years, Milošević was sending letter bombs to his neighbors, from the Albanians to Croatia and Bosnia, keeping himself out of the conflict while igniting fire all around Serbia—finally, his last letter returned to him. Let us hope that the result of the NATO intervention will be that Milošević will be proclaimed the political blunderer of the year.

There is a kind of poetic justice in the fact that the west finally intervened apropos of Kosovo—let us not forget that it all began there, with Milošević’s ascension to power. This ascension was legitimized by the promise to amend the underprivileged situation of Serbia within the Yugoslav federation, especially with regard to the Albanian “separatism.” Albanians were Milošević’s first target; afterward, he shifted his wrath onto other Yugoslav republics (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia), until finally the focus of the conflict returned to Kosovo—as in a closed loop of destiny, the arrow returned to the one who shot it by way of setting free the specter of ethnic passions. This is the key point worth remembering: Yugoslavia did not start to disintegrate when the Slovene “secession” triggered the domino effect (first Croatia, then Bosnia, Macedonia . . . ); it was already disintegrating at the time of Milošević’s constitutional reforms in 1987, depriving Kosovo and Vojvodina of their limited autonomy. The fragile balance on which Yugoslavia rested was irretrievably disturbed. From that moment onward, Yugoslavia continued to live only because it hadn’t yet noticed that it was already dead—it was like the proverbial cat in the cartoons walking over the precipice, floating in the air, and falling only when it becomes aware that it has no ground under its feet.

As to this key point, even such a penetrating political philosopher as Alain Badiou insists that the only Yugoslavia worth of respect was Tito’s Yugoslavia, and that in its disintegration along ethnic lines, all sides are ultimately the same: “ethnic cleaners” of their own entity—Serbs, Slovenes, or Bosnians:

The Serb nationalism is worthless. But in what is it worse than others? It is more broad, more expanded, more armed, it had without any doubt more occasions to exercise its criminal passion. But this only depends on circumstances. . . . Let us suppose that, tomorrow, the KLA of the Kosovar nationalists will take power: can one imagine that one Serb will remain in Kosovo? Outside the victimizing rhetorics, we haven’t seen one good political reason to prefer a Kosovar (or Croat, or Albanian, or Slovene, or Muslim-Bosnian) nationalist to the Serb nationalist. . . . Sure, Milošević is a brutish nationalist, as all his colleagues from Croatia, Bosnia, or Albania. . . . From the beginning of the conflict, the Westerners have effectively only taken side, and in an awkward way, of the weak (Bosnian, Kosovar) nationalism against the strong (Serb and subsidiary Croat) nationalism.

The ultimate irony of such leftist nostalgic longing for the lost Yugoslavia is that it ends up identifying as the successor of Yugoslavia the very force that effectively killed it: the Serbia of Milošević. In the post-Yugoslav crisis of the 1990s, it was the (“Muslim”) Bosnia which can be said to stand for the positive legacy of the Titoist Yugoslavia—the much-praised multiculturalist tolerance—: the Serb aggression toward Bosnia was (also) the aggression of Milošević, the first true post-Titoist (the first Yugoslav politician who effectively acted as if Tito were dead, as a perceptive Serb social scientist put it more than a decade ago), against those who desperately clung to the Titoist legacy of ethnic “brotherhood and unity.” No wonder that the supreme commander of the “Muslim” army was General Rasim Delić, an ethnic Serb; no wonder that, all through the 1990s, “Muslim” Bosnia was the only part of ex-Yugoslavia in whose government offices Tito’s portraits were still hanging. To obliterate this crucial aspect of the Yugoslav war, and to reduce the Bosnian conflict to the civil war between different “ethnic groups” in Bosnia, are not neutral gestures, but gestures that adopt the standpoint of one of the sides in the conflict: Serbia.

To justify their avoidance of the inexorable political choice, many leftists resort to the “what if. . .” game (a thoroughly fictional alternative scenario). The favored options here are the fate of the last federal government of Ante Markovic and the recognition of Slovenia and other “secessionist” republics: instead of choosing the “secessionist” path that set in motion the overall destruction, Slovenia and Croatia should have fully supported the Markovic government and thus made possible a unified, peaceful, democratic, market-oriented Yugoslavia. The west should not have recognized Slovene and Croat independence so quickly, because this recognition set the civil war in motion. Both these arguments advocate a thoroughly nonrealistic option: Markovic never had a chance in the face of Milošević’s nationalist populism; the advocacy of the nonrecognition of Slovenia and other “secessionists” is not only factually wrong (in this case, the war would have been even more bloody and protracted because it would render the resistance to the Serb Army more difficult), it also relies on a fatal misreading of the situation: the true “separatist” was none other than Milošević himself, who undermined the fragile balance that kept together Tito’s Yugoslavia, and, paradoxical as it may sound, the separation from him was, for the others, the only way to save what was positive in the idea (that is, the political project) of Yugoslavia.

However, resorting to such fictional scenarios enables us to assume a comfortable position, one in which we can avoid taking sides in the actual conflict. Furthermore, if one accepted the game of (non)recognition, then the only consistent ethicopolitical stance of the “great powers” in 1991 would have been to conclude that Yugoslavia as a federal state, as a sovereign international political subject, ceased to exist once the federal bodies lost efficiency and legitimacy, and consequently to withdraw diplomatic recognition from all post-Yugoslav entities, inclusive of the Serb-dominated new “Yugoslavia,” and to set minimal political conditions (democratic political life, respect of the minority rights, and so on) for the recognition of its parts as sovereign states.

This, of course, does not mean that in ex-Yugoslavia, the worst possible scenario was played out. There is a subgenre of science fiction, the alternative history, in which history plays out differently. The hero may intervene in the past in order to prevent some catastrophic event from occurring, yet the unexpected result of his intervention may be an even worse catastrophe, as in Stephen Fry’s chillingly amusing Making History, in which a scientist intervenes in the past, making Hitler’s father impotent just before Hitler’s conception, so that Hitler is not born. As one can expect, the result of this intervention is that another German officer of aristocratic origins takes over the role of Hitler, develops the atomic bomb, and wins the World War II. .. . And, mutatis mutandis, the same goes for ex-Yugoslavia: it might have been worse. Instead of Milošević, there might have been a more intelligent nationalist politician who would successfully play the game of presenting himself to the West as the main proponent of stability in the region.

Perhaps, after a delay of ten years, this can happen now. The partisans of global liberal capitalism see the choice that confronts ex-Yugoslav republics as that between embracing Western liberal capitalism or persisting in their ethnic self-enclosure. But what if this is a false alternative and there is a third choice—the combination of the two that Vesna Pešić, member of the Serb democratic opposition, called the possible “Russification” of Serbia? What if, after Milošević, we’ll get a new ruling elite, composed of the corrupted nouveaux riches and members of the present political class, who will present themselves to the West as “pro-Western” (in order to get Western financial support), while endlessly postponing true democratic changes, justifying it by special circumstances, and (while, in internal politics, actually following the nationalist line) claiming that if the west withdraws its support from it, the nationalist hard-liners will take over again?

This phenomenon is more general than it may appear. In a lot of third world states, the ideological interpellation of the ruling elite is double: the elite in the cities resort to liberal-democratic interpellation while simultaneously interpellating individuals (especially in remote areas) as members of an exclusive ethnic community. And the illusion of a lot of political agents, from patronizingly benevolent Western interveners to Mandela, is that it is possible to simply suspend the ethnic identification, this alleged source of “tribal ethnic savage violence,” and directly impose the regime of universal democratic citizenship. As the experience from Bosnia to Kenya demonstrates, this solution doesn’t function: in this case, the catastrophic outcome is that the main political options get overdetermined (or invested, colored) by ethnic differences: a certain political orientation is identified with members of a certain ethnic community.

So, back to Serbia, the proof of Milošević’s hegemony is that, until now, no political force, not even the most “democratic” one, was able to formulate an all-inclusive platform interpellating and including Albanians. Their exclusion was silently accepted by everyone—that is, all parties concerned shared a substantial nationalistic agenda. Even if some most radical circles of the Serb “democratic opposition” unambiguously admitted and condemned Serb crimes against Albanians (for that, they deserve full recognition), they were unable to propose a political platform that would not only condemn the violence against Albanians as object-victims, but also actively interpellate them as political subjects, making them part of a common movement. In clear contrast to it, and notwithstanding the presence of the “regressive” political tendencies in other ex-Yugoslav republics, in all of them, there are serious political forces that advocate a platform that also addresses the ethnic Other. That is, in them, there is no nationalist consensus. And this is probably the minimum criterion of democratic politics in ex-Yugoslavia: the absence of a nationalist consensus between power and opposition.

The ultimate cause of the opposition to the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in some leftist circles is their refusal to confront the impasse of today’s left. This refusal also explains the properly uncanny appeal of negative gestures like the spectacular retreat of the German superminister Oskar Lafontaine: the very fact that he stepped down without giving a reason, combined with his demonization in the predominant mass media (from the front-page headline of The Sun —“The most dangerous man in Europe”— to the photo of him in Bild, portraying him in profile, as in a mug shot), made him an ideal projection for all the fantasies of the frustrated left that reject the predominant Third Way politics. If Lafontaine were to stay, he would save the essentials of the welfare state, restore the proper role to the trade unions, reassert the control of politics over the “autonomous” financial politics of the state banks, even prevent the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. . . . Although Lafontaine’s elevation to a cult figure has its positive side (it articulates the utopian desires for an authentic left that would break the hegemonic Third Way stance of accepting the unquestioned reign of the logic of the capital), suspicions should nonetheless be raised that there is something false about it. Very simply, if Lafontaine were effectively in the position to accomplish at least some of the above-mentioned goals, he would simply not step down. Rather, he would go on with his job. The cult of Lafontaine is thus possible only as a negative gesture: it is his stepping down that created the void in which utopian leftist energies can be invested, relying on the illusion that, if external circumstances (for example, Schroeder’s opportunism) were not preventing Lafontaine from doing his task, he would effectively accomplish something. The true problem, however, is this: what would have happened if Lafontaine had not been forced to step down? The sad but most probable answer is that either nothing of real substance would have happened (he would have been gradually “gentrified,” coopted into the predominant Third Way politics, as had already happened with Jospin in France), or his interventions would have triggered a global economic-political crisis forcing him—again—to step down and discrediting Social Democracy as unable to govern. (In this respect, Lafontaine is a phenomenon that parallels the leaders of Prague in spring 1968: in a way, the soviet intervention saved face. It provided the illusion that, if they could remain in power, they would effectively give birth to a “socialism with a human face,” to an authentic alternative to both Real Socialism and Real Capitalism.)

Human Rights and Their Obverse

Does this mean that one should simply praise the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia as the first case of an intervention—not into the confused situation of a civil war, but into a country with full sovereign power? True, it may appear comforting to see the NATO forces intervene not for any specific economic-strategic interests, but simply because a country is cruelly violating the basic human rights of an ethnic group. Is not this the only hope in our global era—to see some internationally acknowledged force as a guarantee that all countries will respect a certain minimum of ethical (and, one hopes, also health, social, ecological) standards? This is the message that Vaclav Havel tries to bring home in his essay, significantly titled “Kosovo and the End of the Nation-State”; according to Havel, the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia

places human rights above the rights of the state. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was attacked by the alliance without a direct mandate from the UN. This did not happen irresponsibly, as an act of aggression or out of disrespect for international law. It happened, on the contrary, out of respect for the law, for a law that ranks higher than the law which protects the sovereignty of states. The alliance has acted out of respect for human rights, as both conscience and international legal documents dictate. (6)

Havel further specifies this “higher law” when he claims that “human rights, human freedoms, and human dignity have their deepest roots somewhere outside the perceptible world. . . . while the state is a human creation, human beings are the creation of God” (6). If we read Havel’s two statements as the two premises of a judgment, the conclusion that imposes itself is none other than that the NATO forces were allowed to violate the existing international law because they acted as a direct instrument of the “higher law” of God himself. If this is not a clear-cut case of “religious fundamentalism,” then this term is devoid of any minimally consistent meaning. There are, however, a series of features that disturb this idyllic picture: the first thing that cannot but arouse suspicion is how, in the NATO justification of the intervention, the reference to the violation of human rights is always accompanied by the vague but ominous reference to “strategic interests.” The story of NATO as the enforcer of the respect for human rights is thus only one of the two coherent stories that can be told about the bombings of Yugoslavia, and the problem is that each story has its own rationale. The second story concerns the other side of the much-praised new global ethical politics in which one is allowed to violate the state sovereignty on behalf of the violation of human rights. The first glimpse into this other side is provided by the way the big Western media selectively elevate some local “warlord” or dictator into the embodiment of Evil: Sadam Hussein, Milošević, up to the unfortunate (now forgotten) Aidid in Somalia. At every point, it is or was “the community of civilized nations against. . . .” And on what criterion does this selection rely? Why Albanians in Serbia, but not also Palestinians in Israel, Kurds in Turkey, and so on? Here, of course, we enter the shady world of international capital and its strategic interests.

According to Project CENSORED (Carl Jensen, Censored 1999), the top censored story of 1998 was that of a half-secret international agreement in working, called the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). The primary goal of MAI is to protect the foreign interests of multinational companies. The agreement will basically undermine the sovereignty of nations by assigning power to the corporations that is almost equal to that of the countries in which these corporations are located. Governments will no longer be able to treat their domestic firms more favorably than foreign firms. Furthermore, countries that do not relax their environmental, landuse, and health and labor standards to meet the demands of foreign firms may be accused of acting illegally. Corporations will be able to sue sovereign states if they impose ecological or other standards that they deem too severe. Under NAFTA (which is the main model for MAI), Ethyl Corporation already sued Canada for banning the use of its gasoline additive MMT. The greatest threat is, of course, to the developing nations that will be pressured into depleting their natural resources for commercial exploitation. Renato Ruggerio, director of the World Trade Organization, the sponsor of MAI, is already hailing this project, elaborated and discussed in a clandestine manner, with almost no public discussion and media attention, as the “constitution for a new global economy.” And in the same way in which, already for Marx, market relations provided the true foundation for the notion of individual freedoms and rights, this is also the obverse of the much-praised new global morality celebrated even by some neoliberal philosophers as signaling the beginning of a new era in which the international community will establish and enforce some minimal code that prevents sovereign states from engaging in crimes against humanity, even within its own territory. The recent catastrophic economic situation in Russia, far from being the heritage of old socialist mismanagement, is a direct result of this global capitalist logic embodied in MAI.

This other story also has its ominous military side. The ultimate lesson of the last American military interventions, from Operation Desert Fox against Iraq at the end of 1998 to the renewed war against Iraq in 2003, is that they signal a new era in military history—battles in which the attacking force operates under the constraint that it can sustain no casualties. When the first stealth fighter fell in Serbia, the emphasis of the American media was that there were no casualties—the pilot was saved! (This concept of “war without casualties” was elaborated by General Colin Powell.) And was not the counterpoint to it the almost surreal way CNN reported on the war: not only was it presented as a TV event, but the Iraqis themselves seem to treat it this way. During the day, Bagdad was a normal city, with people going about their business, as if war and bombardment were unreal, nightmarish specters that occurred only during the night and did not take place in effective reality.

Let us recall what went on in the final American assault on the Iraqi lines during the Gulf War: no photos, no reports—just rumors that tanks with bulldozer-like shields in front of them rolled over Iraqi trenches, simply burying thousands of troops in earth and sand. What went on was allegedly considered too cruel in its sheer mechanical efficiency, too different from the standard notion of heroic face-to-face combat, with images that would perturb too much. Public opinion could not handle it, so a total censorship blackout was strictly imposed. Here we have the two aspects joined together: the new notion of war as a purely technological event, taking place behind radar and computer screens, with no casualties, and extreme physical cruelty too unbearable for the gaze of the media—not the crippled children and raped women, victims of caricaturized local ethnic “fundamentalist warlords,” but thousands of nameless soldiers, victims of efficient technological warfare. When Jean Baudrillard made the claim that the Gulf War did not take place, this statement could also be read in the sense that such traumatic pictures that stand for the Real of this war were totally censored.

There is another, even more disturbing aspect to be discerned in this virtualization of the war. The usual Serb complaint is that instead of confronting them face to face, as befits brave soldiers, NATO was cowardly bombing them from distant ships and planes. And, effectively, the lesson here is that it is thoroughly false to claim that war is made less traumatic if it is no longer experienced by the soldiers (or presented) as an actual encounter with another human being to be killed, but as an abstract activity in front of a screen or behind a gun far from the explosion, like guiding a missile on a warship hundreds of miles away from its target. Although this kind of distance makes the soldier less guilty, it is open to question whether it effectively causes less anxiety. Take, for example, the strange fact that soldiers often fantasize about killing the enemy in a face-to-face confrontation, looking him into the eyes before stabbing him with a bayonet (in a kind of military version of the sexual false memory syndrome, they even often “remember” such encounters when they never took place). There is a long literary tradition of elevating such face-to-face encounters as an authentic war experience (see the writings of Ernst Juenger, who praised them in his memoirs of the trench attacks in World War I). So what if the truly traumatic feature is not the awareness that I am killing another human being (to be obliterated through the “dehumanization” and “objectivization” of war into a technical procedure), but, on the contrary, this very “objectivization,” which then generates the need to supplement it by the fantasies of authentic personal encounters with the enemy? It is thus not the fantasy of a purely aseptic war run as a video game behind computer screens that protects us from the reality of the face-to-face killing of another person; it is, rather, this fantasy of a face-to-face encounter with an enemy killed in a bloody confrontation that we construct in order to escape the trauma of the depersonalized war turned into an anonymous technological apparatus.

The Ideology of Victimization

What all this means is that the impasse of the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia is not simply the result of some particular failure of strategic reasoning, but depends on the fundamental inconsistency of the very notion on which this intervention relies. The problem with NATO acting in Yugoslavia as an agent of “militaristic humanismism” or even “militaristic pacifism” (Ulrich Beck) is not that these terms are Orwellian oxymorons (reminding us of “peace is war” slogans from his 1984), which, as such, directly belies the truth of its position (against this obvious pacifist-liberal criticism, I rather think that it is the pacifist position—“more bombs and killing never brings peace”—which is a fake, and that one should heroically endorse the paradox of militaristic pacifism); it is neither that, obviously, the targets of bombardment are not chosen out of pure moral consideration, but selectively, depending on unadmitted geopolitical and economic strategic interests (the obvious Marxist-style criticism). The problem is rather that this purely humanitarian-ethic legitimization (again) thoroughly depoliticizes the military intervention, changing it from an intervention into humanitarian catastrophe grounded in purely moral reasons, not an intervention into a well-defined political struggle. In other words, the problem with “militaristic humanism/pacifism” resides not in “militaristic,” but in “humanism/pacifism”: in the way the “militaristic” intervention (into the social struggle) is presented as a help to the victims of (for example, ethnic) hatred and violence, justified directly in depoliticized universal human rights. Consequently, what we need is not a “true” (demilitarized) humanism/pacifism, but a “militaristic” social intervention divested of the depoliticized humanist/pacifist coating.

