Alexander Bard on 10 Feb 2001 13:06:55 -0000

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<nettime> Zizek's bizarre conference in Essen (Excerpt from The Philosophy Network).

I've been asked by a couple of poeple if I wouldn't mind to publish my
"report" on The Philosophy Network from Slavoj Zizek's bizarre conference on
Lenin in Essen in Germany last weekend here on Nettime. Why not? So here we

/Alexander Bard

PS: I have since I wrote this last Tuesday found out that Slavoj Zizek
actually does have email. So no need to point that out, OK?

Christian Bartholdson wrote:
> Dear all,
> Was anyone at the Essen conference?  I'm very interested to hear anything
> about what was discussed or just general impressions about the event.
> /Christian

OK, Christian, here we go:
"This is not America. We're not in California. We're not interested in
self-expression! Make your statements short and substantial!"
This was the brilliant opening statment of Slavoj Zizek (as written down by
my dear dear friend Carl-Michael Edenborg) at his little conference in
Essen. Because little it was. A minimum of advertising (I suspect Zizek
simply has to fill his post in Essen with some "virtual" activities now and
then during his two or three years there to motivate his exhorbitant salary
provided by Ruhral area taxpayers) had assured that the conference, despite
being filled with some of the flashiest Marxist brand names of the last
three decades, draw little more than 100 people to the grey on grey on grey
Haus der Technik in old industrial Essen.
And a BIZARRE conference it was. The particular-universal conclusion of the
conference was perfectly reached Sunday afternoon by a last-stage-CP guy in
a wheelchair when he stumbled through his mediocre English with a heavy
German accent to express his enormous disappointment with the conference.
Followed by a loud and expressive applause from the auditorium!
After which Zizek, in true Lacanian fashion, declared that he had known ALL
ALONG that the conference would be a disaster. As if this had been planned.
And that statement DID have some curious and interesting side effects,
The conference was a disaster mostly because of Zizek's two hand-picked
sidekicks. One Sebastian Burgen (or something), your perfect cold-as-ice
Marxist sectarian psychopath politruk only too trigger-happy as the head of
the conference . A self-acclaimed British Leninist-Trotskyist, "Sebastian"
might just as well have been your average Mormon or Jehovah's Witness. The
kind of guy who goes to Pyongyang to satisfy his sadist (or masochist) taste
for oriental pussy and has few if any friends anywhere else. And a living
example of why we do NOT want to return to any "dictatorship" of the
proletariat. "Sebastian" would have had every Foucauldian and Deleuzian in
the world killed his first minute in office...
"Sebastian" had consequently completely misunderstood Zizek's ambition (as
if he was ever capable of understanding Zizek, his world was just "Zizek is
OK cause he likes my Hero-God Lenin and has resources and fame") and
therefore filled half the schedule with mainly defunct and asocial
Trotskyists who had nothing but their classic, tiresome rubble to perform.
And then "Sebastian" made sure dialogue at the conference was reduced to an
absolute minimum.
The second cohort was Eustache Greeklastnameicantremember, a Greek guy who
had lived far too long in Paris and picked up the worst of French academic
ideals and performance rituals in the process.
He spoke looong, made half the auditorium fall asleep, and filled the other
half of the schedule with defunct and asocial French maoists, desperate to
make up for their own complete lack of a surviving audience back in
So what about the big names?
Zizek was brilliant, funny, thoughtful, and of course, deeply wrong (but
that is MY opinion). He finally came out as PRO CLOSURE in the Hegel debate
("But the CLOSURE in HEGEL is PRECISELY the reason WHY I LIKE HIM!!!) in
which case though he IS RIGHT (again, my opinion!). In other words: Butler-
Anderson- and Delaney-style re-readings of Hegel that puts Hegel into a
"totality with an open ending" position will find no support from Zizek
whatsoever. Zizek is a as pure as Hegelians get these days and he is
fundamentally anti-Deleuzian and anti-Foucauldian and most definitely
anti-NEO-Hegelian. Zizek also only held his opening speech, cut out his
own planned speech Sunday afternoon, and disappointed us all by spending far
