nettime's_disgestive_system on Sat, 12 Feb 2000 18:44:18 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Wark vs. Zizek

1............... From: Monique Roelofs <>
Subject: rhetoric vs. "real" politics; Zizek on ideology

2............... From: Doug Henwood <>
Subject: Re: <nettime> Why do we all love Zizek?

Date: Fri, 11 Feb 2000 17:40:09 -0500
From: Monique Roelofs <>
Subject: rhetoric vs. "real" politics; Zizek on ideology

I have real problems with the oppositions McKenzie is activating in his
Zizek critique: the fantasy of rhetoric vs. real politics?? Rhetorical
analysis does not involve a real competence, a knowledge of how political
economy actually works? It does not even take an Althusserian marxist to
talk about the political dimension of what is essentially rhetorical
exchange and the rhetorical dimension of what is political exchange. These
ideas one can find already in Quintilian's rhetoric, and in Adam Smith's
explanations of the importance of wealth. For what makes wealth a grand and
worthwhile thing, according to Smith, is its reflection of a morally good
state of affairs, a well-organized state. Political economy and rhetoric
have always been intertwined. Political economy "actually works" through
rhetoric. Technicians of politics better take that into account.

But, as I said in an earlier communication, it is not all that easy to
theorize rhetorical address, because that requires coming to terms with the
reciprocal dimension of political exchange. Address points to the mutual
formativeness of speakers, addressee, speech, medium, contexts. This kind
of reciprocal formativity is not easily swallowed because it challenges the
positionality of the speaker. And this is just what Zizek is asking us to
think about in relation to all-to-quick and complacent responses to Haider.



Date: Fri, 11 Feb 2000 20:44:31 -0500
From: Doug Henwood <>
Subject: Re: <nettime> Why do we all love Zizek?

McKenzie Wark wrote:

>Where would we be without Slavoj Zizek? Where would the purely rhetorical
>leftism of the intellectuals be without hos rhetorical skills? Why, we
>would have to actually learn something about policy.

I've been highly underwhelmed so far by your grasp of policy, or political
economy in general. Have you been boning up during your stay in New York?

>Note what Zizek is saying: the far right are indeed right to oppose a
>simple minded oppositionalism to the technics of politics, the little
>problems of instituting justice. What the far left and the far right share
>is a lack of patience for the problem of allocating resources. Oh for the
>good old days of debt financing! Where the problem of the tradeoff between
>different allocations of scarce state resources was simply to borrow more,
>and more, and more...  As for whether there might be negative effects on
>the economy as a whole from this approach to finscal policy,

Must study up on my finscal policy indeed!

>  oh let's not
>bother thinking about that. Too complicated. Too hard.

What are you saying here? That tightening public finances in the interest
of debt reduction is a good thing? Are debt and austerity the only choices?
What about the alternative, as the fellow in All The King's Men put it, of
"soaking the fat boys"?

>And something that involves a real competence, a knowledge of how
>political economy actually works, a familiarity with the evidence and the
>arguments from the applied knowledge of state craft.
>The only thing 'post political' thesedays is the pseudoleftism exemplified
>by Zizek's column on Austrian politics. This rush to embrace populism and
>its defusal of politics, its fantasy of replacing the technics of politics
>with the fantasy of ideology.
>This is a fatal temptation for 'the left' -- the point at which it outs
>itself as not being 'the left' at all, but really just a variant of the
>rhetoric of the right. It is not the populist right that is acting 'like'
>the left in its oppositionalism. Quite the reverse.  'The left' is really
>part of the right. A left wing conservatism, loning for the good old days
>when rhetoric and ideology really seemed to rule, when the specialisation
>of knowledge as applied to the problem of justice had not developed within
>and around the state.

This is a new line on me. I thought the old days were when class and
economic issues predominated, before all those evil cult studs and posties
assimiliated everything to discourse.

>Populism's appeal is for the reinstatement of special status, usually for
>groups such as organised labour, small business or farmers.

When was it that organized labor had a special status? And where? Is
it better now that your friends in the ALP have embraced
neoliberalism and immigrant-bashing?

>  Usually there
>is an unstable alliance of two or three of these groups.  They long for a
>return to the protection of the state. They want the benefits of
>international trade but don't want anyone else to benefit.

Who are you talking about exactly? Since you're such a detail guy, I'm sure
you could provide us all with some details.

>   They want
>other people's markets opened while their own to remain closed.

Joan Robinson called this the new mercantilism - about 50 years ago.
>The instinct of leftist intellectuals is torn by the rise of populism.  We
>learned the hard way, in the 30s, that flirting with it is very, very
>dangerous. But intellectuals also want their privileges maintained within
>the state. They (we) want the benefits of globalisation but not the costs.
>We want to travel, to work abroad, have our work known everywhere. Yet we
>also want a privileged relation to the state, an authority legitimated by
>it (even if only as its internal opposition).

Is it so bad to want to travel and be known, but to think that the
competition of each against all is a shitty social model?

>Increasingly irrelevant to the actual problems of state, wary of too close
>a flirtation with populism but attracted to its oppositional rhetoric,
>there is nowhere for the old style intellectual to go but into the media.

 I'm confused. Zizek is critical of right populism. Where is his too close
a flirtation? Or has he been forgotten as you spread into a more
generalized rant against imagined opponents?

>There the old rhetorics still have a function -- that of filling up column

A task to which I hear you're no stranger.

>  Providing the illusion of an ideological debate -- something
>simple that journalists can dramatise. But what a sorry end for leftism:
>retailing old rhetorics to journalists, filling space in magazines -- and
>providing comfort to populists in their refusal of the detail of politics,
>the technics of justice, the calculus of compromise.

So what's your contribution these days? My Australian friends tell me
you've become quite the publicist for hypercapitalism. Better to
retail new rhetorics than old, I guess - it's a more effective
branding strategy.

>  It is not that social
>democracy hs betrayed its followers. Quite the contrary, it is the
>intellectuals who have failed social democracy, by failing to grow up, as
>it has had to, and provide real benefits for its constituencies.

Details please. What should these intellectuals be saying as they grow up?

>And how pathetic that it takes the populist right to mount a critique of
>social democracy when it fails!

Hmm, I thought Zizek was criticizing social democracy for abandoning its
last traces of opposition to capitalism. SDs in Australia, NZ, and Western
Europe have been among the most fiendishly promarket reformers in the
world. What precisely has failed, and who's been doing the critique?

>  Where are the intellectuals who refused
>the benefits of complicity with social democracy in power, who had
>something more than a rhetorical critique of its shortcomings?

Well I never got a dime from social dems in power. My Australian friends
tell me you've been doing quite well with your association with the ALP. So
that leaves two of us out of the noncomplicity game; maybe some other
nettimers can step forward.



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