Even the large majority of those who opposed the NATO bombing silently accepted this moralistic logic and merely complained that this logic was not fully implemented, that there were other (strategic, geopolitical) interests behind it. The typical stance of a moralist opponent to the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia was that he supports the moral consideration for human rights, but deplores the concrete way in which NATO militarily intervened (bombing bridges and civilian objects). What I am tempted to do is to reverse this commonplace: the NATO intervention ultimately did bring about some good results (refugees are returning; the Milošević rule is for the first time seriously threatened), but what was problematic about it was precisely its depoliticized humanitarian legitimization, the most outstanding expression of the new moral tone that pervades contemporary political discourse more and more.

To get a taste of this falsity, it is sufficient to compare this recent moral tone with the great emancipatory movements based on the universalist moral appeal epitomized by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Gandhi and King led movements directed not against a certain group of people but against concrete (racist, colonialist) institutionalized practices. Their movements involved a positive, all-inclusive stance that, far from excluding the “enemy” (whites, English colonizers), made an appeal to their moral sense and asked them to do something that would restore their own moral dignity. As Wendy Brown astutely demonstrated, the predominant form of today’s “politically correct” moralism, on the contrary, is that of the Nietzschean ressentiment and envy: it is the fake gesture of the disavowed politics, of assuming a “moral,” depoliticized stance in order to make a stronger political case. We are dealing here with a perverted version of what, in the good old days of dissidence, Havel called the “power of the powerless”: one manipulates one’s powerlessness as a stratagem in order to gain more power in exactly the same way that today, in our politically correct times, in order for one’s voice to gain authority, one has to legitimize oneself as being some kind of a (potential or actual) victim of power. This stance is not assertive, but controlling, leveraging, bridling—like the “ethical committees” in the sciences popping up everywhere today, which are mainly concerned with how to define the limits and prevent things (say, biogenetic engineering) from happening. So, in this perspective, every actual act is bad: when Serbs cleanse Kosovo of Albanians, it’s bad; when NATO intervenes to prevent it, it’s bad; when the KLA strikes back, it’s bad—every excuse is good because it allows us to claim that of course we await an act, we want an act—but a proper moralistic act, the conditions for which are simply never here—like the proverbial falsely enlightened husband who, in principle, agrees that his wife can take lovers but complains of every actual lover she chooses, “You can have lovers, but not this one. Why did you have to pick this miserable guy?”

The ultimate cause of this moralistic depoliticization is, of course, the retreat of the great leftist historical-political narratives and projects. In this constellation, rationally convinced that the radical change of the existing liberal-democratic capitalist system is no longer even imaginable as a serious political project, but nonetheless unable to fully renounce their passionate attachment to the prospect of such a global change, the disappointed leftists invest the thwarted excess of their political energy that cannot find satisfaction in the moderate changes within the system, into the abstract and excessively rigid moralizing stance. So the choice is: either we resignedly renounce this “excessive” stubborn attachment to the prospect of global change and “maturely” accept our postpolitical universe of particular pragmatic solutions, or we risk a thorough repoliticization that would translate the false moralist zeal back into a radical ethico-political commitment.

A May 12,1999, report by Steven Erlanger on the suffering of the Kosovo Albanians in the New York Times perfectly renders this logic of depoliticized victimization (A13). Its title is telling: “In One Kosovo Woman, an Emblem of Suffering”—the subject to be protected (by the NATO intervention) is from the outset identified as a powerless victim of circumstances, deprived of all political identity, reduced to bare suffering. Her basic stance is that of excessive suffering, of traumatic experience that blurs all differences: “She’s seen too much, Meli said. She wants a rest. She wants it to be over.” As such, she is beyond any political recrimination—an independent Kosovo is not on her agenda; she just wants the horror to be over: “Does she favor an independent Kosovo? ‘You know, I don’t care if it’s this or that,’ Meli said. ‘I just want all this to end, and to feel good again, to feel good in my place and my house with my friends and family.’” Her support of the foreign (NATO) intervention is grounded in her wish for all this horror to be over: “She wants a settlement that brings foreigners here ‘with some force behind them.’ She is indifferent about who the foreigners are.” Consequently, she sympathizes with all the sides in an all-embracing humanist stance: “There is tragedy enough for everyone,” she says. “I feel sorry for the Serbs who’ve been bombed and died, and I feel sorry for my own people. But maybe now there will be a conclusion, a settlement for good. That would be great.” Here we have the ideological construction of the ideal subject-victim to whose aid NATO intervenes: not a political subject with a clear agenda, but a subject of helpless suffering, sympathizing with all suffering sides in the conflict, caught in the madness of a local clash that can only be pacified by the intervention of a benevolent foreign power, a subject whose innermost desire is reduced to the almost animal craving to “feel good again.”

The ultimate paradox of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia is thus not the one about which Western pacifists complain (by bombing Yugoslavia in order to prevent ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, NATO effectively triggered a large-scale cleansing and thus created the very humanitarian catastrophe it wanted to prevent), but a deeper paradox involved in the ideology of victimization: the key aspect to take note of is NATO’s privileging of the now discredited “moderate” Kosovar faction of Ibrahim Rugova against the “radical” Kosovo Liberation Army. What this means is that NATO is actively blocking the only and obvious alternative to the ground intervention of Western military forces: the full-scale armed resistance of the Albanians themselves. (The moment this option is mentioned, fears start to circulate: KLA is not really an army, just a bunch of untrained fighters; we should not trust KLA because it is involved in drug trafficking and/or is a Maoist group whose victory would led to a Khmer Rouge or Taliban regime in Kosovo. . . .) Now, with the agreement on the Serb Army’s withdrawal from Kosovo, this distrust against the KLA resurfaced with a vengeance: after a couple of weeks in which it seemed that the U.S. army was seriously counting on the KLA against the Serb forces, the topic of the day is again the “danger” that, after the Serb army’s withdrawal, the KLA will—as the NATO sources and the media like to put it—“fill in the vacuum” and take over. The message of this distrust, again, cannot be clearer: it’s OK to help the helpless Albanians against the Serb monsters, but in no way are they to be allowed to effectively cast off this helplessness by way of asserting themselves as a sovereign and self-reliant political subject, a subject with no need for the benevolent charge of the NATO “protectorate.”

In short, while NATO is intervening in order to protect the Kosovar victims, at the same time, it is taking care that they will remain victims, not an active politicomilitary force capable of defending itself. The strategy of NATO is thus perverse in the precise Freudian sense of the term: it is itself (co)responsible for the calamity against which it offers itself as a remedy (like the mad governess from Patricia Highsmith’s “Pleroine”, who sets the family house on fire in order to be able to prove her devotion to the family by bravely saving the children from the raging fire). What we encounter here is again the paradox of victimization: the Other to be protected is good insofar as it remains a victim (which is why we are bombarded with pictures of helpless Kosovar mothers, children, and the elderly, all telling moving stories of their suffering); the moment it no longer behaves as a victim but wants to strike back on its own, it suddenly, magically turns into a terrorist/fundamentalist/drug-trafficking Other.

The uncanny phenomenon that is strictly correlative to this logic of victimization is the blurring of the line of separation between private and public in the political discourse: when the German defense minister Rudolph Scharping tried to justify the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, he did not present his stance as something grounded in a clear, cold decision. Rather, he went deep into rendering his inner turmoil public, openly evoking his doubts, his moral dilemmas regarding this difficult decision. So if this tendency catches on, we shall no longer have politicians who will publicly speak the cold, impersonal official language, following the ritual of public declarations, but rather will share their inner turmoils and doubts with the public in a unique display of “sincerity.” Here, however, the mystery begins: one would expect this “sincere” sharing of private dilemmas to act as a countermeasure to the predominant cynicism of those in power: is not the ultimate cynic a politician who, in his public discourse, speaks in a cold, dignified language about the high politics, while privately he entertains a distance toward his statements, well aware of particular pragmatic considerations that lie behind these high-principled public statements? It thus may seem that the natural counterpoint to cynicism is the “dignified” public discourse. However, a closer look soon reveals that the “sincere” revealing of inner turmoils is the ultimate, highest form of cynicism. The impersonal dignified public speech counts on the gap between public and private. We are well aware that when a politician speaks in the official dignified tone, he speaks as the stand-in for the Institution, not as a psychological individual (that is, the Institution speaks through him), and therefore nobody expects him to be “sincere” because that is simply not the point (in the same way, a judge who passes a sentence is not expected to be “sincere,” but simply to follow and apply the law, whatever his sentiments). On the other hand, the public sharing of the inner turmoils, the coincidence between public and private, even and especially when it is psychologically “sincere,” is cynical—not because such a public display of private doubts and uncertainties is faked, concealing the true privacy. What this display conceals is the objective sociopolitical and ideological dimension of the decisions, so the more this display is psychologically “sincere,” the more it is “objectively” cynical in that it mystifies the true social meaning and effect of these decisions.

So how are we to break out of this deadlock? A year or so ago, on Austrian TV, there was a roundtable discussion about Kosovo with a Serb, a Kosovar Albanian, and a German-speaking pacifist. The Serb and the Kosovar were arguing in a clear and “rational” way (rational, of course, if one accepts the underlying politico-ideological premise of their respective reasoning): the Serb for the Serb right to retain their hold over Kosovo, the Kosovar for the right of the Albanian majority there to freely decide their fate. However, the pacifist basically ignored their arguments and just repeatedly insisted that they should renounce violence and promise not to shoot and kill each other, that they should strive to replace intolerance and hatred with the tolerant acceptance of the Other. … In the midst of these pacifist’s ruminations, the Serb and the Kosovar, the two sworn enemies, quickly, almost imperceptibly, exchanged their glances in an amused and perplexed way, as if, in an unexpected gesture of solidarity, saying to each other: “What is this idiot talking about? How can he be so stupid as not to understand anything at all}” And my point is that if this brief moment of solidarity could have been somehow operationalized (to put it in an ironically brutal way, if the Serb and the Kosovar were to tell to each other: “Do we really have to take this crap? Let’s just shoot the idiot and go on . . .”), there would be some real hope for Serb-Kosovar relations. That is to say, how are we to interpret this exchange of gazes? The obvious way would be to read it as the sign of the obscene solidarity of “primitive” ethnic murderers directed against a sincere civilized pacifist: “Let him go—the idiot doesn’t know what pleasure ethnic hatred can bring!” However, what if the perplexity of the two ex-Yugoslavs rather expressed their awareness of how the pacifist’s attitude itself displayed a patronizing, racist ignorance?

The point here is not to get a cheap laugh at the pacifist’s sincere effort, but rather to bring to light its hidden arrogance. Michael Ignatieff, with whose liberal approach I otherwise profoundly disagree, recently drew attention to the term “protectorate” used to describe the immediate political status of Kosovo: as if the international community were dealing with immature people who had to be disciplined and protected from their destructive impulses by a benevolent outside force. For the same reason, one should reject the multiculturalist pacifist appeals to tolerance. They also involve a gesture of disabling the other, as if we are dealing with fighting children who should be taught to treat each other kindly. Again, paradoxical and counterintuitive as it may appear, one should therefore reject the patronizing diagnostic of Yugoslav war(s) in terms of “ethnic” or “nationalist” conflicts—the struggle was between different political options. This perception (“ethnic conflict”) is itself a distortion that involves an a priori moral patronizing judgment (the people are “immature,” all sides are the same, the need for protectorate . . . ) and is thus part of the moralizing depoliticization of the situation.

The Carnival in the Eye of the Storm

The “disavowal of reality” in the NATO-Yugoslav war was double: the Serb counterpart to the NATO fantasy of war without casualties, of a precise surgical operation ideologically sustained by the ideology of global victimization, was—in the first weeks of the NATO bombardment—the faked carnivalization of the war, which involved the total disconnection from the reality of what went on down in Kosovo. So, on the one hand, we had the more and more openly racist tone of the Western media reports on the war: when three American soldiers were taken prisoners, CNN dedicated the first ten minutes of the news to their predicament (although everyone knew that nothing would happen to them!), and only then reported on the tens of thousands of refugees, the burned villages, and new ghost town of Pristina. And the Serb counterpoint to it was the obscenities of the state propaganda: they regularly referred to Clinton not as “the American president,” but as “the American Fuehrer”; two of the posters on their stateorganized anti-NATO demonstrations were “Clinton, come here and be our Monica!” (that is, suck our . . . ), and “Monica, did you also suck out his brain?” This is where the NATO planners got it wrong, caught in their schemes of strategic reasoning, unable to forecast that the Serb reaction to bombardment will be recourse to a collective Bakhtinian carnivalization of the social life.

The standard topic of critical psychiatry is that a “madman” is not in himself mad, but rather functions as a kind of focal point in which the pathological tension that permeates the entire group (family) to which he belongs finds its outlet. The “madman” is the product of the group pathology, the symptomatic point in which the global pathology becomes visible—one can say that all other members of the group succeed in retaining (the appearance of) their sanity by condensing their pathology in (or by projecting it onto) the sacrificial figure of the madman, this exception who grounds the global order of group sanity. However, more interesting than this is the opposite case, exemplified by the life of Bertrand Russell. He lived until his death in his late 90s a long, normal life, full of creativity and “healthy” sexual satisfactions, yet all the people around him, members of his larger family, seemed to be afflicted with some kind of madness. He had love affairs with most of the wives of his sons, and most of his sons and other close relatives committed suicide. It is thus as if, in a kind of inversion of the standard logic of group sanity guaranteed by the exclusion of the “madman,” here, we have the central figure who retained (the appearance of) his sanity by way of spreading his madness all around him, onto all his close relatives. The task of critical analysis here, of course, is to demonstrate how the true point of madness of this social network is precisely the only point that appears “sane”: its central paternal figure who perceives madness everywhere around himself, but is unable to recognize in himself its true source.

And does the same not hold’ for the predominant way the Serbs perceive their role today? On the one hand, one can argue that, for the West, Serbia is a symptomatic point in which the repressed truth of a more global situation violently breaks out. On the other hand, Serbs behave as an island of sanity in the sea of nationalist/secessionist madness all around them, refusing to acknowledge even a part of responsibility. It is illuminating to watch the Serb satellite state TV that targets the foreign public: no reports on atrocities in Kosovo are presented, and refugees are mentioned only as people fleeing the NATO bombing. The overall idea is that Serbia, the island of peace, the only place in ex-Yugoslavia that was not touched by the war raging all around it, is attacked by the NATO madmen destroying bridges and hospitals.

No wonder, then, that the atmosphere in Belgrade in the first weeks of the war was carnivalesque in a faked way—when they were not in shelters, people danced to rock or ethnic music on the streets, under the motto “With music against bombs!”, playing the role of the defiant victims (because they know that NATO does not really bomb civilian targets). Although it may fascinate some confused pseudo-leftists, this obscene carnivalization of the social life is effectively the other, public, face of ethnic cleansing: while in Belgrade people defiantly dance on the streets, three hundred kilometers to the south, genocide of monstrous proportions is taking place. So when, in the nighttime, crowds are camping out on the Belgrade bridges, participating in pop and ethnic music concerts held there in a defiantly festive mood, offering their bodies as the live shield to prevent the bridges from being bombed, the answer to this faked pathetic gesture should be a very simple one: why don’t you go to Kosovo and start a rock carnival in the Albanian parts of Pristina? And when people are wearing papers with a target emblem printed on them, the obscene falsity of this gesture cannot but strike the eye: can one imagine the real targets, years ago in Sarajevo or now in Kosovo, wearing such signs?

What is this almost psychotic refusal to perceive one’s responsibility grounded in? There is a well-known Israeli joke about Clinton visiting Bibi Netanyahu. When, in Bibi’s office, Clinton saw a mysterious blue phone, he asked Bibi what it was. Bibi answered that it allowed him to dial God up there in the sky. Upon his return to the United States, the envious Clinton demanded that the Secret Service provide him such a phone at any cost. In two weeks, they delivered it and it worked—but the phone bill was exorbitant: $2 million for a one-minute talk with God. So Clinton furiously called Bibi and complained: “How can you afford such a phone, if even we, who support you financially, cannot? Is this how you spend our money?” Bibi calmly answered: “No, it’s not that—you see, for us Jews, that call counts as a local call!”

The problem with Serbs is that, in their self-perception, they tend more and more to imitate Jews and identify themselves as the people for whom the phone call to God counts as a local call. That is to say, in the last years, the Serb propaganda promoted the identification of Serbia as the second Israel, with Serbs as the chosen nation and Kosovo as their West Bank where they fight, in the guise of “Albanian terrorists,” their own intifada. They went as far as repeating the old Israeli complaint against the Arabs: “We will pardon you for what you did to us, but we will never pardon you for forcing us to do to you the horrible things we had to do in order to defend ourselves!” The hilariously mocking Serb apology for shooting down the stealth bomber was, “Sorry, we didn’t know you were invisible!” One is tempted to say that the answer to Serb complaints about the “irrational barbaric bombing” of their country should be, “Sorry, we didn’t know you are a chosen nation!”

When the Western powers continuously repeat that they are not fighting the Serb people, but rather their corrupt leaders, they rely on the (typically liberal) wrong premise that Serbs are victims of their evil leadership personified in Milošević, that they are manipulated by him. The painful fact is that the Serb aggressive nationalism enjoys the support of the large majority of the population—no, Serbs are not passive victims of nationalist manipulation, they are not Americans in disguise, just waiting to be delivered from the nationalist spell. On the other hand, this misperception is accompanied by the apparently contradictory notion according to which Balkan people are living in the past, fighting old battles again and again, perceiving recent situation through old myths. I am tempted to say that these two cliches should be precisely turned around: not only are people not “good,” because they let themselves be manipulated with obscene pleasure, but there are also no ‘old myths” that we need to study if we are really to understand the complex situation, just the present outburst of racist nationalism that, according to its needs, opportunistically resuscitates old myths. To paraphrase the old Clintonian motto: no, it’s not the old myths and ethnic hatreds, it’s the political power struggle, stupid!

Where, in all this, is the much-praised Serb “democratic opposition”? One shouldn’t be too hard on them: in the present situation of Serbia, of course, any attempt at public disagreement would probably trigger direct death threats. On the other hand, one should nonetheless notice that there was a certain limit that, as far as I know, even the most radical Serb democratic opposition was never able to trespass: the farthest they can go is to admit the monstrous nature of Serb nationalism and ethnic cleansing, but nonetheless to insist that Milošević is ultimately just one in a series of the nationalist leaders who are to be blamed for the violence of the last decade: Milošević, Tudjman, Izetbegović, Kučan—they are ultimately all the same. I am not claiming, against such a vision, that one should put all the blame on Serbs. My point is just that instead of such pathetic apolitical generalizations (“they are all mad, all to blame”), one should, more than ever, insist on a concrete political analysis of the power struggles that triggered the catastrophe. And it is the rejection of such an analysis that accounts for the ultimate hypocrisy of the pacifist attitude toward the Kosovo war: “the true victims are women and children on all sides, so stop the bombing; more violence never helped to end violence—it just pushes us deeper into the vortex.”

