Kalundi Serumaga – On Reinventing Europe: An Open Letter to Mr George Soros

Link to an article/letter by Kalundi Serumaga:

“On Reinventing Europe: An Open Letter to Mr George Soros”

 

This pieces raises many excellent points.  But it is also worth pointing out some questionable aspects of its theoretical framework and recommendations.  First, while the article characterizes the essence of Europe as Bonapartism, it does so by applying philosophical standards that originated in Europe, or at least drew from European precedents.  While it may well be fair to call the current hegemonic ideology of Europe (and elsewhere) Bonapartist, to treat all of Europe as monolithic and without couter-currents seems rather reductionist.  Second, the “tasks for EU civil society” include “2. Find out what your countries truly owe, and make them pay it back”  This is basically both a politics of victimhood and an expression of ressentimentFrantz Fanon once wrote, “The colonized man is an envious man.”  That seems accurate in this context, but as a statement of limitation of vision.  The last chapter of Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks explicitly rejected Serumaga’s approach, and that is a big part of why Fanon is a stronger theoretical reference point than what is expressed in Serumaga’s article.  Lastly, the article concludes by saying, “It is time for the North to (once again, after Ancient Egypt) learn from the South.”  This is a dubious offhand assertion of identity politics, yet again in the service of the valorization of victimhood status and ressentiment.

Summary of Dupuy on Social Hierarchy

“The arbitrariness of social hierarchy is not a mistake, but the whole point, with the arbitrariness of evaluation playing an analogous role to the arbitrariness of market success. Violence threatens to explode not when there is too much contingency in the social space, but when one tries to eliminate contingency. In La Marque du sacré, Jean-Pierre Dupuy conceives hierarchy as one of four procedures (‘dispositifs symboliques’) whose function is to make the relationship of superiority non-humiliating: hierarchy itself (an externally imposed order that allows me to experience my lower social status as independent of my inherent value); demystification (the ideological procedure which demonstrates that society is not a meritocracy but the product of objective social struggles, enabling me to avoid the painful conclusion that someone else’s superiority is the result of his merit and achievements); contingency (a similar mechanism, by which we come to understand that our position on the social scale depends on a natural and social lottery; the lucky ones are those born with the right genes in rich families); and complexity (uncontrollable forces have unpredictable consequences; for instance, the invisible hand of the market may lead to my failure and my neighbour’s success, even if I work much harder and am much more intelligent). Contrary to appearances, these mechanisms don’t contest or threaten hierarchy, but make it palatable, since ‘what triggers the turmoil of envy is the idea that the other deserves his good luck and not the opposite idea – which is the only one that can be openly expressed.’ Dupuy draws from this premise the conclusion that it is a great mistake to think that a reasonably just society which also perceives itself as just will be free of resentment: on the contrary, it is in such societies that those who occupy inferior positions will find an outlet for their hurt pride in violent outbursts of resentment.”

Slavoj Žižek, “The Revolt of the Salaried Bourgeoisie”

This is essentially a rejection of the liberal philosopher John Rawls‘ position, as articulated in A Theory of Justice.  See also Review of …And the Poor Get Prison

Ilan Kapoor – Žižek, Antagonism and Politics Now

Link to an article by Ilan Kapoor:

“Žižek, Antagonism and Politics Now: Three Recent Controversies”

 

I’m not sure I agree with the criticisms of Žižek this offers, partly because they seem conclusory and underdeveloped, even if intriguing.  For instance, the notion that Žižek is overexposed seems to call for an explanation of what “overexposed” means, and why it applies.  For example, a discussion of that concept in view of Žižek’s well-known critique of liberalism’s inability to cope with the destructive power of envy seems apropos.  Or perhaps something out of Bourdieu or another branch of sociology?

Alain Badiou Quote

“The goal of all enemy propaganda is not to annihilate an existing force (this function is generally left to police forces), but rather to annihilate an unnoticed possibility of the situation.”

Alain Badiou, “Seminar on Plato” at the ENS, Feb. 13, 2008 (unpublished), quoted in “No Way Out? Communism in the New Century,” in The Idea of Communism 3 (2016).

See also “Ernst Lubitsch, Censorship, and Political Correctness” (“Alain Badiou put it in a wonderful and precise way: the main function of today’s ideological censorship is not to crush actual resistance—this is the job of repressive state apparatuses—but to crush hope, to immediately denounce every critical project as opening a path at the end of which is something like a gulag.”)

