Posts Tagged ‘Slavoj Zizek’

Neverland Part Two

February 20, 2014

With the previous post (Neverland 2-19-14) Frontline’s Generation Like was looked at through some of the writing of Stanley Cavell. Within the quoted work (The Claim Of Reason) Cavell sometimes refers to society as “our lived skepticism” (our skepticism as to the existence of others). Slavoj Zizek’s philosophical investigations of individuals, collectives and culture are much more reliant on the social. Zizek writes from a “continental“ perspective integrating Marx, Lacan and Freud as well as popular culture and Christianity into his writing. The Parallax View (2006, considered his magnum opus) appears a good quarter of a century after Cavell’s The Claim Of Reason. Unlike Cavell’s lived world, the nascent social media considered by Frontline’s documentary was up and running, though barely (Facebook 2004, YouTube 2005, Twitter 2006). The Parallax View devotes quite a bit of space to the Wachowski brothers’ The Matrix, that period’s Hunger Games. On page 313 he writes:
“[T]he ultimate strength of the film, however, is nonetheless to be located at a different level. Its unique impact is due not so much to its central thesis (what we experience as reality is an artificial virtual reality generated by the “Matrix,” the mega-computer directly attached to all our minds) as to its central image of the millions of human beings leading a claustrophobic life in water-filled cradles, kept alive in order to generate energy (electricity) for the Matrix. So when (some of the) people “awaken” from their immersion in Matrix-controlled virtual reality, this awakening is not an opening into the wide space of external reality, but first the horrible realization of this enclosure, where each of us is in effect merely a fetuslike organism, immersed in the amniotic fluid… This utter passivity is the foreclosed fantasy that sustains our conscious experience as active, self-positing subjects – it is the ultimate perverse fantasy, the notion that we are ultimately instruments of the Other’s (Matrix’s) jouissance, sucked out of our life-substance like batteries.

This brings us to the central libidinal enigma: why does the Matrix need human energy? A solution purely in terms of energy is, of course, meaningless: the Matrix could have easily have found another, more reliable source of energy which would have not demanded the extremely complex arrangement of a virtual reality coordinated for million of human units. The only consistent answer is: the Matrix feeds on human jouissance – so here we are back to the fundamental Lacanian thesis that the big Other itself, far from being an anonymous machine, needs a constant influx of jouissance. This is the correct insight of The Matrix: the juxtaposition of the two aspects of perversion – on the one hand, the reduction of reality to a virtual domain regulated by arbitrary rules that can be suspended; on the other, the concealed truth of this freedom, the reduction of the subject to an utterly instrumentalized passivity.”

Compare this with some of what we find in the transcript of Douglas Rushkoff’s Generation Like (Rushkoff is the correspondent as well as one of the writers and producers):

“SETH GODIN, Author, Blogger: Why on earth would someone spend all those hours to make a YouTube video of them doing something absolutely stupid and insane? They’re only going to get a check for $3 for doing it.”
“DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: In other words, instead of selling the product to the audience, the idea is to get the audience to sell the product for them. They want to make the interactions seem open and transparent, but all that transparency takes a lot of planning.
DIMITRY IOFFE, CEO, TVGLA: It’s all about trying to figure out this pipeline of connected pieces that are going to continue that audience to be essentially your best marketer because that’s the hope.”
“BRIAN WONG, Kiip founder: There are nuances on how you present things that create different psychological responses. We don’t even call ourselves ads to consumers. Terminology we use is “rewards” and “moments,” and there’s really no mention of “ads” or even “media.” As we go out and we experience the world, the things that make the most impact on us are the ones that come up serendipitously. So that’s the psychological principle we’re offering.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Serendipity by design.”
“CEILI LYNCH: You get, like, 10 sparks or 15 sparks for sharing something or making something on Tumblr, whatever, Twitter, Facebook. So that’s basically what they use to, like, show how many— you know, how much stuff you’ve shared. This is basically how I find out, like, news about The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, like, casting information, you know, like, who’s on what magazine cover, like, stuff like that.
CEILI LYNCH: It’s a lot of work to, like, do all of this. It’s— like, it takes a lot of time to, like, retweet everything, to like everything. So I was liking and sharing all these posts for, like, four to five hours. My hands were so tired after! It makes me feel like a worker, but it’s all worth it in the end because I get more sparks.”
“JANE BUCKINGHAM, President, Trendera: Your consumer is your marketer, and I think that’s a real shift because it used to be a one-way conversation of the marketer to the consumer, and now the consumer is doing as much as the marketer is in getting the message across. There is this unique moment where they are wanting to be as much a part of the process as a company will let them be.”
“ACTOR: [“Hunger Games”] You really want to know how to stay alive? You get people to like you.”
“CEILI LYNCH: They have to, like, do things in order to get people to like them.