So what should the Serb “democratic opposition” do? Let us recall Freud’s late book on Moses and monotheism: how did he react to the Nazi anti-Semitic threat? Not by joining the ranks of the beleaguered Jews in the defense of their legacy, but by targeting its own people, the most precious part of the Jewish legacy, the founding figure of Moses—that is, by endeavoring to deprive Jews of this figure, proving that Moses was not a Jew at all—this way, he effectively undermined the very unconscious foundation of the anti-Semitism. And is it not that Serbs should today risk a similar act with regard to Kosovo as their precious object-treasure, the cradle of their civilization, that which matters to them more than everything else and which they are never able to renounce? Therein resides the final limit of the large majority of the so-called democratic opposition to the Milošević regime: they unconditionally endorse Milošević’s anti-Albanian nationalist agenda, even accusing him of making compromises with the west and “betraying” Serb national interests in Kosovo. In the course of the student demonstrations against Milošević’s Socialist Party falsification of the election results in winter 1996, the Western media who closely followed the events and praised the revived democratic spirit in Serbia rarely mentioned the fact that one of the regular slogans of the demonstrators against the special police forces was “Instead of kicking us, go to Kosovo and kick out the Albanians!” For this very reason, the sine qua non of an authentic act in Serbia today would be precisely to renounce the claim to Kosovo, to sacrifice the substantial attachment to the privileged object. (What we have here is thus a nice case of the political dialectic of democracy: although democracy is the ultimate goal, in today’s Serbia, any direct advocacy of democracy that leaves uncontested nationalistic claims about Kosovo is doomed to fail —the issue, apropos of which the struggle for democracy will be decided, is that of Kosovo.)

The Second Way

The conclusion that imposes itself is thus that what we have here, in the NATO-Yugoslav conflict, is a political example of the famous drawing in which we recognize the contours either of a rabbit head or of a goose head, depending on our mental focus. If we look at the situation in a certain way, we see the international community enforcing minimal human rights standards on a nationalist neocommunist leader engaged in ethnic cleansing, ready to ruin his own nation just to retain power. If we shift the focus, we see NATO, the armed hand of the new capitalist global order, defending the strategic interests of the capital in the guise of a disgusting travesty, posing as a disinterested enforcer of human rights, attacking a sovereign country that, in spite of the problematic nature of its regime, nonetheless acts as an obstacle to the unbridled assertion of the New World Order.

How, then, are we to think these two stories together, without sacrificing the truth of each of them? A good starting point would be to reject the double blackmail implied in their contrast (if you are against NATO strikes, you are for Milošević’s protofascist regime of ethnic cleansing, and if you are against Milošević, you support the global capitalist New World Order). What if this very opposition between enlightened international intervention against ethnic fundamentalists, and the heroic last pockets of resistance against the New World Order, is a false one? What if phenomena like the Milošević regime are not the opposite to the New World Order, but rather its symptom, the place at which the hidden truth of the New World Order emerges? Recently, one of the American negotiators said that Milošević is not only part of the problem, but rather the problem itself. However, was this not clear from the very beginning? Why, then, the interminable procrastination of the Western powers, playing for years into Milošević’s hands, acknowledging him as a key factor of stability in the region, misreading clear cases of Serb aggression as civil or even tribal warfare, initially putting the blame on those who immediately saw what Milošević stands for and, for that reason, desperately wanted to escape his grasp (see James Baker’s public endorsement of a “limited military intervention” against Slovene secession), supporting the last Yugoslav prime minister Ante Markovic, whose program was, in an incredible case of political blindness, seriously considered as the last chance for a democratic market-oriented, unified Yugoslavia, and so on? When the West fights Milošević, it is not fighting its enemy, one of the last points of resistance against the liberal-democratic New World Order; it is rather fighting its own creature, a monster that grew as the result of the compromises and inconsistencies of the Western politics itself. (And, incidentally, it is the same as with Iraq: its strong position is also the result of the American strategy of containing Iran.)

In the last decade, the west followed a Hamlet-like procrastination toward Balkan, and the present bombardment effectively has all the signs of Hamlet’s final murderous outburst in which a lot of people unnecessarily die (not only the king, his true target, but also his mother, Laertius, and Hamlet himself), because Hamlet acted too late, when the proper moment had already passed. We are clearly dealing with a hysterical acting out, with an escape into activity, with a gesture that, instead of trying to achieve a welldefined goal, rather bears witness to the fact that there is no such goal, that the agent is caught in a web of conflicting goals. This also accounts for the insufficiency of the otherwise correct statement that, at the Rambouillet negotiations in the early spring of 1999, the Western proposal put Yugoslavia in an untenable position, effectively stripping it of its sovereignty: it demanded that the NATO ground troops be granted free access not only to Kosovo, but to the military facilities in all of Yugoslavia; the free use of all transport facilities; the exemption from being prosecuted by the Yugoslav authorities for any crimes committed; and so on—in short, an effective occupation of Yugoslavia. Does this not raise the suspicion that, at least for the United States, the Rambouillet meeting was from the very beginning not considered a serious negotiation? Was not the goal from the very beginning to put Serbs in a position to reject the western nonnegotiable proposal and thus to provide the blueprint for the bombing by putting the blame on the Milošević’s “stubborn rejection of the peace proposal”? However, although this observation is in itself adequate, one should nonetheless take note that its “excessive” character derives not from any direct “malevolence” or aggressive intent of the west, but from the simple and quite understandable frustration at being duped for so many years by Milošević s maneuver (recall the humiliations the UN forces were exposed in Bosnia, when they were even used as the protective shield against possible air attacks). The Western “cornering” of Yugoslavia in Rambouillet can only be properly grasped as the delayed acting out that tried to recompense for the long years of Western frustrations—its “excessive” character signals that previous unresolved tensions and frustrations were displaced onto it.

One thing is for sure: the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia did change the global geopolitic coordinates. The unwritten pact of peaceful coexistence (the respect of each state’s full sovereignty—that is, noninterference in internal affairs, even in the case of the grave violation of human rights) is over. However, the very first act of the new global police force usurping the right to punish sovereign states for their wrongdoings already signals its end, its own undermining, because it immediately became clear that the universality of human rights as its legitimization is false (that is, that the attacks on selective targets protect particular interests). The NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia also signals the end of any serious role of the UN and the Security Council: it is NATO, under U.S. guidance, that effectively pulls the strings. Furthermore, the silent pact with Russia that held until now is broken: in the terms of this pact, Russia was publicly treated as a superpower and was allowed to maintain the appearance of being one, on the condition that it did not effectively act as one. Now Russia’s humiliation is open, any pretense of dignity unmasked: Russia can only openly resist or openly comply with western pressure. On the other hand, the oscillations in the West’s relationship toward Russia also betrayed the confusion of their global strategy in the Balkans: because the western bombardment was a violent passage a I’acte lacking a clearly defined goal, after humiliating Russia, it had to turn again to Russian diplomacy to mediate the political solution of the crisis. The further logical result of this new situation will be, of course, the renewed rise of anti-Western resistance from Eastern Europe to the third world, with the sad consequence that criminal figures like Milošević will be elevated into the model fighters against the New World Order.

So the lesson is that the alternative between the New World Order and the neoracist nationalists opposing it is a false one: these are the two sides of the same coin—the New World Order itself breeds monstrosities that it fights. This is why the protests against bombing from the reformed communist parties all around Europe, inclusive of PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism), are totally misdirected: these false protesters against the NATO bombardment of Serbia are like the caricatured pseudoleftists who oppose the trial against a drug dealer, claiming that his crime is the result of social pathology of the capitalist system. The way to fight the capitalist New World Order is not by supporting local protofascist resistances to it, but to focus on the only serious question today: how to build transnational political movements and institutions strong enough to seriously constrain the unlimited rule of the capital, and to render visible and politically relevant the fact that the local fundamentalist resistances against the New World Order, from Milošević to le Pen and the extreme right in Europe, are part of it?

According to the media, when, at a recent meeting of the leaders of the western great powers dedicated to the politico-ideological notion of the Third Way, the Italian prime minister, d’Alema, said that one should not be afraid of the word “socialism,” Clinton and, following him, Blair and Schroeder, could not restrain themselves and openly burst out laughing—this anecdote tells a lot about the problematic character of today’s talk about the Third Way. The curious enigma of the second way is crucial here: today, which is the second way? That is to say, did the notion of the Third Way not emerge at the very moment when, at least in the developed west, all other alternatives, from true conservativism to radical Social Democracy, lost in the face of the triumphant onslaught of the global capitalism and its notion of liberal democracy? Is the true message of the notion of the Third Way therefore not simply that there is no second way, no actual alternative to the global capitalism, so that, in a kind of mocking pseudo-Hegelian negation of negation, this much-praised Third Way brings us back to the first and only way? The Third Way is simply global capitalism with a human face—that is, an attempt to minimize the human cost of the global capitalist machinery, the functioning of which is left undisturbed.

Let us then hope that—out of simple necessity, because for these countries, in the long run, this is their only means of survival—Russia or another country like it will invent a true and simple second way—a way of breaking the vicious circle of global capitalism versus nationalist closure.


WORKS CITED

Badiou, Alain. “La Sainte-Alliance et ses serviteuirs.” 2001. Unpublished; available on the Internet.

Brown, Wendy. “Toward a Genealogy of Contemporary Political Moralism.” In Liberalism Out of History, 7-33. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Havel, Vaclav. “Kosovo and the End of the Nation-State.” New York Review of Books 46 (June 10, 1999): 10.

Jensen, Carl. Censored 1999: The News that Didn’t Make the News. New York: Seven Stories Press, 1999.

‘Law, Justice, and Power: Between Reason and Will’ by J. Hillis Miller, Julia Kristeva, Slavoj Žižek, Ernesto Laclau, Alain Badiou, Nancy Fraser, et. al.

Published by Standford University Press in 2004.

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This is an unprecedented volume that brings together J. Hillis Miller, Julia Kristeva, Slavoj Žižek, Ernesto Laclau, Alain Badiou, Nancy Fraser, and other prominent intellectuals from five countries in seven disciplines to provide fresh perspectives on the new configurations of law, justice, and power in the global age. The work engages and challenges past and present scholarship on current topics in legal studies: globalization, post-colonialism, multiculturalism, ethics, post-structuralism, and psychoanalysis.

The book is divided into five parts. The first debates issues of (trans-)national justice and human rights in the global age, focusing on military interventions and refugee policies. Part II traces the globalization of Western law back to colonialism, addressing the rising importance of multiculturalism, gender studies, and the quotidian in legal studies. Part III examines legal pluralism. Part IV turns from the empirical “other” of legal pluralism to the concrete “Other” in Continental ethics and philosophy. The book then traces this recent ethical turn in legal theory back to the challenges of poststructuralism in Part V. The volume concludes with a psychoanalytic rethinking of justice for the new millennium that is based on love, forgiveness, and promise—a justice that, in Lacanian terms, operates outside the “limits” of the law.

‘Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil’ by Alain Badiou

Published by Verso in 2013 (first published 1994). Download link updated on 22. June 2021.

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Ethical questions dominate current political and academic agendas. While government think-tanks ponder the dilemmas of bio-ethics, medical ethics and professional ethics, respect for human rights and reverence for the Other have become matters of broad consensus.

Alain Badiou, one of the most powerful voices in contemporary French philosophy, explodes the facile assumptions behind this recent ethical turn. He shows how our prevailing ethical principles serve ultimately to reinforce an ideology of the status quo, and fail to provide a framework for an effective understanding of the concept of evil.

In contrast, Badiou summons up an “ethic of truths” which is designed both to sustain and inspire a disciplined, subjective adherence to a militant cause (be it political or scientific, artistic or romantic), and to discern a finely demarcated zone of application for the concept of evil. He defends an effectively super-human integrity over the respect for merely human rights, asserts a partisan universality over the negotiation of merely particular interests, and appeals to an “immortal” value beyond the protection of mortal privileges.

‘Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? Five Interventions in The (Mis)use of a Notion’ by Slavoj Žižek

First published by Verso in 2002. Download link updated on 26. July 2021.

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In some circles, a nod towards totalitarianism is enough to dismiss any critique of the status quo. Such is the insidiousness of the neo-liberal ideology, argues Slavoj Žižek.

Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? turns a specious rhetorical strategy on its head to identify a network of family resemblances between totalitarianism and modern liberal democracy. Žižek argues that totalitarianism is invariably defined in terms of four things: the Holocaust as the ultimate, diabolical evil; the Stalinist gulag as the alleged truth of the socialist revolutionary project; ethnic and religious fundamentalisms, which are to be fought through multiculturalist tolerance; and the deconstructionist idea that the ultimate root of totalitarianism is the ontological closure of thought.

Žižek concludes that the devil lies not so much in the detail but in what enables the very designation totalitarian: the liberal-democratic consensus itself.

Inherentni rasizem slovenskih policijskih sil pri obravnavi migrantskega vprašanja ~ ali ~ Zakaj bi to področje morala formalno urejati vojska?

Slika s socialnega omrežja Facebook, objavljena na uradni strani slovenskih policijskih sil pred tremi dnevi

Objavo začenjam z nedavno objavljeno sliko na socialnem omrežju Facebook. Očitno je ob vsesplošni apatiji slovenskega ljudstva zadeva zaplavala nekako mimo interesa velike večine vseh sledilcev spletne strani slovenske policije. Razen tistega enega komentarja ali dveh, ki so pod sliko nalepli nič manj kot to kar bi se dalo umestit v skrajno desničarske ter ksenofobne izjave. Kaj točno je oseba, ki je sliko pod profilom policije javno objavila želela s tem sporočit, ni takoj povsem jasno; je pa jasno vsaj to, da je bila slika digitalno modificirana pred objavo vsaj do te mere, da so bili prikriti obrazi na tej objavi, torej objava je bila vsaj delno premišljena. Če pa se za trenutek ustavimo in zadevo reflektiramo pa je jasno, kaj je implicitno sporočilo objave: gre se za subtilno zastraševanje lokalnega prebivalstva pred tujci, ki hodijo na naše ozemlje. To, da imajo obarvano kožo, seveda ne pomaga.

Če zavrtimo čas nazaj za približno kakšno leto, se lahko spomnimo afere, kjer je uniformiran slovenski policist s pištolo na meji ustrelil neoboroženega begunca. Ali pa se afere ne spomnimo, če nismo ravno takrat spremljali določenih internetnih kanalov preko katerih se širijo neuradne informacije slovenskih levičarjev, saj afera niti ni bila tako zelo odmevna, da bi bila vključena v kakšne večje medije pri nas. Tako da z lahkoto verjamem, da se nihče niti ne spomni, da je pač v nekem trenutku policaj na meji ustrelil neoboroženega begunca.

Lahko se pa spomnimo afere, kjer je vojak v tujca ob italjanski meji naperil puško. Zakaj pa spomin na to afero zelo hitro privre na površje? Ker je propagandna mašinerija stranke Levica izjemno dobro poskrbela, da je ta afera postala pač afera. To, kar se mi zastavlja kot zanimivo vprašanje pa je: Zakaj se ni isto zgodilo tudi v prejšnjem primeru? Zakaj se z dogodkom ustreljenega begunca ni ukvarjala širša javnost, kot v drugem primeru naperjene puške?

Zakaj bi torej morala migrantsko in begunsko vprašanje formalno urejati na slovenskem ozemlju vojska, ter ne policija? Nikakor ne zato, da bi kdorkoli koga streljal ali v tujce meril puške (teoretično bi lahko bilo rečeno, da so vojaki bolje izurjeni za upravljanje orožja kot navadni policist, ki iz strahu prehitro streže po sprožilcu). Gre se pač za kategorično vprašanje, ki zadeva naslednje:

1) Namen policijskih enot je primarno preganjanje kriminala. Problem je tukaj predvsem v tem, da ljudje, ki so poklicno urjeni za prepoznavanje in lovljenje kriminala vseh vrst ne bi smeli obravnavat niti migrante, niti begunce, v sklopu svoje službene aktivnosti. Čemu? Ja predvsem zato, ker se na ta način te tujce kriminalizira, čeprav v večini primerov niso zločinci.

2) Namen vojaških enot je primarno zaščita ozemlja nacionalne države, dokler pač razmišljamo v tem okviru slovencev, slovenstva, ter tujcev. Čisto formalno gledano so tako begunci kot migranti pripadniki drugih držav, ki slovenskega državljanstva nimajo, in se po takšni ali drugačni poti znajdejo na našem ozemlju. Gre se torej za čisto logični sklep: vojska je urjena za zaščito ozemlja, ljudje ki se jih pa obravnava so pa brez slovenskega državljanstva.

3) Ne vidim razloga, zakaj bi bili pripadniki slovenske vojske kakorkoli bolj argesivni v svojem delovanju kot pa poklicni policisti. Tako kot policija je tudi vojska urjena za miroljubne in humanitarne akcije, poleg tega pa mora vsak vojak upoštevat vse protokole in obveze svojih nadrejenih, vojska kot taka je pa na koncu koncev podrejena predvsem nacionalnim interesom. V kolikor se gre za posameznike, ki so recimo begunci iz Srednjega Vzhoda ki se zatekajo na naše ozemlje zaradi nevudržnih razmer v njihovi državi in z takšnimi ali drugačnimi predstavami ali iluzijami o boljši prihodnosti tukaj, bi morala bit predvsem naloga vojske da se jih obravnava kot humanitaren problem, ki se tiče celotne države slovenije kot take. Tudi kadrovsko in organizacijsko gledano so podvigi kot je urejanje razmer na mejnih področjih prej stvar vojaške kot pa policijske organizacije, saj se policija ukvarja predvsem z internimi vprašanji notranjega državnega kriminala.

Moja napoved je, da dokler bo vprašanje migrantov ter beguncev prepuščeno policijskim enotam, tako dolgo bomo politično gledano imeli v Sloveniji skrajno-desničarske anti-imigrantke izbruhe v splošnem ljudstvu, vkjučno z raznimi tako imenovanimi “Vardami”, ki so pravzaprav nekakšne ilegalne tolpe skrajnih desničarjev, katere bi pravzaprav morala policija primarno preganjat.

‘The Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere’ by Georges Didi-Huberman

Published by The MIT Press in 2003.

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The first English-language publication of a classic French book on the relationship between the development of photography and of the medical category of hysteria.

In this classic of French cultural studies, Georges Didi-Huberman traces the intimate and reciprocal relationship between the disciplines of psychiatry and photography in the late nineteenth century. Focusing on the immense photographic output of the Salpetriere hospital, the notorious Parisian asylum for insane and incurable women, Didi-Huberman shows the crucial role played by photography in the invention of the category of hysteria. Under the direction of the medical teacher and clinician Jean-Martin Charcot, the inmates of Salpetriere identified as hysterics were methodically photographed, providing skeptical colleagues with visual proof of hysteria’s specific form. These images, many of which appear in this book, provided the materials for the multivolume album Iconographie photographique de la Salpetriere.