too much time of his own conference listening to mediocre Maoists and
literature theorists rather than speaking himself.
Jean-Jacques Lecercle was brilliant in his comparison of Lenin's theory of
slogans with Deleuze's and Guattari's Hjelmslevian deterritorialization of
linguistics. Coming out against Chomsky with the use of Lenin (just like
Deleuze and Guattari) and using brilliant points doing so, how could you not
like Lecercle? And then, of course, Doug Henwood, the extremely intelligent
and fantastically entertaining American Marxist finance journalist finished
off the conference in great party-thrashing style (I recall a similar
performance at the Geert Lovink-initiated conference in Amsterdam, where
many of us met last year).
Fredric Jameson was the biggest disappointment of the whole conference. He
both looked and sounded like a body-bag somebody had dragged out of a
freezing facility at Acorn from the 1960s. Bad and boring! Un-thinking!
Toni Negri spoke on the phone with Daniel Bensaid (another Maoist sleeping
pill) in FRENCH... How hi-tech!!! ;-)
Alain Badiou did not even show up. Which he apparently never does. Instead
he sent a mad Maoist woman with bright read hair and a terrible French
accent speaking minimalist English with pretentious French ambitions. A
monstrous performance that was laughed at loudly by most of the conference
So was the conference a complete disaster?
Well, not really...
Zizek wanted to point out that LENIN serves as an INSPIRATION for political
activity and theory ON activity in this chaotic and paradigm-shifting day
and age. A very good and valid point and about the ONLY thing Lenin is
useful for these days (with the exception of Lecercle's and Deleuze' and
Guattari's pointing out of his brilliant theory of slogans and its
usefulness for linguistics). Zizek then uses the name of LENIN as a Lacanian
social-psychological experiment. If only "Sebastian" and "Eustache" had
This means Zizek himself doesn't have a clue about what should be done. He
is NOT the new Lenin he is looking for (rather his John The Baptist). His
hope was that this new Lenin could perhaps be at the conference or would
somehow be awakened as a consequence of the conference (which means that he
does NOT think Hardt & Negri, despite being his close pals, have done a very
good job with 'Empire', just as many of us had expected Zizek would think).
Zizek is simply NOT a philosopher of politics (no kidding) and surrounds
himself with all the wrong people and fancies double PhDs far too much to be
able to change that the slightest. He speaks about the digital economy etc
without a clue of what it's all about.
So the conference contained absolutely NO information theory, NO network
dynamics theory, NO biotech, NO nanotechnology, certainly NO NEW class
analysis, NO plurarchy theory, NO rhizomatic theory, NO media and
communications theory etc. It simply did not deal with the future at all.
Capital was The Devil, The Revolution was transcendental and unavoidable,
The Working Class should free us all... Because the speakers did not have
ANY CLUE!!! (actually, compared to some of the rather smart and much younger
conference participants, the speakers hadn't even got any clue WHY Zizek had
organised the conference, which their detailed historicist accounts of Lenin
clearly showed).
BUT, and this is a big but:
This LACK of course can make US act the more and the better. Personally, I
think the planned genealogy Söderqvist and I have planned will have to wait.
If I'm going to bitch about the poverty of Hardt's and Negri' analysis - why
not, as Edenborg suggested to cheer me up afterwards, conduct a BETTER
political philosophical analysis myself???
In that sense, Zizek's strategy COULD work!!! With others as with me.
Best thing with the conference? Except a couple of Essen porn salons we
enjoyed at night, the exchange of cards and email addresses between
disappointed participants during the coffee breaks. Hopefully some of these
people are about to join us here soon.
Everything is about networking these days!!!
If only Zizek would have noticed. I bet he even doesn't have email!!!
As for Zizek's books: Read his old books, just forget the new Lenin one!!!
Basically the guy is just saying that he's got nothing to say these days.
He should take his own opening statement more seriously himself and write
FEWER books!!!

/Alexander Bard/now re-writing his own future...

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