Matt Bruenig – How Did Private Property Start?

Link to an article by Matt Bruenig:

“How Did Private Property Start?”

 

Bonus quotes:

“The first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him was the true founder of civil society. What crimes, wars, murders, what miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared, had some one pulled up the stakes or filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: ‘Do not listen to this imposter. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all and the earth to no one!’”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men” (1755)

“The illegitimate violence by which law sustains itself must be concealed at any price, because this concealment is the positive condition of the functioning of law.  Law functions only insofar as its subjects are fooled, insofar as they experience the authority of law as ‘authentic and eternal’ and do not realize ‘the truth about the usurpation’.  That is why Kant is forced, in his Metaphysics of Morals, to forbid any question concerning the origins of legal power: it is by means of precisely such questioning that the stain of this illegitimate violence appears which always soils, like original sin, the purity of the reign of law.”

Slavoj Žižek, “The Limits of the Semiotic Approach to Psychoanalysis,” from Psychoanalysis and… (Feldstein and Sussman, eds., Routledge 1990).

Slavoj Žižek on Victimhood Status

“one should . . . admit how problematic it is to anchor one’s political demands to status of victimhood. Is the basic characteristic of today’s subjectivity not the weird combination of the free subject who believes themselves ultimately responsible for their own fate and the subject who bases their argument on their status as a victim of circumstances beyond their own control? Every contact with another human being is experienced as a potential threat – if the other smokes, if he casts a covetous glance at me, he already hurts me; this logic of victimization is today universalized, reaching well beyond the standard cases of sexual or racist harassment.”

Slavoj Žižek, “Sex and ’68: Liberal Movement Revolutionized ‘Sexuality’ But at What Cost?”

Bonus quote:

“Social valorization of affects basically means that we pay the plaintiff with her own money: oh, but your feelings are so precious, you are so precious! The more you feel, the more precious you are. This is a typical neoliberal maneuver, which transforms even our traumatic experiences into possible social capital. If we can capitalize on our affects, we will limit out protests to declarations of these affects — say, declarations of suffering — rather than becoming active agents of social change. I’m of course not saying that suffering shouldn’t be expressed and talked about, but that this should not ‘freeze’ the subject into the figure of the victim. The revolt should be precisely about refusing to be a victim, rejecting the position of the victim on all possible levels.

…this bind derives precisely from the subjective gain or gratification that this positioning offers. (Moral) outrage is a particularly unproductive affect, yet it is one that offers considerable libidinal satisfaction. By ‘unproductive’ I mean this: it gives us the satisfaction of feeling morally superior, the feeling that we are in the right and others are in the wrong. Now for this to work, things must not really change. We are much less interested in changing things than in proving, again and again, that we are in the right, or on the right side, the side of the good. Hegel invented a great name for this position: the ‘beautiful soul.’ A ‘beautiful soul’ sees evil and baseness all around it but fails to see to what extent it participates in the perpetuation of that same order of things. The point of course is not that the world isn’t really evil, the point is that we are part of this evil world.”

Alenka Zupančič, “Too Much of Not Enough: An Interview with Alenka Zupančič”

Bonus links: “The Politics of Identity” and “Art and Exploitation: Ai Weiwei, Dissidence and the Refugee Crisis”

Timothy Bryar – Preferring Zizek’s Bartleby Politics

Link to an article by Timothy Bryar:

“Preferring Zizek’s Bartleby Politics,” International Journal of Žižek Studies, Vol 12, No 1 (2018).

 

Bonus links: Crowds and Party“Rimbaud’s Systematic Derangement of the Senses” and “John Cage’s Queer Silence or How to Avoid Making Matters Worse”

Bonus quote: “When the self ceases to exist, the world exists.” Alejandro Jodorowsky, The Finger and the Moon: Zen Teachings and Koans

Victor Serge Quote

“Early on, I learnt from the Russian intelligentsia that the only meaning of life lies in conscious participation in the making of history. The more I think of that, the more deeply true it seems to be. It follows that one must range oneself actively against everything that diminishes man, and involve oneself in all struggles which tend to liberate and enlarge him. This categorical imperative is by no way lessened by the fact that such an involvement is inevitably soiled by error: it is a worse error merely to live for oneself, caught within traditions which are soiled by inhumanity.”

Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary

 

Bonus links: La La Land: A Leninist Reading” and “Preferring Zizek’s Bartleby Politics” (“a true Act occurs without the guarantees of a pre-determined ethical edifice.”)