As Didi-Huberman shows, these photographs were far from simply objective documentation. The subjects were required to portray their hysterical “type”—they performed their own hysteria. Bribed by the special status they enjoyed in the purgatory of experimentation and threatened with transfer back to the inferno of the incurables, the women patiently posed for the photographs and submitted to presentations of hysterical attacks before the crowds that gathered for Charcot’s “Tuesday Lectures.”

Charcot did not stop at voyeuristic observation. Through techniques such as hypnosis, electroshock therapy, and genital manipulation, he instigated the hysterical symptoms in his patients, eventually giving rise to hatred and resistance on their part. Didi-Huberman follows this path from complicity to antipathy in one of Charcot’s favorite “cases,” that of Augustine, whose image crops up again and again in the Iconographie. Augustine’s virtuosic performance of hysteria ultimately became one of self-sacrifice, seen in pictures of ecstasy, crucifixion, and silent cries.

‘Studies on Hysteria’ by Josef Breuer & Sigmund Freud

Published as ‘Studien über Hysterie‘ in 1895.

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Hysteria—the tormenting of the body by the troubled mind—is among the most pervasive of human disorders; yet, at the same time, it is the most elusive. Freud’s recognition that hysteria stemmed from traumas in the patient’s past transformed the way we think about sexuality. Studies on Hysteria is one of the founding texts of psychoanalysis, revolutionizing our understanding of love, desire, and the human psyche. As full of compassionate human interest as of scientific insight, these case histories are also remarkable, revelatory works of literature.

‘The Psychopathology of Everyday Life’ by Sigmund Freud


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Psychopathology of Everyday Life is a 1901 work by Sigmund Freud, based on his researches into slips and parapraxes from 1897 onwards—one which became perhaps the best-known of all his writings. Freud examines the psychological basis for the forgetting of names and words, the misuse of words in speech and in writing, and other similar errors. It is filled with anecdotes, many of them quite amusing, and virtually bereft of difficult technical terminology. Through its stress on what Freud called ‘switch words’ and ‘verbal bridges’, it is considered important not only for psychopathology but also for modern linguistics, semantics, and philosophy.

The Psychopathology was originally published in the Monograph for Psychiatry and Neurology in 1901, before appearing in book form in 1904. It would receive twelve foreign translations during Freud’s lifetime, as well as numerous new German editions, with fresh material being added in almost every one. James Strachey objected that “Almost the whole of the basic explanations and theories were already present in the earliest edition…the wealth of new examples interrupts and even confuses the mainstream of the underlying argument”. However, in such a popular and theory-light text, the sheer wealth of examples helped make Freud’s point for him in an accessible way. A new English-language translation by Anthea Bell was published in 2003.

Among the most overtly autobiographical of Freud’s works, the Psychopathology was strongly linked by Freud to his relationship with Wilhelm Fliess.

‘Unbehagen and the Subject’: An interview with Slavoj Žižek

Žižek, S., Aristodemou, M., Frosh, S., & Hook, D. (2010). Unbehagen and the subject: An interview with Slavoj Žižek. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society, 15(4), 418–428.

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This article is an edited transcript of an interview with Slavoj Žižek conducted by Stephen Frosh and Maria Aristodemou at the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities on the 18 June 2008. The focus of the interview was Slavoj Žižek’s engagement with psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society (2010) 15, 418–428.

‘Malebranche: Theological Figure, Being 2’ by Alain Badiou (The Seminars of Alain Badiou)

Published April 16th 2019 by Columbia University Press

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Alain Badiou is one of the world’s most significant living philosophers. In his annual seminars on major topics and pivotal figures, Badiou developed vital aspects of his thinking on a range of subjects that he would go on to explore in his influential works.

In this seminar, Badiou offers a tour de force encounter with a lesser-known seventeenth-century philosopher and theologian, Nicolas Malebranche, a contemporary and peer of Spinoza and Leibniz.

The seminar is at once a record of Badiou’s thought at a key moment in the years before the publication of his most important work, Being and Event, and a lively interrogation of Malebranche’s key text, the Treatise on Nature and Grace. Badiou develops a rigorous yet novel analysis of Malebranche’s theory of grace, retracing his claims regarding the nature of creation and the relation between God and world and between God and Jesus.

Through Malebranche, Badiou develops a radical concept of truth and the subject. This book renders a seemingly obscure post-Cartesian philosopher fascinating and alive, restoring him to the philosophical canon. It occupies a pivotal place in Badiou’s reflections on the nature of being that demonstrates the crucial role of theology in his thinking.

‘The Political Sublime’ by Michael J. Shapiro

Published by Duke University Press in 2018

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In The Political Sublime Michael J. Shapiro formulates an original politics of aesthetics through an analysis of the experience of the sublime. Turning away from Kant’s analysis of the sublime experience as a validation of the existence of a universal common sense, Shapiro draws on Deleuze, Lyotard, and Rancière to show how incomprehensible events and dilemmas provide openings for new political formations. He approaches the sublime through a range of artistic and cultural texts that address social crises and natural disasters, from the writing of James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates to the films of Ingmar Bergman and Spike Lee; these works suggest ways to channel the disruptive effects of the sublime into resistance to authority and innovative political initiative. Whether stemming from the threat of nuclear annihilation or the aftermath of an earthquake, the violence of racism and terrorism or the devastation of industrialism, sublime experience, Shapiro contends, allows for a rethinking of events in ways that reveal, redistribute, and create conditions of possibility for alternative communities of sense.


Michael J. Shapiro is Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the author of numerous books, most recently Politics and Time.

Slavoj Žižek presents ‘The Day After the Revolution’ by Vladimir Lenin

First published by Verso in 2017. Download link updated on 20. June 2021.

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Lenin’s originality and importance as a revolutionary leader is most often associated with the seizure of power in 1917. But, Žižek argues in his new study and collection of original texts, Lenin’s true greatness can be better grasped in the very last couple of years of his political life.

Russia had survived foreign invasion, embargo and a terrifying civil war, as well as internal revolts such as at Kronstadt in 1921. But the new state was exhausted, isolated and disorientated in the face of a world revolution that seemed to be receding. New paths had to be sought for the Soviet state to survive and imagine some alternative route to the future. Žižek suggests that Lenin’s courage as a thinker can be found in his willingness to face this reality of retreat lucidly and frontally.

Previously published in hardcover as Lenin 2017: Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through.

Slavoj Žižek presents ‘Virtue and Terror’ by Maximilien Robespierre

Published by Verso in 2007. Download link updated on 25. June 2021.

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Maximilien Robespierre’s defense of the French Revolution remains one of the most powerful and unnerving justifications for political violence ever written. It has an extraordinary resonance in a world obsessed with terrorism and appalled by the language of its proponents.

Yet today the French Revolution is celebrated as the event which gave birth to a nation built on the principles of Enlightenment. So how should a contemporary audience approach Robespierre’s vindication of revolutionary terror? Žižek’s introduction analyzes these contradictions with a prodigious breadth of analogy and reference.

Slavoj Žižek presents ‘Terrorism and Communism’ by Leon Trotsky


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Written in the white heat of revolutionary Russia’s Civil War, Trotsky’s Terrorism and Communism is one of the most potent defenses of revolutionary dictatorship. In his provocative commentary to this new edition the philosopher Slavoj Žižek argues that Trotsky’s attack on the illusions of liberal democracy has a vital relevance today.

‘Lacan and Levi-Strauss or The Return to Freud (1951-1957)’ by Markos Zafiropoulos


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Shows how Lacan’s famous ‘return to Freud’ was only made possible through Lacan’s reading of Levi-Strauss.

Lacan and Levi-Strauss are often mentioned together in reviews of French structuralist thought, but what really links their distinct projects? In this important study, Markos Zafiropoulos shows how Lacan’s famous ‘return to Freud’ was only made possible through Lacan’s reading of Levi-Strauss. Via a careful and illuminating comparison of the work of the psychoanalyst and that of the anthropologist, Zafiropoulos shows how Lacan’s theories of the symbolic function, of the power of language, of the role of the father and even of the unconscious itself owe a major debt to Levi-Strauss.

Lacan and Levi-Strauss is much more than an academic study of the relations between these two thinkers: it is also a superb introduction to the work of Lacan, setting out with detail and lucidity the major concepts of his work in the 1950s.

‘Plato: An Introduction’ by Paul Friedländer

First published by Harper Torchbook in 1954

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Friedländer’s writings on Plato, known in German to two generations of scholars and now available to the English reader, have had a major influence on Plato studies in modern times. First published in German in two volumes, and in subsequent editions revised and developed into three volumes which have been translated and again expanded, the Plato of Paul Friedländer is recognized as the “first resolute attempt to understand Plato’s dialogues entirely on the basis of their ancient pre-suppositions.”

‘The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and Causality’ by Slavoj Žižek

First published by Verso in 1994. Download link updated on 26. June 2021.

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The experience of the Yugoslav war and the rise of “irrational” violence in contemporary societies provides the theoretical and political context of this book, which uses Lacanian psychoanalysis as the basis for a renewal of the Marxist theory of ideology. The author’s analysis leads into a study of the figure of woman in modern art and ideology, including studies of The Crying Game and the films of David Lynch, and the links between violence and power/gender relations.


Table of contents:

PART I: CAUSE

1. The Deadlock of ‘Repressive Desublimation’
2. Does the Subject Have a Cause?
3. Superego by Default

PART II: WOMAN

4. Courtly Love, or, Woman as Thing
5. David Lynch, or, the Feminine Depression
6. Otto Weininger, or, ‘Woman doesn’t exist’

APPENDIX. TAKING SIDES: A SELF-INTERVIEW

‘Slavoj Žižek’ by Tony Myers

Published by Routledge in 2003. Download link updated on 25. June 2021.

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Slavoj Žižek is no ordinary thinker. Combining psychoanalysis, philosophy and politics into a compelling whole, Žižek’s approach is always both fresh and fascinating. In this volume, Tony Myers provides a clear and engaging guide to Žižek’s key ideas, explaining the main influences on Žižek’s thought, including his crucial engagement with Lacanian psychoanalysis. Using examples drawn from popular culture and everyday life, Myers outlines for the some of the main issues that Žižek’s work tackles, including:

•What is a subject and why is it so important?
•What is so terrible about postmodernity?
•How can we distinguish reality from ideology?
•What is the relationship between men and women?
•Why is racism always a fantasy?

Slavoj Žižek is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the thought of the critic whom Terry Eagleton has described as ‘the most formidably brilliant exponent of psychoanalysis, indeed of cultural theory in general, to have emerged in Europe for some decades’.


Tony Myers is a former lecturer at the University of Stirling. He is the author of Upgrade Your English Essay (Arnold 2002) and numerous articles on postmodernism, psychoanalysis and politics.

‘Conversations with Žižek’ by Glyn Daly & Slavoj Žižek

Published by Polity Press in 2003

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In this book Slavoj Žižek and Glyn Daly engage in a series of entertaining conversations which illustrate the originality of Žižek’s thinking on psychoanalysis, philosophy, multiculturalism, popular/cyber culture, totalitarianism, ethics and politics.

An excellent introduction to one of the most engaging and controversial cultural theorists writing today. Žižek is a Slovenian sociologist who trained as a Lacanian and uses Lacan to analyse popular culture and politics. Illustrates the originality of Žižek’s thinking on psychoanalysis, philosophy, multi-culturalism, popular/cyber culture, totalitarianism, ethics and politics. Provides a unique glimpse of Žižek’s humour and character and offers new material and fresh perspectives which will be of interest to followers of Žižek’s writings.



Contents

Introduction: Risking the Impossible
Conversation 1: Opening the Space of Philosophy
Conversation 2: The Madness of Reason: Encounters of the: Real Kind
Conversation 3: Subjects of Modernity: Virtuality and the: Fragility of the Real
Conversation 4: Tolerance and the Intolerable: Enjoyment,: Ethics and Event
Conversation 5: Miracles Do Happen: Globalization(s) and Politics

‘A Spirit of Trust: A Reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology’ by Robert B. Brandom


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Forty years in the making, in this reinterpretation of Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit is a contribution to philosophy Robert Brandom presents a completely new retelling of the romantic rationalist adventure of ideas that is Hegel’s classic The Phenomenology of Spirit. Connecting analytic, continental, and historical traditions, Brandom shows how dominant modes of thought in contemporary philosophy are challenged by Hegel.

‘Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right’ by Angela Nagle

Published by Zero Books in 2017. Download link updated 20. June 2021.

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Recent years have seen a revival of the heated culture wars of the 1990s, but this time its battle ground is the internet. On one side the alt right ranges from the once obscure neo-reactionary and white separatist movements, to geeky subcultures like 4chan, to more mainstream manifestations such as the Trump-supporting gay libertarian Milo Yiannopolous.

On the other side, a culture of struggle sessions and virtue signalling lurks behind a therapeutic language of trigger warnings and safe spaces. The feminist side of the online culture wars has its equally geeky subcultures right through to its mainstream expression.

Kill All Normies explores some of the cultural genealogies and past parallels of these styles and subcultures, drawing from transgressive styles of 60s libertinism and conservative movements, to make the case for a rejection of the perpetual cultural turn.

‘Force, Drive, Desire: A Philosophy of Psychoanalysis’ by Rudolf Bernet

Published by Northwestern University Press in 2020

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Bernet develops a philosophical foundation of psychoanalysis focusing on human drives. Rather than simply drawing up a list of Freud’s borrowings from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, or Lacan’s from Hegel and Sartre, Bernet orchestrates a dialogue between philosophy and psychoanalysis that goes far beyond what these eminent psychoanalysts knew about philosophy.

By relating the writings of Freud, Lacan, and other psychoanalysts to those of Aristotle, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, and, more tacitly, Bergson and Deleuze, Bernet brings to light how psychoanalysis both prolongs and breaks with the history of Western metaphysics and philosophy of nature.

Rereading the long history of metaphysics (or at least a few of its key moments) in light of psychoanalytic inquiries into the nature and function of drive and desire also allows for a rewriting of the history of philosophy. Specifically, it allows Bernet to bring to light a different history of metaphysics, one centered less on Aristotelian substance (ousia) and more on the concept of dunamis—a power or potentiality for a realization toward which it strives with all its might. Relating human drives to metaphysical forces also bears fruit for a renewed philosophy of life and subjectivity.

‘Speculation: Politics, Ideology, Event’ by Glyn Daly

Published by Northwestern University Press in 2019

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Speculation: Politics – Ideology – Event develops Hegel’s radical perspective of speculative thought as a way of reclaiming and revitalizing the sense of the future and its possibilities. Engaging with such figures such as Badiou, Meillassoux, Laclau, Žižek and Jameson, Glyn Daly elaborates the distinctness of speculative philosophy and draws its implications for new debates in areas of science, politics, capitalism, ideology, ethics and the event. In a confrontation with today’s fatalistic milieu, capital emphasis is given to Hegel’s idea of infinity as the intrinsic dimension of negativity within all finitude. Against the modern era’s paradigmatic tendency to externalize social problems in the form of antagonism and Otherness, Daly argues for a renewal of utopian thought based on Hegelian reconciliation and the affirmation of excess as the essence of all being. On these grounds, Daly advances a new kind of political imagination that in speculative terms centres on uncompromising notions of truth and reason.

‘Hegel in A Wired Brain’ by Slavoj Žižek

Published by Bloomsbury Academic, 23rd July 2020

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In celebration of the 250th anniversary of the birth of G.W.F. Hegel, Slavoj Žižek gives us a reading of the philosophical giant that changes our way of thinking about our new posthuman era.

No ordinary study of Hegel, Hegel in a Wired Brain investigates what he might have had to say about the idea of the ‘wired brain’ – what happens when a direct link between our mental processes and a digital machine emerges. Žižek explores the phenomenon of a wired brain effect, and what might happen when we can share our thoughts directly with others. He hones in on the key question of how it shapes our experience and status as ‘free’ individuals and asks what it means to be human when a machine can read our minds.

With characteristic verve and enjoyment of the unexpected, Žižek connects Hegel to the world we live in now, shows why he is much more fun than anyone gives him credit for, and why the 21st century might just be Hegelian.

‘Subject Lessons: Hegel, Lacan, and the Future of Materialism’ by Russel Sbriglia & Slavoj Žižek

Published by Northwestern University Press in February 2020. Download link updated on 6th August 2020.

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Responding to the ongoing “objectal turn” throughout contemporary humanities and social sciences, the eleven essays in Subject Lessons present a sustained case for the continued importance—indeed, the indispensability—of the category of the subject for the future of materialist thought. 

Various neovitalist materialisms and realisms currently en vogue across a number of academic disciplines (from New Materialism and actor-network theory to speculative realism and object-oriented ontology) advocate a flat, horizontal ontology that renders the subject just another object amid a “democracy of objects.” By contrast, the dialectical materialism presented throughout Subject Lessons maintains that subjectivity is crucial to grasping matter’s “vibrancy” and continual “becoming” in the first place. Approaching matters through the frame of Hegel and Lacan, the contributors to this volume—many of whom stand at the forefront of contemporary Hegel and Lacan scholarship—agree with neovitalist thinkers that material reality is ontologically incomplete, in a state of perpetual becoming, yet they do so with one crucial difference: they maintain that this is the case not in spite of but rather because of the subject. 

Incorporating elements of philosophy, psychoanalysis, and literary and cultural studies, Subject Lessons contests the movement to dismiss the subject, arguing that there can be no truly robust materialism without accounting for the little piece of the Real that is the subject.


Table of Contents

Introduction: Subject Matters, Russell Sbriglia and Slavoj Žižek

1. What’s the Matter?: On Matter and Related Matters, Mladen Dolar
2. Subjectivity in Times of (New) Materialisms: Hegel and Conceptualization, Borna Radnik
3. Object after Subjects: Hegel’s Broken Ontology, Todd McGowan
4. The Nature of Dialectical Materialism in Hegel and Marx, Andrew Cole
5. Intellectual Intuition and Intellectus Archetypus: Reflexivity from Kant to Hegel, Slavoj Žižek
6. Fear of Science: Transcendetal Materialism and Its Discontents, Adrian Johnston
7. Ontology and the Death Drive: Lacan and Deleuze, Alenka Zupančič
8. Why Sex Is Special: Psychoanalysis against New Materialism, Nathan Gorelick
9. Twisting “Flat Ontology”: Harman’s “Allure” and Lacan’s Extimate Cause, Molly Rothenberg
10. Becoming and the Challenge of Ontological Incompleteness: Virginia Woolf avec Lacan contra Deleuze, Kathryn Van Wert
11. From Sublimity to Sublimation: Hegel, Lacan, Melville, Russell Sbriglia


Slavoj Žižek is a Philosopher and Psychoanalytic social theorist. He is Senior Researcher at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana; Professor at the School of Law and Director of the Institute for the Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London; Distinguished Scholar at the Kyung Hee University, Seoul; and Visiting Professor at the German Department, New York University. His field of work comprises Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, dialectical-materialist metaphysical interpretations of German Idealism and Marxian critique of ideology. His more than sixty books in English have been widely translated. His latest publications include Pandemic! & Pandemic! 2, Hegel in a Wired Brain, Sex and the Failed Absolute, Like A Thief In Broad DaylightReading MarxIncontinence of the Void, and The Day After the Revolution.

