Tag Archives: alternative politics

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (Zizek)

I have been participating in a Badiou, Zizek and Lacan reading group for a couple of years now. Reading these authors in the same reading group has been all the more productive since they overlap a great deal. Recently, we have been expanding our projects with these authors beyond just close readings of their works. For instance, we are currently finishing up a reader’s guide to Badiou’s most intimidating text, Being and Event. And last night, we finished our Lacan Ciné club, where we watched a few of the movies that Zizek analyses and ended with the two of Zizek’s own movies: The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema and The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology.

Zizek is notoriously scattered. He continually bombards his audience with examples and bits of dense theory which are supposed to explain the examples. The examples are supposed to explain the dense theory. Usually, everyone ends up being confused. His movies are no exception.

Unless, however, one has watched these movies a number of times, as I have.

Tonight we ended the club with The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. The audience (made up of an assortment of people, not just my reading group) had a standard reaction: confusion.

The first few comments were basically this: he seems cynical; it was hard to follow; I didn’t agree with this one thing, etc. So, yes, pretty standard. But this is where it gets interesting. The conversation started to zero in on Zizek himself, rather than the film: he is too cynical, superficial, even evil, and so on. The confusion was slowly drained away, and it was replaced with confident scorn for Zizek. People even began to enjoy seeing him as an “empty shell” of a man.

The irony is that this is exactly what Zizek’s film was about: the reduction of complex ideas into an easily understandable enjoyable simplification, in other words, the critique of ideology. So, for Zizek, in the simplest of terms, ideology is being convinced that all of your problems can be explained through a single lens; this lens even allows you to enjoy your oversimplification. For Germany, The Nazis were able to explain that all of the problems plaguing them now and that have plagued them in the past could be explained by the foreign element of the Jew. In Capitalism, it is a little bit more varied: it can be communism, big business, terrorism, etc.

The basic idea is this: an ideology allows you to blame all of the complex problems of your world basically on one thing. But it also allows you to enjoy this scorn by giving you bits of pleasure here and there. And this is what happened tonight: I did not understand the entire film; bits of it made sense, and the bits that did I disagreed with what the author was saying; his words were to scary; he seemed evil; the author, as a person, must be flawed; So, we can reduce anything that he has to say to being problematic because he, himself, is problematic. He threatens our way of enjoying films and this should be avoided at all costs.

I claim, then, that Zizek’s films critique ideology in form and content: they give you a seemingly complex picture of how things are, and if you do not understand it right away, you reduce it to an easily understandable idea which allows you to retain and enjoy your superiority over what you don’t understand. However, you are able to break out of this ideology — If you investigate it further: watch it again, do some research, and watch the films he analyzes, then you are able to break out of ideology. This move, breaking out of an ideology, is painful. But it can also be revolutionary.

Yoder on faithful living and Marion on faithful seeing

Similarities between the theology of John Howard Yoder and Jean-Luc Marion may not be immediately evident. At the same time, I suspect that Marion’s work will become more helpful to my own theological work if I can tease out some of these similarities and put them into conversation with each other. One such similarity I think I’ve found is their shared conviction to act as if the world is God’s and is loved by God. Yoder often voices this conviction in terms of faithful living and Marion in the terms of faithful seeing. However, for both true sight and living well are so closely joined that they are almost the same thing. This is what I am trying to point towards with my quotations from Marion and Yoder below.

Before getting to those passages, I’d like to clarify one aspect of ‘true sight.’ Often true sight is a euphemism “for a beautiful vision to impose from above by authority,” to use Yoder’s words in just one of the many passages where he critiques such methodology. For both Yoder and Marion, an emphasis on seeing does not start with a large vision, but with the particular and with letting particular people, places and things speak with their own truth and beauty. Marion’s term “saturated phenomena,” speaks to this and to the excessive profundity of the world when we see that it participates in love before being. If it isn’t explicit I hope that this aspect of sight is at least implicit in the following passages.

“We are not called to love our enemies in order to make them our friends. We are called to act out love for them because at the cross it has been effectively proclaimed that from all eternity they were our brothers and sisters. We are not called to make the bread of the world available to the hungry; we are called to restore the true awareness that it was always theirs. We are not called to topple the tyrants, so that it might become true  that the proud fall and the haughty are destroyed. It is already true; we are called only to let that truth govern our own choice of whether to be, in our turn, tyrants claiming to be benefactors.” – Yoder, For the Nations

“The same distance designates the same world as vain or as ‘beautiful and good,’ according to whether the gaze perceives the distance through one pole or the other: from the world as vain or as ‘beautiful and good,’ according to whether the gaze perceives the distance through one pole or the other from the world, on the fringe that opens it to the excess of a distance, the totality appears to be struck by vanity; from the inaccessible point of view of God, at the extremes of distance, the same world can receive the blessing that characterizes it in its just dignity….

For another gaze – the gaze of God – boredom no longer arises; the gaze that can love strikes no longer with vanity, but prompts ‘goodness.’… [V]anity arises from a gaze that exceeds Being/being without yet acceding to charity, a gaze that discovers the world as being beyond Being/being without seeing it loved – by God…. Vanity comes from the boredom of man, not from the boredom of God; for God loves, and from the gaze of charity comes the ‘goodness’ of the gazed at….

That which is, if it does not receive love, is as if it were not, while that which is not, if love polarizes it, is as if it were: the indifference to determination according to ontological difference reappears as the responsibility of love…. To give the world which is, empty of love, for that which is not but belongs to the domain of love – there is nothing more reasonable and even advantageous.” – Marion, God Without Being

What do we do?

It seems like anyone who really cares and works on the greatest problems of our time (Environment, racism, poverty, etc.) has to do it full time in order to make a difference. Anyone who does it part time isn’t really doing anything except trying to have a meaningful life and are actually ignorant of a lot of issues which will probably negate anything that you think you are working for. So, either you are a professional activist or you are a naïve citizen.

Sooooo. What is to be done? one gets the feeling now and again that everyone should stop and evaluate what we are doing and see that we are ripping apart our world and our future. But this only happens during the times of crisis.

I guess we should wait for the next crisis before drastic change takes place.

The example of women’s politics in A Thousand Plateaus

One of the most difficult aspects of reading Deleuze and Guattari is the fleetingness of helpful examples. Let me clarify. There are many quite illustrative literary examples and there are many historical examples that help to give a sense of their differentiations of the various political modes they explore. However, for this reader none of these help much when thinking about where and how Deleuze and Guattari may or may not position themselves politically, or how we might use their tools of analysis in the various political movements and landscapes of today. Having said that, I just came across a helpful one on women’s politics. Continue reading The example of women’s politics in A Thousand Plateaus