Russell Sbriglia is Assistant Professor and Director of Undergraduate Literature Studies, Department of English at Seton Hall University, United States. His teaching and research focus is on American literature of the long 19th century (1776-1914) as well as literary and critical theory. He is editor of Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Literature but Were Afraid to Ask Žižek, Subject Lessons: Hegel, Lacan, and the Future of Materialism, and is currently completing a monograph titled A Gainful Loss: Melville avec Lacan.

‘The Apocalypse of a Wired Brain’ by Slavoj Žižek

Žižek, S. (2020). The Apocalypse of a Wired Brain. Critical Inquiry, 46(4), 745–763. doi:10.1086/709222

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When the threat posed by the digitalization of our lives is debated in our media, the focus is usually on the new phase of capitalism called surveillance capitalism: a total digital control over our lives exerted by state agencies and private corporations.

However, important as this surveillance capitalism is, it is not yet the true game changer; there is a much greater potential for new forms of domination in the prospect of a direct brain-machine interface (the “wired brain”). First, when our brain is connected to digital machines, we can cause things to happen in reality just by thinking about them; then, my brain is directly connected to another brain, so that another individual can directly share my experience.

Extrapolated to its extreme, the wired brain opens up the prospect of what Ray Kurzweil called Singularity, the divine-like global space of shared awareness. Whatever the (dubious, for the time being) scientific status of this idea, it is clear that its realization will affect the basic features of humans as thinking/speaking beings: the eventual rise of Singularity will be apocalyptic in the complex meaning of the term: it will imply the encounter with a truth hidden in our ordinary human existence—that is, the entrance into a new posthuman dimension, which cannot but be experienced as catastrophic, as the end of our world. But will we still be here to experience our immersion into Singularity in any human sense of the term?

‘One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society’ by Herbert Marcuse

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One of the most important texts of modern times, Herbert Marcuse’s analysis and image of a one-dimensional man in a one-dimensional society has shaped many young radicals’ way of seeing and experiencing life. Published in 1964, it fast became an ideological bible for the emergent New Left. As Douglas Kellner notes in his introduction, Marcuse’s greatest work was a ‘damning indictment of contemporary Western societies, capitalist and communist.’ Yet it also expressed the hopes of a radical philosopher that human freedom and happiness could be greatly expanded beyond the regimented thought and behaviour prevalent in established society. For those who held the reigns of power Marcuse’s call to arms threatened civilization to its very core. For many others however, it represented a freedom hitherto unimaginable.

Hegel’s prejudice against the Chinese Part 2: ‘The Uncivilised Hieroglyphics of Language’

Nanjing Road at night, Shanghai, China.

I began with my previous post to locate Hegel’s explicit prejudice, or what could even be called outright racism, towards the Chinese, where I took the text from the very beginning of The Philosophy of Mind. I will now continue in the same manner, citing a longer passage that occurs later in the book.

While I don’t have much problem with condemning undisciplined behavior and extolling the virtues of discipline within the area of thought, and agree that many children often are guilty of these accusations (which goes against the general cult-mantra often also found in academia which attempts to glorify childhood innocence), it’s direct application and exemplification into an entire nation, especially one as distant and as foreign as the Chinese are for the European mind, is obviously the main problem with the first passage cited.

I continue now with the pages ranging from 195-198 as published in the English translation by Wallace & Miller of the book I’m using for my studies. What follows is a much more direct attack by Hegel on Chinese thought as such, which could be said to be going a step further from the first quotation I’ve shown before. It seems that the main problem Hegel sees here is to attack the Chinese logographic system of writing as opposed to the more phonological German alphabetical writing, and does all of that from the philosophical point of view. While he achieves the self-reflexive step of pointing out the difficulty of accentuation a European encounters when trying to speak Chinese, Hegel nonetheless maintains his position of the superiority of his own language to deal with philosophy.

This entire discussion is then placed by Hegel into Subsection C: Psychology, The Mind (§§440-82), (β) Representation (§§451-64), between (2) Imagination (§§455-60) and (3) Memory (§§461-4) parts of the book, making his entire theory to appear as a general science of the mind (i.e. psychology) and not simply his own point of view:


“Sound articulating itself further for determinate representations, speech, and its system, language, give to sensations, intuitions, representations a second, higher reality than their immediate one, in general an existence that carries weight in the realm of representation.

Language here comes into consideration only in the specific determinacy of being the product of intelligence for manifesting its representations in an external element. If we were to deal with language a concrete way, we would have to revert to the anthropological, more precisely the psycho-physiological standpoint ($401) for the material of language (the lexical element), and to anti­cipate the standpoint of the intellect for the form (grammar). For the element­ary material of language, the idea of mere contingency has disappeared, while on the other hand the principle of imitation has been restricted to its narrow range, objects that make a sound. Yet one can still hear the German language praised for its wealth on account of the many particular expressions it possesses for particular sounds. (Rauschen, Sausen, Knarren, etc.; perhaps more than a hun­dred of them have been collected; the whim of the moment creates new ones when it pleases.) Such an abundance in the sensory and insignificant contrib­utes nothing to the wealth of a cultivated language. The specifically elementary material itself depends less on a symbolism relating to external objects than on inner symbolism, namely anthropological articulation, as it were a gesture of the bodily expression of speech. For each vowel and consonant, as well as for their more abstract elements (gesture of lips, of palate, of tongue) and then for their combinations, people have thus looked for the specific meaning. But these dull subconscious beginnings are modified to inconspicuousness and insignificance, by further external factors or by the needs of civilisation, but essentially by the reduction of what are themselves sensory intuitions to signs, so that their own original meaning atrophies and is extinguished. But the formal element of lan­guage is the work of the intellect which impresses its categories on language; this logical instinct gives rise to the grammar of language. The study of languages still in their original state, which we have first begun to get to know thoroughly in recent times, has shown on this point that they involve a highly elaborate and detailed grammar and express distinctions which are lacking or have been obliterated in the languages of more civilised peoples. It seems that the language of the most civilised peoples has the less complete grammar, and the same language has a more complete grammar when the people is in a more uncivilised state than in a more highly civilised state. Cf. Mr W. von Humboldt’s On the Dual,.

While on the subject of spoken language (which is the original language), we can also mention, but here only in passing, written language; this is merely a fur­ther development within the particular province of language which enlists the help of an externally practical activity. Written language proceeds to the field of immediate spatial intuition, in which it takes and produces signs (§454). More precisely, hieroglyphic script designates representations with spatial figures, whereas alphabetic script designates sounds which are themselves already signs. Alphabet­ical writing thus consists of signs of signs, and in such a way that it analyses the concrete signs of spoken language, words, into their simple elements and designates these elements.—Leibniz allowed himself to be misled by his intel­lect into believing that a complete written language, formed in a hieroglyphic manner—which occurs in a partial way even in alphabetic writing (as in our signs for numbers, the planets, the chemical substances, etc.)—would be very desirable as a universal written language for the communication of peoples and especially of scholars. But it may be thought that it was rather the commu­nication of peoples (as was probably the case in Phoenicia, and today happens in Canton—see Macartney’s Travels by Staunton) which occasioned the need of alphabetical writing and led to its emergence. Anyway a comprehensive, finished hieroglyphic language is out of the question. Sensory objects no doubt admit of permanent signs, but for signs of spiritual matters the progress in the cultiva­tion of our thoughts, the advance of logical development, lead to altered views of their internal relationships and thus of their nature, so that with this anoth­er hieroglyphic determination would also emerge. After all, this already happens with sensory objects: their signs in spoken language, their names, are frequently changed, as e.g. with chemical and mineralogical names. Ever since we have for­gotten what names, as such, are, namely intrinsically senseless externalities which only have a meaning as signs, ever since we require, instead of genuine names, the expression of a sort of definition and in fact frequently also form the definition again according to choice and chance, the denomination, i.e. just the combination of signs of their generic determination or other supposedly characteristic properties, is altered according to the different views we take of the genus or of any other supposedly specific property.—It is only a stationary spiritual culture, like the Chinese, which is suited by the hieroglyphic script of that people; in any case only that lesser portion of a people which remains in exclusive possession of spiritual culture can share in this type of written language.—At the same time, the development of spoken language is very closely connected with the habit of alphabetic writing, which is the only way in which spoken language acquires the determinacy and purity of its articulation. The imperfection of the Chinese spoken language is well-known; a mass of its words have several utterly different meanings, as many as ten, or even twenty, so that, in speaking, the distinction is made noticeable merely by stress and intensity, by speaking more softly or cry­ing out. Europeans beginning to speak Chinese stumble into the most ridiculous misunderstandings before they have mastered these absurd refinements of accentuation. Perfection here consists in the opposite of that parler sans accent which in Europe is rightly required for cultivated speech. Owing to hieroglyphic written language the Chinese spoken language lacks the objective determinacy that is gained in articulation from alphabetic writing.

Alphabetic writing is in and for itself the more intelligent form; in it the word, the worthiest mode, peculiar to the intelligence, of expressing its representations, is brought to consciousness and made an object of reflexion. In this preoccupa­tion of intelligence with the word, the word is analysed, i.e. this sign-making is reduced to its few simple elements (the primal gestures of articulation); these are the sensory component of speech, brought to the form of universality, and at the same time acquiring in this elementary manner complete determinacy and purity. Alphabetic writing thereby also retains the advantage of spoken language, that in written as in spoken language representations have genuine names; the name is the simple sign for the genuine, i.e. simple representation, not resolved into its determinations and compounded out of them. Hieroglyphic lan­guage arises not from the direct analysis of sensory signs, like alphabetic writing, but from the preliminary analysis of representations. This then readily provokes the thought that all representations could be reduced to their elements, to simple logical determinations, so that from the elementary signs chosen for these (as, in the case of the Chinese kua, the simple straight stroke, and the stroke broken into two parts) hieroglyphic language would be generated by their composition. This circumstance, the analytical designation of representations in hieroglyphic script, which misled Leibniz into regarding it as preferable to alphabetic writing, is rather what contradicts the fundamental need of language in general, the name, to have for the immediate representation (which, whatever riches may be com­prehended in its intrinsic content, is for the mind simple in the name) a simple immediate sign as well, which as a being for itself provokes no thought, having only the determination of sensorily representing and meaning the simple repres­entation as such. It is not only the representing intelligence that dwells on the simplicity of representations and also puts them together again from the more abstract moments into which they have been analysed; thinking too reunifies the concrete content into the form of a simple thought after the analysis in which it has become a combination of many determinations. Both intelligence and think­ing need to have such signs, simple in respect of their meaning, signs which, though consisting of several letters or syllables and even decomposed into them, yet do not display a combination of several representations?—The foregoing considerations constitute the principle for deciding on the value of written lan­guages. Then too it emerges that in hieroglyphic script the relations of concrete spiritual representations must necessarily become complicated and confused, and in any case the analysis of them (the immediate products of which are also to be analysed in turn) appears to be possible in the most various and divergent ways. Every divergence in analysis would give rise to a different formation of the writ­ten name; just as in recent times (as we have already noted) even in the sensory sphere hydrochloric acid has undergone several changes of name. A hieroglyphic written language would require a philosophy as stationary as is the civilisation of the Chinese overall.

It also follows from what has been said that learning to read and write an alphabetic script is to be regarded as an inestimable and not sufficiently appre­ciated educational instrument, in that it diverts the mind’s attention from the sensorily concrete to the more formal aspect, the spoken word and its abstract elements, and makes an essential contribution to laying and clearing the ground for the subject’s inwardness.—Later too, ingrained habit effaces the peculi­arity of alphabetic writing, that it appears to take, in the interest of vision, a roundabout route to representations by way of audibility; habit makes it a hieroglyphic script for us, so that in using it we need not have the medi­ation of the sounds before our consciousness, whereas people who are little accustomed to reading speak aloud what they read in order to understand it in its sound. Besides the fact that with the facility that transforms alpha­betic script into hieroglyphics the ability in abstraction gained by the initial practice remains, hieroglyphic reading is for itself a deaf reading and a dumb writing; it is true that the audible or temporal and the visible or spatial each has its own foundation, initially of equal validity with the other; but in the case of alphabetic script there is only one foundation, and in fact it stands in the correct relationship: the visible language is related to the audible only as a sign; the intelligence expresses itself immediately and unconditionally by speaking.—The mediation of representations by the less sensory element, sounds, also shows its peculiar essentiality for the transition that follows, from representation to thinking,—memory.”

Hegel’s prejudice against the Chinese Part 1: ‘The Undisciplined Child’

Huangpu district at night, Shanghai, China.

I’ve been going through Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind and found a couple of troubling passages, which I will be citing in full, while splitting my post into two different parts, since the quotations themselves are to be found in two separate places in the book.

The text is taken from the Wallace & Miller translation, while the book itself comprises the third and final part of Hegel’s more broader project of his Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Science (Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse), more precisely the final and third edition from 1830. The text itself was intended mostly as a textbook to accompany his lectures.

The first part, where he basically directly compares the Chinese to an underdeveloped mind of a child, can be found on the page 58 of the previously mentioned translation. The real problem of the following passages is that simple common prejudice is packed into the phraseology of refined philosophical language and used as a concrete example for the development of an entire anthropological theory concerning the development of a child. The entire passage was placed by Hegel into the very beginning of the book, more precisely titled SECTION I: SUBJECTIVE MIND (§§387-482), Subsection A: Anthropology, The Soul):


“With regard to one of the two aspects of education, discipline, the boy should not be allowed to follow his own inclination; he must obey in order to learn to command. Obedience is the beginning of all wisdom; for through obedience the will that does not yet know the true, the objective, that does not make this its goal and therefore far from being genuinely independent and free is still immature, accepts within itself the rational will coming to it from outside and gradually makes this its own will. On the other hand, if one allows children to do as they please, if one commits the additional folly of handing over to them reasons for their whims, then one falls into the worst mode of education, children develop a deplorable absorption in particular likes and dislikes, in peculiar cleverness, in self-centred interest,—the root of all evil. By nature, the child is neither evil nor good, since it starts without any knowledge either of good or of evil. To regard this unknowing innocence as an ideal and to yearn to return to it would be silly; it is without value and of short duration. Self-will and evil soon emerge in the child. This self-will must be broken by discipline, this seed of evil must be annihilated by it.

With regard to the other side of education, instruction, it is to be noted that this rationally begins with the most abstract thing that the child’s mind can grasp. This is the alphabet. This presupposes an abstraction to which entire races, for example, even the Chinese, have not attained. Language in general is this airy element, this sensory-unsensory, by increasing knowledge of which the child’s mind rises more and more above the sensory, the individual, to the universal, to thinking. This growing capacity for thinking is the greatest benefit of primary education. But the child only gets as far as representational thinking; the world is only for his representation; he learns the qualities of things, becomes acquainted with the circumstances of the worlds of nature and mind, develops an interest in things, but does not yet cognize the world in its inner connectedness. This knowledge comes only with manhood. But it cannot be denied that the boy has an imperfect understanding of the natural and the mental. One must therefore describe as an error the claim that a boy as yet understands nothing whatever of religion and right, that therefore he must not be bothered with these matters, that on no account must ideas be forced on him, but on the contrary he must be provided with experiences of his own and one must be content to let him be stimulated by what is sensorily present. Even the ancients did not allow children to dwell for long on the sensory. But the modern mind involves a wholly differ­ent elevation above the sensory, a much deeper absorption in its own inwardnes, than the ancient mind. Therefore, the supersensory world should now be presen­ted to the boy’s imagination at an early age. This happens in a much higher degree through the school than in the family. In the family the child is accepted in its immediate individuality, is loved whether its behaviour is good or bad. In school, on the other hand, the immediacy of the child no longer counts; here it is esteemed only according to its worth, according to its achievements; here it is no longer merely loved but criticized and guided in accordance with universal determinations, moulded by the objects of instruction according to fixed rules, in general, subjected to a universal order which forbids much that is innocent in itself because it cannot be permitted that evetyone does it. The school thus forms the transition from the family into civil society. But to civil society the boy has at first only an indeterminate relationship; his interest is still divided between learning and playing.”

‘Hegel’s Development: Toward the Sunlight (1770-1801)’ by H. S. Harris

Published by Oxford University Press in 1971. Download link updated on 29. June 2021.

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Shows how Georg W. F. Hegel gradually discovers philosophy and the necessity of personal commitment as a philosopher.

This work takes the gold medal as the finest piece of scholarship in the studies of Hegel. At first glance a dauntingly long work for a book that does not reach the first strictly philosophical writings of the Jena period, it is nevertheless possessed of an elegance, acuteness, and conciseness, backed with an incredibly thorough knowledge of the source material that is rarely obtrusive enough to prevent the book from being, as it was designed to be, an illuminating Erziehungsroman.

Biographical information, while there, is subordinated to critical analyses of all the material available from his schoolboy essays through the writings during his time spent at Tubingen, Berne, and Frankfurt up until the Verfassungsschrift: while we are also given some useful translations, notably of the Systemfragment of 1800.

Hegel’s struggle to reconcile Vernunft and Phantasie, while also seeking means for integrating religion and the state, is dramatically told, and, in the telling, light is thrown onto the personalities and problems of this period of German intellectual history, while also a very different picture emerges from that which we associate with Hegel: a revolutionary by intent, a pragmatist, and concerned with subjectivity in a way which renders untenable any rationally defensible justification of the momentum which was historically given to existentialism through its reaction against Hegelianism.

No short review can do justice to the rich suggestiveness of this book that belies the dictum that an exhaustive book is exhausting and leaves no more to be said: anybody interested in philosophical or literary history from Lessing to Nietzsche will find this book invaluable not merely for its informational aspect but also because it cannot fail to stimulate the imagination to find themes or affinities with their other concerns where they might least have expected to find them.

‘Hegel’s Development: Night Thoughts (Jena 1801–1806)’ by H. S. Harris

Published by Oxford University Press in 1984.
Download link updated on 29. June 2021.

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This study is the first comprehensive survey of the development of Hegel’s mature system fills a major gap in English scholarship and takes into account everything that survives from the manuscripts Hegel produced during his first academic career at the University of Jena.

This work concludes Harris’s two-volume study of Hegel’s philosophical development in his seminal writings just prior to the publication of Phenomenology of Spirit, carefully reconstructing the growth of Hegel’s philosophy during his stay in Jena (1801-6). During this critical period Hegel published his first essays and elaborated the basic elements of his mature system. Largely concerned with the philosophical developments that led to Hegel’s conception and execution of the Phenomenology (1807), it does not attempt to add much to the voluminous philosophical literature that analyzes the argument of the Phenomenology itself, assuming rather that the reader is familiar with the work and shares his acceptance of its historical and philosophical importance. In contrast to many students of the early Hegel, however, Harris clearly grasps the Phenomenology in the context of Hegel’s grappling with a comprehensive expression of a system of philosophy.

It largely concentrates on reconstructing the stages of the evolution of Hegel’s conception of the system, following in detail the surviving manuscripts for the Philosophy of Nature (1803-4), Philosophy of Spirit (1804), Logic and Metaphysics (1804- 5), Philosophy of Nature (1805-6), and Philosophy of Spirit (1805-6). The focus is on the systematic context of Hegel’s conception of philosophy leads him to give less exhaustive treatment to his earlier critical publications, products of his collaboration with Schelling.

Not ignoring the important external influence of Schelling and others, the book is generally uninterested in the controversies over Hegel’s relation to individual thinkers that have characterized so much Hegel scholarship. The issue of the extent to which the Phenomenology was a disguised polemic against Schelling is only passingly discussed, concluding that it was probably not directed personally against Schelling himself as an individual.

Following from the close analysis of the writings, the underlying thesis is that Hegel’s intellectual development can be understood as a largely internal working out of the problem of the popularization of philosophy that had preoccupied Hegel since seminary days. Primarily concerned with painstakingly demonstrating how Hegel’s original treatment of the identity philosophy and other ideas stemmed from his continuing preoccupation with the goal of the philosopher as Volkserzieher, the focus is on Hegel’s interest in popularizing the philosophical insight in completing and actualizing the Kantian revolution, in “teaching philosophy to speak German”—providing a useful index of Hegel’s theoretical changes, this interest in Volkserziehung provides a continuity to all of Hegel’s early writings. It contrasts how Hegel envisaged the realization of the popular-educational function of philosophy—moving from religious messianism (1796) to political activism (1800) and finally to the abstract speculative system of philosophy in Jena. This generalization is convincingly used to relate details and critical episodes in Hegel’s systematic reworking of the form and role of components of the system to Hegel’s broader preoccupation with the goal of Volkserziehung.

Harris’s study should especially interest intellectual historians precisely because of his efforts to relate Hegel’s continuing concern with a chief theme of the Aufklärung to the detailed elaboration of the system that was to dominate by action and reaction much of the intellectual history of the following century.

This entire discussion of the early manuscripts provides the first historically accurate treatment in English of the original context of many of the ideas that were to be published a generation later, gaining currency only in distorted form as posthumously compiled works or editorial additions to the posthumous version of the Encyclopedia.

Fully incorporating the most recent and accurate chronology of Hegel’s early writings and making use of the recently discovered fragments from 1801-2, this study is now the most comprehensive and reliable discussion of Hegel’s early work and remains indispensable—if only as a research guide to scholars of the period who have any occasion to deal with the early Hegel material. On the other hand, the major nineteenth-century biographers of Hegel (Rosenkranz and Haym) still retain their central importance for researchers because those biographers had access to material that has been lost. But the actual textual discussions and developmental studies of major twentieth-century scholars (Dilthey, Haering, Lukacs) can no longer be trusted as historically authoritative, though the broader conclusions of these writers will obviously continue to be of philosophical and critical interest.

This volume concludes with a very helpful chronological index to Hegel’s early writings with citations to the most recent German editions and English translations and contains a comprehensive bibliography of works relating to Hegel’s philosophical development.

‘Lectures on the History of Philosophy’ by Georg W. F. Hegel | 3 Volumes edited by Robert F. Brown & Peter C. Hodgson

Published by Oxford University Press in 2009. Download link updated on 27. June 2021.

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Hegel’s lectures have had as great a historical impact on the intellectual history of the past two centuries as the works he himself published. Important elements of his system are elaborated only in the lectures, especially those given in Berlin during the last decade of his life.

These lectures challenged the antiquarianism of Hegel’s contemporaries by boldly contending that the history of philosophy is itself philosophy, not just history. It portrays the journey of reason or spirit through time, as reason or spirit comes in stages to its full development and self-conscious existence, through the successive products of human intellect and activity. They are crucial to understanding Hegel’s own systematic philosophy in its constructive aspect, as well as his views on the centrality of reason in human history and culture.

The original editors conflated materials from different sources and dates, obscuring the development and logic of Hegel’s thought. Based on a selection of extant and recently discovered transcripts and manuscripts, the original lecture series are reconstructed so that the structure of Hegel’s argument can be followed. Each volume presents an accurate new translation accompanied by an editorial introduction and annotations on the text, which make possible the identification of Hegel’s many allusions and sources.

‘Emancipation After Hegel: Achieving a Contradictory Revolution’ by Todd McGowan

Published by Columbia University Press in 2019.

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Hegel is making a comeback. After the decline of the Marxist Hegelianism that dominated the twentieth century, leading thinkers are rediscovering Hegel’s thought as a resource for contemporary politics. What does a notoriously difficult nineteenth-century German philosopher have to offer the present? How should we understand Hegel, and what does understanding Hegel teach us about confronting our most urgent challenges?

In this book, Todd McGowan offers us a Hegel for the twenty-first century. Simultaneously an introduction to Hegel and a fundamental reimagining of Hegel’s project, Emancipation After Hegel presents a radical Hegel who speaks to a world overwhelmed by right-wing populism, authoritarianism, neoliberalism, and economic inequalities. McGowan argues that the revolutionary core of Hegel’s thought is contradiction. He reveals that contradiction is inexorable and that we must attempt to sustain it rather than overcoming it or dismissing it as a logical failure. McGowan contends that Hegel’s notion of contradiction, when applied to contemporary problems, challenges any assertion of unitary identity as every identity is in tension with itself and dependent on others. An accessible and compelling reinterpretation of an often-misunderstood thinker, this book shows us a way forward to a new politics of emancipation as we reconcile ourselves to the inevitability of contradiction and find solidarity in not belonging.


“This is the book we were waiting for after long years of being bombarded by Hegel as a closet liberal whose last word is recognition. With Todd McGowan, the revolutionary Hegel is back—however, it is not the old Marxist Hegel but the Hegel AFTER Marx, the Hegel who makes us aware that revolution is an open and risked process which necessarily entails catastrophic failures.”

—Slavoj Žižek

‘The Philosophy and Politics of Aesthetic Experience: German Romanticism and Critical Theory’ by Nathan Ross


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This book develops a philosophy of aesthetic experience through two socially significant philosophical movements: early German Romanticism and early critical theory.

In examining the relationship between these two closely intertwined movements, we see that aesthetic experience is not merely a passive response to art—it is the capacity to cultivate true personal autonomy, and to critique the social and political context of our lives. Art is political for these thinkers, not only when it paints a picture of society, but even more when it makes us aware of our deeply ingrained forms of experience in a transformative way. Ultimately, the book argues that we have to think of art as a form of truth that is not reducible to communicative rationality or scientific knowledge, and from which philosophy and politics can learn valuable lessons.

‘On Mechanism in Hegel’s Social and Political Philosophy’ by Nathan Ross

Published by Routledge in 2013. Download link updated on 26. June 2021.

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On Mechanism in Hegel’s Social and Political Philosophy examines the role of the concept of mechanism in Hegel’s thinking about political and social institutions. It counters as overly simplistic the notion that Hegel has an ‘organic concept of society’. It examines the thought of Hegel’s peers and predecessors who critique modern political intuitions as ‘machine-like’, focusing on J.G. Herder, Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis. From here it examines the early writings of Hegel, in which Hegel makes a break with the Romantic way of thinking about ethical community.

Ross argues that in this period, Hegel devises a new way of thinking about the integration of mechanistic and organic features within an organizational whole. This allows Hegel to offer an innovative theory of modern civil society as a component in ethical life. The second half of the book examines how Hegel develops this thought in his later works. It offers an in depth commentary on the chapter on mechanism in the Science of Logic, and it demonstrates the role of these thoughts in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.

On Mechanism in Hegel’s Social and Political Philosophy offers a critical response to debates over communitarianism by arguing against one of the central figures used by scholars to associate Hegel with communitarian thought, namely the notion that society is organic. In addition, it argues that Hegel political theory is deeply informed by his formal ontology, as developed in the Science of Logic.

‘Incontinence of the Void: Economico-Philosophical Spandrels’ by Slavoj Žižek

Published by MIT Press in 2017.

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In Incontinence of the Void (the title is inspired by a sentence in Samuel Beckett’s late masterpiece Ill Seen Ill Said), Žižek explores the empty spaces between philosophy, psychoanalysis, and the critique of political economy.

He proceeds from the universal dimension of philosophy to the particular dimension of sexuality to the singular dimension of the critique of political economy. The passage from one dimension to another is immanent: the ontological void is accessible only through the impasses of sexuation and the ongoing prospect of the abolition of sexuality, which is itself opened up by the techno-scientific progress of global capitalism, in turn leading to the critique of political economy.

Žižek examines the notion of an excessive element in ontology that gives body to radical negativity, which becomes the antagonism of sexual difference. From the economico-philosophical perspective, Žižek extrapolates from ontological excess to Marxian surplus value to Lacan’s surplus enjoyment.

‘German Philosophy: A Dialogue’ by Alain Badiou & Jean-Luc Nancy

Published by MIT Press in 2018. Download link updated on 24. June 2021.

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Two eminent French philosophers discuss German philosophy―including the legacy of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Adorno, Fichte, Marx, and Heidegger―from a French perspective.

In this book, Alain Badiou and Jean-Luc Nancy, the two most important living philosophers in France, discuss German philosophy from a French perspective. Written in the form of a dialogue, and revised and expanded from a 2016 conversation between the two philosophers at the Universität der Künste Berlin, the book offers not only Badiou’s and Nancy’s reinterpretations of German philosophers and philosophical concepts, but also an accessible introduction to the greatest thinkers of German philosophy. Badiou and Nancy discuss and debate such topics as the legacies of Kant, Hegel, and Marx, as well as Nietzsche, Adorno, Fichte, Schelling, and the unavoidable problem of Heidegger and Nazism. The dialogue is contentious, friendly, and often quotable, with strong―at times passionate―positions taken by both Badiou and Nancy, who find themselves disagreeing over Kant, for example, and in unexpected agreement on Marx, for another.

What does it mean, then, to conduct a dialogue on German philosophy from a French perspective? As volume editor Jan Völker observes, “German philosophy” and “French philosophy” describe complex constellations that, despite the reference to nation-states and languages, above all encompass shared concepts and problems―although these take a range of forms. Perhaps they can reveal their essential import only in translation.

Hegel’s Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art

T. M. Knox translation. First published by Oxford University Press in 1975. Download link updated on 27. June 2021.

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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Aesthetics, or Philosophy of Fine Art, is part of a rich German aesthetic tradition that stretches from the middle of the 18th century into the modern era. Hegel wrote this work early in the German exploration of aesthetics, and it served as a foundation piece for the philosophies of all who followed him. Hegel, with Aesthetics and other works, had a profound impact on the philosophies of Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Adorno.

In this work, he explores the nature of beauty and the historical development of art. Hegel addresses each style of art in turn, considering architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and poetry in detail. He also offers distinct and in-depth analyses of Egyptian art, Greek sculpture, and both ancient and modern tragedy. Philosophy of Fine Art is regarded as one of the greatest aesthetic theories produced since Aristotle’s Poetics.


G. W. F. Hegel (1770-1831) is one of the great figures in the history of Western thought, and the most important philosopher of his time. He spent his life in his native Germany, elaborating an enormously ambitious and broad-ranging philosophical system which has exerted a continuing influence on European and Anglo-American philosophy. Sir Malcolm Knox was Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of St Andrews from 1936 to 1953, and then Principal of that university until 1966. He published translations of many of Hegel’s philosophical, theological, and political writings. He died in 1980.

‘The Singularity of Being: Lacan and the Immortal Within’ by Mari Ruti | AudioBook

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The Singularity of Being presents a Lacanian vision of what makes each of us an inimitable and irreplaceable creature. It argues that, unlike the “subject” (who comes into existence as a result of symbolic prohibition) or the “person” (who is aligned with the narcissistic conceits of the imaginary), the singular self emerges in response to a galvanizing directive arising from the real. This directive carries the force of an obligation that cannot be resisted and that summons the individual to a “character” beyond his or her social investments. Consequently, singularity expresses something about the individual’s non-negotiable distinctiveness, eccentricity, or idiosyncrasy at the same time it prevents both symbolic and imaginary closure. It opens to layers of rebelliousness, indicating that there are components of human life exceeding the realm of normative sociality.

Written with an unusual blend of rigor and clarity, The Singularity of Being combines incisive readings of Lacan with the best insights of recent Lacanian theory to reach beyond the dogmas of the field. Moving from what, thanks in part to Slavoj Žižek, has come to be known as the “ethics of the act” to a nuanced interpretation of Lacan’s “ethics of sublimation,” the book offers a sweeping overview of Lacan’s thought while making an original contribution to contemporary theory and ethics. Aimed at specialists and nonspecialists alike, the book manages to educate at the same time as it intervenes in current debates about subjectivity, agency, resistance, creativity, the self-other relationship, and effective political and ethical action. By focusing on the Lacanian real, Ruti honors the uniqueness of subjective experience without losing sight of the social and intersubjective components of human life.

‘Samuel Beckett’s Critical Aesthetics’ by Tim Lawrence

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This book considers how Samuel Beckett’s critical essays, dialogues and reflections drew together longstanding philosophical discourses about the nature of representation, and fostered crucial, yet overlooked, connections between these discourses and his fiction and poetry. It also pays attention to Beckett’s writing for little-magazines in France from the 1930s to the 1950s, before going on to consider how the style of Beckett’s late prose recalls and develops figures and themes in his critical writing. By providing a long-overdue assessment of Beckett’s work as a critic, this study shows how Beckett developed a new aesthetic in knowing dialogue with ideas including phenomenology, Kandinsky’s theories of abstraction, and avant-garde movements such as Surrealism. This book will be illuminating for students and researchers interested not just in Beckett, but in literary modernism, the avant-garde, European visual culture and philosophy.

‘Beckett’s Political Imagination’ by Emilie Morin

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Beckett’s Political Imagination charts unexplored territory: it investigates how Beckett’s bilingual texts re-imagine political history, and documents the conflicts and controversies through which Beckett’s political consciousness and affirmations were mediated. The book offers a startling account of Beckett’s work, tracing the many political causes that framed his writing, commitments, collaborations and friendships, from the Scottsboro Boys to the Black Panthers, from Irish communism to Spanish republicanism to Algerian nationalism, and from campaigns against Irish and British censorship to anti-Apartheid and international human rights movements. Emilie Morin reveals a very different writer, whose career and work were shaped by a unique exposure to international politics, an unconventional perspective on political action and secretive political engagements. The book will benefit students, researchers and readers who want to think about literary history in different ways and are interested in Beckett’s enduring appeal and influence.


Emilie Morin is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York. She works on modern literature, theatre history and forms of political writing. She has published widely on the work of Samuel Beckett, including a monograph entitled Samuel Beckett and the Problem of Irishness (2009), and has co-edited Theatre and Ghosts: Materiality, Performance and Modernity (2014) and Theatre and Human Rights after 1945: Things Unspeakable (2015).

“Not I” by Samuel Beckett | Mouth: Billie Whitelaw | 1973 | Video

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Stage in darkness but for MOUTH, upstage audience right, faintly lit from close-up and below, rest of face in shadow. Invisible microphone. AUDITOR, downstage audience left, tall standing figure, sex undeterminable, enveloped from head to foot in loose black djellaba, with hood, fully faintly lit, standing on invisible podium about 4 feet high shown by attitude alone to be facing diagonally across stage intent on MOUTH, dead still throughout but for four brief movements where indicated. As house lights down MOUTH`S voice unintelligible behind curtain. House lights out. Voice continues unintelligible behind curtain, 10 seconds. With rise of curtain ad-libbing from text as required leading when curtain fully up and attention sufficient into:

MOUTH: … out … into this world … this world … tiny little thing … before its time … in a godfor– … what? … girl? … yes … tiny little girl … into this … out into this … before her time … godforsaken hole called … called … no matter … parents unknown … unheard of … he having vanished … thin air … no sooner buttoned up his breeches … she similarly … eight months later … almost to the tick … so no love … spared that … no love such as normally vented on the … speechless infant … in the home … no … nor indeed for that matter any of any kind … no love of any kind … at any subsequent stage … so typical affair … nothing of any note till coming up to sixty when– … what? … seventy? … good God! … coming up to seventy … wandering in a field … looking aimlessly for cowslips … to make a ball … a few steps then stop … stare into space … then on … a few more … stop and stare again … so on … drifting around … when suddenly … gradually … all went out … all that early April morning light … and she found herself in the–– … what? … who? … no! … she! … (Pause and movement 1) … found herself in the dark … and if not exactly … insentient … insentient … for she could still hear the buzzing … so-called … in the ears … and a ray of light came and went … came and went … such as the moon might cast … drifting … in and out of cloud … but so dulled … feeling … feeling so dulled … she did not know … what position she was in … imagine! … what position she was in! … whether standing … or sitting … but the brain– … what? … kneeling? … yes … whether standing … or sitting … or kneeling … but the brain– … what? … lying? … yes … whether standing … or sitting … or kneeling … or lying … but the brain still … still … in a way … for her first thought was … oh long after … sudden flash … brought up as she had been to believe … with the other waifs … in a merciful … (Brief laugh) … God … (Good laugh) … first thought was … oh long after … sudden flash … she was being punished … for her sins … a number of which then … further proof if proof were needed … flashed through her mind … one after another … then dismissed as foolish … oh long after … this thought dismissed … as she suddenly realized … gradually realized … she was not suffering … imagine! … not suffering! … indeed could not remember … off-hand … when she had suffered less … unless of course she was … meant to be suffering … ha! … thought to be suffering … just as the odd time … in her life … when clearly intended to be having pleasure … she was in fact … having none … not the slightest … in which case of course … that notion of punishment … for some sin or other … or for the lot … or no particular reason … for its own sake … thing she understood perfectly … that notion of punishment … which had first occurred to her … brought up as she had been to believe … with the other waifs … in a merciful … (Brief laugh) … God … (Good laugh) … first occurred to her … then dismissed … as foolish … was perhaps not so foolish … after all … so on … all that … vain reasonings … till another thought … oh long after … sudden flash … very foolish really but– … what? … the buzzing? … yes … all the time buzzing … so-called … in the ears … though of course actually … not in the ears at all … in the skull … dull roar in the skull … and all the time this ray or beam … like moonbeam … but probably not … certainly not … always the same spot … now bright … now shrouded … but always the same spot … as no moon could … no … no moon … just all part of the same wish to … torment … though actually in point of fact … not in the least … not a twinge … so far … ha! … so far … this other thought then … oh long after … sudden flash … very foolish really but so like her … in a way … that she might do well to … groan … on and off … writhe she could not … as if in actual agony … but could not … could not bring herself … some flaw in her make-up … incapable of deceit … or the machine … more likely the machine … so disconnected … never got the message … or powerless to respond … like numbed … couldn’t make the sound … not any sound … no sound of any kind … no screaming for help for example … should she feel so inclined … scream … (Screams) … then listen … (Silence) … scream again … (Screams again) … then listen again … (Silence) … no … spared that … all silent as the grave … no part– … what? … the buzzing? … yes … all silent but for the buzzing … so-called … no part of her moving … that she could feel … just the eyelids … presumably … on and off … shut out the light … reflex they call it … no feeling of any kind … but the lids … even best of times … who feels them? … opening … shutting … all that moisture … but the brain still … still sufficiently … oh very much so! … at this stage … in control … under control … to question even this … for on that April morning … so it reasoned … that April morning … she fixing with her eye … a distant bell … as she hastened towards it … fixing it with her eye … lest it elude her … had not all gone out … all that light … of itself … without any … any … on her part … so on … so on it reasoned … vain questionings … and all dead still … sweet silent as the grave … when suddenly … gradually … she realizes– … what? … the buzzing? … yes … all dead still but for the buzzing … when suddenly she realized … words were– … what? … who? … no! … she! … (Pause and movement 2) … realized … words were coming … imagine! … words were coming … a voice she did not recognize at first so long since it had sounded … then finally had to admit … could be none other … than her own … certain vowel sounds … she had never heard … elsewhere … so that people would stare … the rare occasions … once or twice a year … always winter some strange reason … stare at her uncomprehending … and now this stream … steady stream … she who had never … on the contrary … practically speechless … all her days … how she survived! … even shopping … out shopping … busy shopping centre … supermart … just hand in the list … with the bag … old black shopping bag … then stand there waiting … any length of time … middle of the throng … motionless … staring into space … mouth half open as usual … till it was back in her hand … the bag back in her hand … then pay and go … not as much as good-bye … how she survived! … and now this stream … not catching the half of it … not the quarter … no idea … what she was saying … imagine! … no idea what she was saying! … till she began trying to … delude herself … it was not hers at all … not her voice at all … and no doubt would have … vital she should … was on the point … after long efforts … when suddenly she felt … gradually she felt … her lips moving … imagine! … her lips moving! … as of course till then she had not … and not alone the lips … the cheeks … the jaws … the whole face … all those– … what? … the tongue? … yes … the tongue in the mouth … all those contortions without which … no speech possible … and yet in the ordinary way … not felt at all … so intent one is … on what one is saying … the whole being … hanging on its words … so that not only she had … had she … not only had she … to give up … admit hers alone … her voice alone … but this other awful thought … oh long after … sudden flash … even more awful if possible … that feeling was coming back … imagine! … feeling coming back! … starting at the top … then working down … the whole machine … but no … spared that … the mouth alone … so far … ha! … so far … then thinking … oh long after … sudden flash … it can’t go on … all this … all that … steady stream … straining to hear … make some-thing of it … and her own thoughts … make something of them … all– … what? … the buzzing? … yes … all the time the buzzing … so-called … all that together … imagine! … whole body like gone … just the mouth … lips … cheeks … jaws … never– … what? … tongue? … yes … lips … cheeks … jaws … tongue … never still a second … mouth on fire … stream of words … in her ear … practically in her ear … not catching the half … not the quarter … no idea what she’s saying … imagine! … no idea what she’s saying! … and can’t stop … no stopping it … she who but a moment before … but a moment! … could not make a sound … no sound of any kind … now can’t stop … imagine! … can’t stop the stream … and the whole brain begging … something begging in the brain … begging the mouth to stop … pause a moment … if only for a moment … and no response … as if it hadn’t heard … or couldn’t … couldn’t pause a second … like maddened … all that together … straining to hear … piece it together … and the brain … raving away on its own … trying to make sense of it … or make it stop … or in the past … dragging up the past … flashes from all over … walks mostly … walking all her days … day after day … a few steps then stop … stare into space … then on … a few more … stop and stare again … so on … drifting around … day after day … or that time she cried … the one time she could remember … since she was a baby … must have cried as a baby … perhaps not … not essential to life … just the birth cry to get her going … breathing … then no more till this … old hag already … sitting staring at her hand … where was it? … Croker’s Acres … one evening on the way home … home! … a little mound in Croker’s Acres … dusk … sitting staring at her hand … there in her lap … palm upward … suddenly saw it wet … the palm … tears presumably … hers presumably … no one else for miles … no sound … just the tears … sat and watched them dry … all over in a second … or grabbing at straw … the brain … flickering away on its own … quick grab and on … nothing there … on to the next … bad as the voice … worse … as little sense … all that together … can’t– … what? … the buzzing? … yes … all the time the buzzing … dull roar like falls … and the beam … flickering on and off … starting to move around … like moonbeam but not … all part of the same … keep an eye on that too … corner of the eye … all that together … can’t go on … God is love … she’ll be purged … back in the field … morning sun … April … sink face down in the grass … nothing but the larks … so on … grabbing at the straw … straining to hear … the odd word … make some sense of it … whole body like gone … just the mouth … like maddened … and can’t stop … no stopping it … something she– … something she had to– … what? … who? … no! … she! … (Pause and movement 3) … something she had to– … what? … the buzzing? … yes … all the time the buzzing … dull roar … in the skull … and the beam … ferreting around … painless … so far … ha! … so far … then thinking … oh long after … sudden flash … perhaps something she had to … had to … tell … could that be it? … something she had to … tell … tiny little thing … before its time … godforsaken hole … no love … spared that … speechless all her days … practically speechless … how she survived! … that time in court … what had she to say for herself … guilty or not guilty … stand up woman … speak up woman … stood there staring into space … mouth half open as usual … waiting to be led away … glad of the hand on her arm … now this … some-thing she had to tell … could that be it? … something that would tell … how it was … how she– … what? … had been? … yes … something that would tell how it had been … how she had lived … lived on and on … guilty or not … on and on … to be sixty … something she– … what? … seventy? … good God! … on and on to be seventy … something she didn’t know herself … wouldn’t know if she heard … then forgiven … God is love … tender mercies … new every morning … back in the field … April morning … face in the grass … nothing but the larks … pick it up there … get on with it from there … another few– … what? … not that? … nothing to do with that? … nothing she could tell? … all right … nothing she could tell … try something else … think of something else … oh long after … sudden flash … not that either … all right … something else again … so on … hit on it in the end … think everything keep on long enough … then forgiven … back in the– … what? … not that either? … nothing to do with that either? … nothing she could think? … all right … nothing she could tell … nothing she could think … nothing she– … what? … who? … no! … she! … (Pause and movement 4) … tiny little thing … out before its time … godforsaken hole … no love … spared that … speechless all her days … practically speechless … even to herself … never out loud … but not completely … sometimes sudden urge … once or twice a year … always winter some strange reason … the long evenings … hours of darkness … sudden urge to … tell … then rush out stop the first she saw … nearest lavatory … start pouring it out … steady stream … mad stuff … half the vowels wrong … no one could follow … till she saw the stare she was getting … then die of shame … crawl back in … once or twice a year … always winter some strange reason … long hours of darkness … now this … this … quicker and quicker … the words … the brain … flickering away like mad … quick grab and on … nothing there … on somewhere else … try somewhere else … all the time something begging … something in her begging … begging it all to stop … unanswered … prayer unanswered … or unheard … too faint … so on … keep on … trying … not knowing what … what she was trying … what to try … whole body like gone … just the mouth … like maddened … so on … keep– … what? … the buzzing? … yes … all the time the buzzing … dull roar like falls … in the skull … and the beam … poking around … painless … so far … ha! … so far … all that … keep on … not knowing what … what she was– … what? … who? … no! … she! … SHE! … (Pause) … what she was trying … what to try … no matter … keep on … (Curtain starts down) … hit on it in the end … then back … God is love … tender mercies … new every morning … back in the field … April morning … face in the grass … nothing but the larks … pick it up–

Curtain fully down. House dark. Voice continues behind curtain, unintelligible, 10 seconds, ceases as house lights up.

‘Beckett as the Writer of Abstraction’ by Slavoj Žižek

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The “empty” Cartesian subject ($) is not just the agent of abstraction (tearing apart what in reality belongs together), it is itself an abstraction, i.e., it emerges as the result of the process of abstraction, of self-withdrawal from its real-life context. This is why the “materialist” demand to localize a subject into the texture of its “concrete” historical situation misses the key point: what disappears if we do it? – is the subject itself. And, again, this does not mean that subject is a kind of user’s illusion which persists only insofar as it doesn’t know fully its concrete material conditions: the network of “concrete material conditions” is in itself incomplete, it contains cracks and inconsistencies which are the points of the rise of subjects.

In his detailed reading of Schubert’s Winterreise, Ian Bostridge [1] deploys the implications of the fact that, as we learn in the very first lines of the first song, the narrator both comes to and leaves the house as a stranger. We never learn the reason why he leaves: was he thrown out by the prohibitive father of the family, was he rejected by the girl, did he escape out of fear of marriage promulgated by the girl’s mother? This vagueness which creates anxiety is a positive feature in itself: it positively defines the narrator as a kind of empty place between parentheses, as a barred subject in the Lacanian sense of $. This emptiness is constitutive of the subject, it comes first, it is not the result of a process of abstraction or alienation: the barred/empty subject is not abstracted from the “concrete” individual or person fully embedded in its life-world, this abstraction/withdrawal from all substantial content constitutes it. The “fullness of a person,” its “inner wealth,” is what Lacan calls the fantasmatic “stuff of the I,” imaginary formations which fill in the void that “is” subject. Here also enters what Lacan calls objet a : objet a (as the stand-in for a lack) is the objectal correlate of the empty subject, that which causes anxiety. Back to Winterreise : objet a of the narrator is not the secret true reason why he had to leave the house, it is the very cause/agent of the narrator’s “emptying” into a stranger whose true motivations are obscure and impenetrable. As such, objet a is the object which would have been lost the moment we were to learn the “true” particular cause of why the narrator left the house.

The abstraction enacted by subject is not the end result, it is the point of passage to a new concretion. There is a passage in Proust’s Recherche in which Marcel uses the telephone for the first time, speaking to his grandmother; her voice, heard alone, apart from her body, surprised him – it is a voice of a frail old woman, not the voice of the grandmother he remembers. And the point is that this experience of the voice isolated from its context colors Marcel’s entire perception of the grandmother: when, later, he visits her in person, he perceives her in a new way, as a strange mad old woman drowsing over her book, overburdened with age, flushed and course, no longer the charming and caring grandmother he remembered. This is how voice as autonomous partial object can affect our entire perception of the body to which it belongs. The lesson of it is that, precisely, the direct experience of the unity of a body, where voice seems to fit its organic whole, involves a necessary mystification; in order to penetrate to the truth, one has to tear this unity apart, to focus onto one of its aspects in its isolation, and then to allow this element to color our entire perception. Such a “re-totalization”, based on violent abstraction, is what we should call “concrete abstraction”: abstraction which grounds its own concrete totality.

Another case of violent re-totalization is provided by movie actors who are as a rule identified with a certain screen persona: neither the character(s) they play in a film nor what they really are as private “real” persons but a certain personality that transpires through multiple roles as the “type” an actor is playing again and again. Humphrey Bogart was playing the same cynical and wounded but honest character, Gary Cooper played the same terse and abrupt courageous type, Cary Grant played the same hectic hyper-active type, etc. There is, however, usually in their career at least one film in which they play a type running against their screen persona. Henry Fonda continuously played a strictly honest and highly moral character, but late in his career, he made an exception – he decided to play the main bad guy, a brutal sadistic killer working for the rail company in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. The interesting thing is how this role (and Fonda plays it with obvious pleasure!) retroactively changed our perception of his standard screen persona and enabled us, spectators, to perceive cracks in it – say, to discern traces of brutality and arrogance in the way he played the great heroic figures from Abraham Lincoln to Colonel Thursday in John Ford’s Fort Apache who causes a massacre of his soldiers when he leads them to a hasty attack.

Or let us take Ben Kingsley; the role that defined his screen persona was that of Gandhi in Attenborough’s rather boring “masterpiece” – a dull and preaching agent of justice, equality and Indian independence. However, 18 years later, Kingsley excelled in Sexy Beast where he plays a brutal mob enforcer bursting with evil wit and irony. So, perhaps, the fact that the two big movie roles of Ben Kingsley are Gandhi and the ridiculously-aggressive English gangster do bear witness to a deeper affinity: what if the second character is the full actualization of the hidden potentials of the first one? If we look back at Gandhi from this standpoint, we are forced to bring out the weird and very problematic features of his character ignored by the media hagiography… (There is another role played by Kingsley which breaks out of this duality and moves to a totally different dimension: in the 1988 TV drama Lenin: The Train, Kingsley gives a very sympathetic portrayal of Lenin on his legendary train voyage from Zurich to Petersburg in the Spring of 1917, with Dominique Sanda as Inessa Aemand and the old Leslie Caron as Nadhezda Krupskaya.)

Our last example in these series is Tom Cruise. His exception – the exception to his standard screen persona – is what I consider by far his best role, that of Frank Mackey, a motivational speaker peddling a pick-up artist course to men, in P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia. What is so striking is the obvious pleasure with which he plays this extremely repulsive character; an extrovert, hard-talking guy who teaches his pupils how it is all about fucking women and how to dominate them. (Later in the film his character gains some complexity, but what we get is just the twisted inner life of a vulgar corrupted person.) Again, of we look back at his other roles from this vantage point, we can easily discern the immanent vulgarity of his screen persona which transpires even in his “socially-critical” roles like that of playing the anti-war activist Ron Kovic in Oliver Stone’s movie adaptation of Kovic’s memoir, Born on the Fourth of July. We can perceive the vacuity of his arrogant sarcasms in The Color of Money or in A Few Good Men, the vain pretentiousness of Vanilla Sky, up to the flat and unconvincing heroism of his Stauffenberg in Valkyrie. The point is not that this is his “real person” but that it is the reality beneath his screen persona. In short, the old Marxist and Freudian rule holds here also: the exception is the only way to universal truth.

But the great writer of abstraction is Samuel Beckett, and to a partisan of the standard Marxist concrete historical analysis of the works of art in the style of Lukacs, the way he practices abstraction in his work cannot but appear as resolutely “anti-Marxist.” When he depicts the subjective experience of terror, loss, suffering and persecution, he does not endeavour to locate it into a concrete historical context (say, making it clear that it is a moment of Fascist terror in an occupied country, or of the Stalinist terror against dissident intellectuals). Beckett does (almost – not quite, of course) the exact contrary: he puts particular forms of terror and persecution which belong to different contexts and levels (Fascist terror, the “terror” of anti-Fascist revenge, administrative “terror” of regulating the repatriation of refugees and prisoners) into a series and blurs their distinctions, constructing an abstract form of de-contextualized terror, one can even say: a Platonic Idea of terror. Why this? Shouldn’t we locate every terror into its concrete historical situation and distinguish between Fascist terror, authentic revolutionary terror, Stalinist terror, consumerist terror, etc.? Why is Beckett’s abstraction from concrete social context not only psychologically (a victim experiences his situation as abstract), but also ontologically, with regard to social totality itself, more truthful than a “concrete” realist image of social totality?

Let’s take a closer look at how Beckett proceeds. He does not simply erase echoes of historical reality – abstraction is in his writing a process, not a state. As Emilie Morin perspicuously noticed,

on the surface, there is little about his destitute characters that might suggest an aspiration to political theorising or political action. And yet they partially function as political metonymies: the political order to which they belong, sketched in the shadows and recesses of the texts, materialises precisely as they struggle through ruins, mud, deserted landscapes, empty rooms and other residues of a historical horror escaping categorisation. [2]

Beckett often is the exemplary apolitical writer, dealing with basic existential deadlocks and dilemmas. However, a close reading of his works makes it clear that Beckett’s entire opus is impregnated by (traces of and echoes to) political events: the political turmoil in Ireland around 1930, the struggle between Fascism and anti-Fascism through the 1930s, Resistance against Fascist occupation, the struggle for Black emancipation against apartheid (his only financial donation to a political party was to ANC), the Algerian war of independence (apropos the French colonial war in Algeria, he coined the term “Murderous Humanitarianism” in order to designate the truth of the French “civilizing” colonialism), the Vietnam war, Palestinian resistance, the defence of persecuted writers… all is there, but not directly (“realistically”) represented.

A gap persists between the two levels perfectly rendered by Beckett who wrote: “The material of experience is not the material of expression.” The “material of experience” are the historical data, social events; the “material of expression” is the universe depicted in Beckett’s world; and the passage from one to the other is abstraction. It is in this precise sense that Beckett called for “an art of empêchement (impediment or hindrance), a state of deprivation that is material and ontological in equal measure”[3]: an invisible obstacle renders impossible the continuous transition from abstract experience to concrete social totality. This obstacle acts like the Lacanian Real/Impossible which makes reality (the reality of social totality, in this case) incomplete, cracked. The persisting unfreedom, uneasiness, and dislocation in a modern formally “free” society can be properly articulated, brought to light, only in an art which is no longer constrained to the “realist” representative model. The modern uneasiness, unfreedom in the very form of formal freedom, servitude in the very form of autonomy, and, more fundamentally, anxiety and perplexity caused by that very autonomy, reaches so deep into the very ontological foundations of our being that it can be expressed only in an art form which destabilizes and denaturalizes the most elementary coordinates of our sense of reality.

Perhaps the exemplary case of Beckett’s procedure of abstraction is his Malone Dies whose entire topic and details clearly relate to the French peripeties during the German occupation and its aftermath: the Nazi and collaborationist control, terror and oppression, the revenge against collaborationists and the way refugees were treated when returning home and recuperating. What gives such a power to the novel is precisely that these three domains are condensed into a single suffocating experience of an individual lost in the web of police, psychiatric and administrative measures. However, Beckett’s procedure of abstraction reaches its peak in his two late short theatre masterpieces, Not I and Catastrophe. In Not I, a twenty-minute dramatic monologue from 1972, there are no “persons” here, intersubjectivity is reduced to its most elementary skeleton, that of the speaker (who is not a person, but a partial object, a faceless MOUTH speaking — an “organ without a body,” as it were) and AUDITOR, a witness of the monologue who says nothing throughout the play; all the Auditor does is that, in “a gesture of helpless compassion” (Beckett), he four times repeats the gesture of simple sideways raising of arms from sides and their falling back. The basic constellation of the play is thus the dialogue between the subject and the big Other, where this couple is reduced to its barest minimum: the Other is a silent impotent witness which fails in its effort to serve as the medium of the Truth of what is said, and the speaking subject itself is deprived of its dignified status of “person” and reduced to a partial object.

Catastrophe (1982), a late short play which may appear to violate his rules, is a “realist” play staging the rehearsal of a theatre play of the brutal interrogation of a nameless prisoner, and it shamelessly relies on a parallel between oppressive interrogation and the ruthless domination of a theatre director over his actors in rehearsing a play. Catastrophe can thus be read “as a solipsistic reflection upon the dispossessed body; as a rumination on the mechanics of theatrical spectacle; as an exposition of the tyranny practised by Soviet Communism; as an examination of the enduring power of dissent in the face of oppression.”[4] All these disparate levels are condensed into one, the Idea of the mechanics of oppression, and the ambiguity affects even the conclusion:

The play can be viewed as an allegory on the power of totalitarianism and the struggle to oppose it, the protagonist representing people ruled by dictators (the director and his aide). By ‘tweak[ing] him until his clothing and posture project the required image of pitiful dejectedness,’ they exert their control over the silenced figure. ‘The Director’s reifying of the Protagonist can be seen as an attempt to reduce a living human being to the status of an icon of impotent suffering. But, at the end of the play, he reasserts his humanity and his individuality in a single, vestigial, yet compelling movement'[5] – in an act of defiance, the man looks up into the audience (after having been looking down the entire time). In answer to a reviewer who claimed that the ending was ambiguous Beckett replied angrily: ‘There’s no ambiguity there at all. He’s saying, you bastards, you haven’t finished me yet.'[6]

In short, he is making Beckett’s standard point of persisting in resistance: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” However, what we should bear in mind here is that, in this case, the “bastards” are also members of the public that enjoys the show, and “you haven’t finished me yet” also means: I will not resign myself to play the suffering victim in order to satisfy your humanitarian needs. Although Beckett dutifully signed petitions in solidarity with the artists persecuted in “totalitarian” (mostly Communist) countries, he was also aware of “what becomes of solidarity under the imperative to transform suffering into spectacle. The play offers a rebuke to the expectations of an imagined audience attending a charity event, awaiting a predicted performance of hardship in exchange for its donation.” Catastrophe was first performed precisely as part of such a public spectacle of solidarity with Vaclav Havel (imprisoned in Czechoslovakia), so that when, in the play’s very last moment, the victimized Protagonist raises his head and takes a direct look at the audience, this gesture should definitely be read also as addressing the public with a message like “don’t think you are much better than what is portrayed in my short play, the anonymous prosecutor terrorizing the Protagonist, and the theatre director terrorizing the actor – you are part of the same hypocritical game, enjoying the spectacle of suffering which makes you feel good in your solidarity with the victim.” This is the art of abstraction, of reduction to form, at its most radical, brought to the self-referential extreme: with regard to content, it slides metonymically from the terror of totalitarian interrogation to the terror exerted by theatre directors on performers, and from there to the terror exerted by the benevolent humanitarian public on the theatre ensemble itself. Nobody is simply innocent, nobody is totally exempted.

The circle is thus (almost) closed: humanitarian charity participates in the universe which creates victims; eco-sustainability reproduces the very ecological problems it claims to resolve; reforms of capitalism make it more efficient… The circle is ALMOST closed: it is impossible to break out of it, which means one can do it by means of a real-impossible act. Such an act can assume many forms, up to the renunciation to act. A friend of mine was in analysis with a big Lacanian figure, and his analysis was over when he decided that he didn’t want to change but would prefer to remain the same as he is. This rejection of change was, of course, the most radical existential change, since prior to this decision, his entire existence was under the shadow of a need to change.

So, what is to be done in the Beckettian situation that is ours today, in a situation in which the future is obscure and impenetrable and we can rely on no prospect of progress in the way classic Marxism still did?

Although things are changing today in a breath-taking rhythm (in ecology, economy, sciences…), nobody really knows where will all this lead us. Maybe, Lenin can unexpectedly serve as our guide here. Two years before his death, when it became clear that there will be no all-European revolution, and that the idea of building socialism in one country was nonsense, he wrote:

What if the complete hopelessness of the situation, by stimulating the efforts of the workers and peasants tenfold, offered us the opportunity to create the fundamental requisites of civilization in a different way from that of the West European countries? [7]

The basic ideological operation of Stalin was precisely to turn around Lenin’s reading of the situation: he presented the fact that Soviet Union remained alone as a unique chance to build socialism in one country. In that historical situation, Stalin’s formula was one of hope; however, the next decade made evident the price paid for the attempt to live up to this hope: purges, mass starvation, etc. Today’s Left finds itself in a situation described by Lenin: no predetermined “historical task” is waiting for us, or, more precisely, the realization of this Big Task has miserably failed, but this very situation gives us a weird kind of freedom – we can improvise, although under the shadow of the impossibility to achieve the Big Goal. And we should make a step further here: what if this is not an exception (as it may have appeared in the case of Russia where revolution occurred at a wrong place and time) but the rule: what if the true revolutionary change can take place only in the aftermath of the failed Big Revolution? This is how we can and should act in the Hegelian historical moment when the End already took place and we live in its confused aftermath.


Notes

  1. See Ian Bostridge, Schubert’s Winter Journey, London: Faber and Faber 2015.
  2. Emilie Morin, “Beckett’s Political Imagination”, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2017, p. 3.
  3. Morin, op.cit., p. 239.
  4. Op.cit., p. 243.
  5. James Knowlson, “Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett”, London: Bloomsbury 1996, p 679.
  6. Quoted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catastrophe_(play).
  7. V.I.Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 33, Moscow: Progress Publishers 1966, p. 479.

‘Molloy’ by Samuel Beckett

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Molloy, the first of the three masterpieces which constitute Samuel Beckett’s famous trilogy, appeared in French in 1951, followed seven months later by Malone Dies (Malone meurt), and two years later by The Unnamable (L’Innommable). Few works of contemporary literature have been so universally acclaimed as central to their time and to our understanding of the human experience.

‘Malone Dies’ by Samuel Beckett

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Malone Dies is the first person monologue of Malone, an old man lying in bed and waiting to die. The tone is fiercely ironic, highly quotable, and because of its extravagance, also very comic. It catches the reality of old age in a way that is grimly convincing, cruel as humor so often is, and memorable because of Beckett’s way with words.

Samuel Beckett’s brilliance as a dramatist—as the creator of Waiting for Godot, Krapp’s Last Tape, and that despairing pas de deux Endgame—has tended to overshadow his gifts as a novelist. Yet he’s unmistakably one of the great fiction writers of our century. As a young man he took dictation (literally) from James Joyce, and absorbed everything that myopic maestro had to offer when it came to Anglo-Irish prosody.

‘Hegel: The Restlessness Of The Negative’ by Jean-Luc Nancy

Published by University of Minnesota Press in 2002.

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At once an introduction to Hegel and a radically new vision of his thought, this remarkable work penetrates the entirety of the Hegelian field with brevity and precision, while compromising neither rigor nor depth. One of the most original interpreters of Hegel, Jean-Luc Nancy offers a portrait as startlingly unconventional as it is persuasive, and at the same time demonstrates its relevance to a very contemporary understanding of the political. Here Hegel appears not as the quintessential dispassionate synthesizer and totalizer, but as the inaugural thinker of the contemporary world—one whose thought is inseparable from anxiety and desire, as well as the concrete, the inconclusive, the singular.

Under Nancy’s scrutiny, no facet of Hegel’s work remains untouched or unrevised: problems of aesthetics, affect, and history, as well as the implications of freedom, politics, and being-in-common. Engaging eleven judiciously chosen points essential to Hegel’s sprawling system of thought—restlessness, becoming, penetration, logic, present, manifestation, trembling, sense, desire, freedom, and “we”—Nancy develops precise arguments for their philosophical importance for us today.

Nancy’s Hegel is the thinker who foregrounds the original, irrepressible, and joyous embrace of the inevitable will to philosophize; he is the philosophical guide who negotiates between the two extremes of stupidity and madness along the path to meaning. In the face of the horror of history and despite the temptation of past-based solutions, this Hegel’s uncompromising foothold in the real makes him our contemporary, a thinker for our time.

‘First Love: A Phenomenology of the One by’ Sigi Jöttkandt

Published by re.press in 2010.

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First Love: A Phenomenology of the One explodes two great myths that remain unquestioned in psychoanalysis and contemporary philosophy: that first love is a love of the mother and, in French philosopher Alain Badiou’s phrasing, ‘the One is not.’ The bold, central argument of the book claims that, with its unprejudiced acceptance of first love as mother love, psychoanalysis is at risk of missing the full potential of its own thought: the existence of an uncounted One as named and held faithful to in the literary tradition.

In detailed, sensitive readings of the First Love of Samuel Beckett, Ivan Turgenev, Eudora Welty, John Clare and Søren Kierkegaard, Jöttkandt considers the ways love is conceptually ‘first’ for these writers. With this groundbreaking work, Jöttkandt suspends the contemporary philosophical stricture against every idea of an ‘all’ to unmask the shadowy figure concealed behind the traditional psychoanalytic myth of first love: (some)One that – or perhaps who – is not purely an effect of structure.

‘A Hegel Dictionary’ by Michael Inwood

Published by Wiley-Blackwell in 1992.

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This book provides a comprehensive survey of Hegel’s philosophical thought via a systematic exploration of over 100 key terms, from `absolute’ to `will’. By exploring both the etymological background of such terms and Hegel’s particular use of them, Michael Inwood clarifies for the modern reader much that has been regarded as difficult and obscure in Hegel’s work.

Hegel is one of the greatest, but also one of the most difficult, philosophers. In this dictionary, Michael Inwood provides a complete survey of Hegel’s thought through a series of alphabetically organized entries that explore his terminology. Hegel’s innovative use of language, involving the influence of German etymology and his wide knowledge of the history of philosophy from its Greek origins, is a major aspect of his difficulty and obscurity. To enable the reader to understand Hegel’s vocabulary, Inwood focuses on approximately 100 key terms from the “absolute” to the “will”. The etymology and development of Hegel’s terms are examined, together with their ordinary uses during his lifetime and previous applications of the terms in philosophy. German words, their English, Greek and Latin counterparts, are all discussed as a key to Hegel’s use of the works and the doctrines he uses them to express.

The book also contains a brief life and intellectual portrait of Hegel, a general account of the use of German as a philosophical language (and Hegel’s particular application of it) and a full bibliography.

‘A Commentary on Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind’ by Michael Inwood

Published by Oxford University Press in 2010.

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Michael Inwood, an eminent scholar of German philosophy, presents a full and detailed new commentary on a classic work of the nineteenth century. Philosophy of Mind is the third part of Hegel’s Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, in which he summarizes his philosophical system. It is one of the main pillars of his thought. Inwood gives the clear and careful guidance needed for an understanding of this challenging work. In his editorial introduction he offers a philosophically sophisticated evaluation of Hegel’s ideas which includes a survey of the whole of his thought and detailed analysis of the terminology he used.

‘Hegel’ by Michael Inwood


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(.pdf)


In this clear, critical examination of the ideas of one of the greatest and most influential of modern philosophers, M.J. Inwood makes Hegel’s arguments fully accessible. He considers Hegel’s system as a whole and examines the wide range of problems that it was designed to solve – metaphysical, epistemological theological and political. He concentrates especially on the logical and metaphysical ideas which underpin the system and which supply the key to understanding much of what is obscure in Hegel’s thought. Throughout the book, M.J Inwood reconstructs Hegel’s thought by arguing with him. He examines Hegel’s arguments and restates his views precisely and clearly. He also conveys the impressive unity of Hegel’s system and its links with the thought of such philosophers as Aristotle, Spinoza and Kant.

Towards a productive concept of misreading: Reflections upon the psychoanalytic procedure

The specificity of psychoanalytic theory and practice seems to be its focus on interpretation, with the main role of the analyst in a session being that of intervening at certain moments in the produced discourse to cause precise subjective effects in the analysand’s psyche. Or, at least that is the story I’ve come to learn about the analytic experience, while not practicing it myself. The role of the psychoanalyst would thus seem to be nothing more than to interpret the form of the material as presented by the analysand in question, who is at the time undergoing what’s called a free-association type of speech activity. The analyst is supposed to interrupt this seeming free-flow of ideas, making the subject reflect upon what was just being said, and all of this would be the shortest possible synopsis of what an analytic setting is supposed to look like.

If done right, the analytic intervention produces a real change in the analysand’s libidinal disposition, for example bringing to light some repressed trauma of that particular individual, something he or she has been unaware of up to that point. Thus, the analyst focuses not so much on the content of the speech produced, but on the way the speech activity itself is marked by certain oscillations, of how certain terms get repeated over the various sessions, etc. . . and the efficiency of these interventions depend on the analytic skill and ability of the psychoanalyst. Contrary to the idea that an analyst’s role is mainly to listen to complaints or to act as some sort of a blank screen, the psychoanalyst ideally has to be rigorously educated in very different topics and areas of life in order to be able to intervene in a proper way, to be able to produce truth-effects at all. This is at least my estimation of what the purpose of all of the countless various existing psychoanalytic literature out there is describing. Let’s just note in passing that both Freud and Lacan were deeply involved with philosophy throughout their life, something which might seem surprising due to their main role as clinicians.

It has also often been claimed that literature itself can be approached in a psychoanalytic fashion. What this means is basically that different texts can be approached with the interpretative tools otherwise developed by psychoanalysts for their profession of the ‘talking cure’. It means that notions like the unconscious or the precise way dream material was approached by Freud can be put into productive use in the study of literature. This homology between literature and psychoanalysis has been there from the very beginning of its conception, since Freud himself could be considered to have been a very good literary author in his own regard, even when the clinical considerations are put aside. If nothing else, he was through his work in the clinic inventing completely new concepts, ideas people have never heard about and which very often they did not like to hear. His focus on human sexuality and how that relates to the development of the psyche could be said not to have been completely taken into account even up to today.

Insofar as it could be said that the main task and procedure is that of interpretation, the obvious question of misreading arises almost immediately. How can the analyst be completely sure when and how to intervene? Is he understanding his patient in the right way? What if how he decides to respond will trigger some kind of a reaction with completely unintended negative consequences? What if the analyst is simply misreading whatever is being said?


Today I’ve spent a relatively short amount of time searching online and inside of various literary works I’ve got at hand under the search term of misreading, as I will try to develop a more theoretically defined concept of it on the long run. What I’m aiming for is a very basic and naive idea that a) the notion of interpretation, especially as that concerning the analytic technique, and the notion of misreading are intimately intertwined and connected and b) that from this it follows that a positive, productive concept of misreading can thus be developed and outlined. What my brief search revealed is that the term misreading is usually and most commonly used to denote an error in the interpretation of some major author. Thus we can for example find in a book discussing fascism and Nietzsche the idea that all of those horrible far-right ideologists who took him as his own were seriously misreading him and his intentions in writing.

What I’ve also noticed up until now is that two specific areas of literary activity seem to be especially concerned with various types of misreading: poetry and scripture. It is certainly of no surprise to find the biggest difficulty among readers whenever the point that is trying to be made by a certain piece of text seems to remain obscure: it allows for varying amount of the plurality of different interpretations, with the main problem arising when those are mutually incompatible and exclusive. The term misreading is then mostly used to denote those other people who simply don’t get it, as opposed to those of us among the readers who seem to be comparably more enlightened than the rest.

The work of Harold Bloom, the author of The Anxiety of Influence and A Map of Misreading also appears when trying to find more refined accounts already existing in literature concerning the topic of misreading. But his own work might not exactly fit what I’m trying to get at, because it seems to be dealing with the specificities of the relations between different literary authors, precursors and contemporaries and how those influence upon another. It also seems to mostly focus on the work of poets, an area not exactly of my interest here.

To be continued . . .

Slavoj Žižek: ‘Greta Thunberg and Bernie Sanders should be leading in these troubled times, but they are not radical enough’

Text as published on RT.com, today 15th June 2020

With everything that’s plunging the world into chaos right now, one thing surprising me is, why are Greta Thunberg and Bernie Sanders comparatively quiet? Make no mistake, racism, climate issues and the pandemic are all connected.

Except for a short note from Greta that she thinks she survived the Covid infection, the movement she has mobilized has failed to avoid getting drowned out by the Covid-19 pandemic panic and the anti-racism protests in the US. As for Bernie, although he advocated measures (like universal healthcare) which are now, amid the pandemic, recognized as necessary all around the world, he is also effectively nowhere to be seen or heard. Why aren’t we seeing more, not less, of the political figures whose programs and insights are today more relevant than ever?

In the last months, the topic of Covid totally eclipsed ecological concerns and was only overshadowed in the last weeks by anti-racist protests which spread from the US all around the globe. The crucial ideological and political battle that is going on these days concerns the relationship between the three domains: Covid epidemics, ecological crises, racism. The pressure that comes from the establishment is to keep these three domains apart, and even to hint at tensions between them. One often hears that our main task now is to get the economy moving, and that to do this we should neglect ecological problems a little bit; one hears that chaotic anti-racist protests often violate social distancing and for that reason contribute to spreading Covid infections… Against this line of reasoning, one should insist on the basic unity of the three domains: epidemics explode as part of our unbalanced relationship with our natural environs, they are not just a health problem; anti-racist protests were also given the additional boost by the fact that racial minorities are much more threatened by the epidemics than the white majority which can afford self-isolation and better medical care. We are thus dealing with crises which erupt as moments of the dynamics of global capitalism: all three – viral epidemics, racial unrests, ecological crises – were not only predicted but were already accompanying us for decades.

As for the anti-racist protests, here is how Spike Lee answered the question “Why did eight years of Obama fail to make substantial enough change to race relations in the US?”: “Very good question. But you have to understand: race relations – which have gotten worse – are a direct response to having a black president.” Why? Not because Obama was “not black enough,” but because he embodied the image of a black American advocated by the liberal Left, a black American who succeeded while fully respecting the rules of the liberal game. Protests are a brutal reply to “Now you have a black president, what more do you want?” It is our task to articulate this ”more.” Just remember that, during the eight years of Obama’s presidency, the general tendency of the last decades went smoothly on: the gap between the rich and the poor widened, big capital got stronger. In one of the episodes of ‘The Good Fight’, to follow-up series to ‘The Good Wife’, the heroine awakens in an alternate reality in which Hillary Clinton won the election in 2016, defeating Trump. But the result is paradoxical for feminism: there is no ‘Me Too’, there are no wide protests against Weinstein because moderate establishment Left feminists fear that if there is too strong a protest against male harassment of women, Clinton may lose male votes and not be re-elected, plus Weinstein is a great donor to the Clinton campaign… Did something similar not happen with Obama?

The point is not just (or primarily) that black people should be given more financial support to help their economic situation. There is a wonderful detail in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X: after Malcolm gave a speech in a college, a white female student approaches him and asks him what she can do for the black struggle for liberation; he coldly answers her, “Nothing.” And walks away… When I used this example decades ago, I was criticized for implying that we whites shouldn’t do anything to support the black struggle; but my (and, I think, Malcolm’s) point was more precise. White liberals should not act as if they will liberate the black people, they should support black people in their own struggle for liberation – treating them as autonomous agents, not as mere victims of circumstances.

So, back to our starting question: the disappearance of Greta and Bernie from our public space does not mean that they were too radical for our time of viral crisis when more unifying voices are needed. On the contrary, they were not radical enough: they did not succeed in proposing a global new vision that would re-actualize their project in the conditions of epidemics.