TYLER OAKLEY: [on video] Push the Like button now.”

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Iconoclash Revisited

October 9, 2012

Ooooh, difference makes an appearance. Some say that the only difference is that of where the emphasis is placed. Big Bird delivers iconoclash!

In The Parallax View, Zizek writes:

“The features which give me an advantage in sexual competition are not directly my properties which demonstrate my priority over others, but indicators of such properties – the so-called “fitness indicators.”” (pg. 246) Chic, chic Apple design styling anyone? And further:

“We should therefore upend the standard view according to which the aesthetic (or symbolic) dimension is a secondary supplement to the utility-value of a product: it is, rather, the utility-value that is a “secondary profit” of a useless object whose production cost a lot of energy in order to serve as a fitness indicator.” (pg. 247) And wardrobe, make up and staging of Big Bird cost a lot of energy! Again, for emphasis, Zizek goes on:

“So it is not enough to make the rather common point that the dimension of nonfunctional “aesthetic” display always supplements the basic functional utility of an instrument; it is, rather, the other way round: the nonfunctional “aesthetic” display of the produced object is primordial, and its potential utility comes second, that is, it has the status of a by-product, of something that parasitizes on the basic function. And, of course, the paradigmatic case here is that of language itself, the mental fitness indicator par excellence, with its excessive display of useless rhetoric:” (pg. 248)  And boy, have we gotten a lot of that this election year! He concludes the chapter of The Loop of Freedom with:

“And perhaps it is from here that we should return to fitness indicators: does not the uniqueness of humankind consist in these indicators – the pleasure we take in dealing with them – turn into an end in themselves, so that, ultimately, biological survival itself is reduced to a mere means, to the foundation for the development of “higher activities”?” (pg. 250)

Come November 22 will Big Bird  grace the Thanksgiving table as the fetish utilitarian centerpiece, ultimately to be consumed, or will he/she receive a presidential pardon, and be granted “biological survival” as a “foundation for the development of “higher activities””?

Freedom And Technocracy

September 16, 2012

“Alexei Navalny, a charismatic anti-corruption crusader and a popular blogger, remains the rock star among the protest leaders. When he took the stage, young people in the crowd held up their phones to record the moment.” (Anti-Putin Protests Draw Tens of Thousands, Lynn Berry and Vladimir Isachenkov AP 9-16-12)

The moment was recorded, then what? For posterity? Tens of thousands of images, each from a minimally different perspective, all of the same thing. Then they shared their individual perspective with another “individual perspective” of the same event. Maybe took it home to share with those without access to digital media. Who are they (those without access to digital media)?

According to Berry and Isachenkov, when Navalny got up to speak the unwitting response, the unconscious response, the spontaneous response was “to record the moment” on their cell phones (new larger screens, sharper image).

In The Parallax View (pg. 86) Slavoj Zizek references an essay by Patricia Huntington (“Heidegger’s Reading of Kierkegaard: From Ontological Abstraction to Ethical Concretion”). He writes: “On the one hand Kierkegaard’s insistence on authentic personal engagement emphasizes the need for concrete ethical responsibility, for me to behave as if I am responsible for what I am, but leave intact the traditional ontological frame of reference which sustains the unauthentic mode of existence.” Zizek focuses on the reliance of this self-same frame of reference by both Heidegger and Kierkegaard, though outcomes differ in the end. He asks “What, however, if this lack of an a priori universal frame – of a frame exempted from the contingencies of the political struggle – is precisely what opens up the space for the struggle (for “freedom,” “democracy,” and so on)?” (pg. 87) And what if this universal frame was much more concrete, material (and housed within a rather petite object at that), like the one established for an image by the cell phone maker?

Earlier (pg. 82), Zizek quotes from an essay by Dominick Hoens and Ed Pluth (“The sinthome: A New Way of Writing an Old Problem”): “to refuse the symbolic order within the symbolic order”. Berry and Isachenkov’s report makes it sound like this is exactly what happened in Moscow (“The Moscow organizers had spent days in tense talks with the city government over the protest route for Saturday, typical of the bargaining that has preceded each of the opposition marches.”). Writing: “Huge rallies of more than 100,000 people even in bitter winter cold gave many protesters hope for democratic change. These hopes have waned, but opposition supporters appear ready to dig in for a long fight.” they insinuate that this particular occurrence evidenced the duration of the struggle (“for “freedom,” “democracy,” and so on”). Given the spontaneous, unconscious response by the crowd to what appeared to be substantive communication (“”We must come to rallies to win freedom for ourselves and our children, to defend our human dignity,” he said to cheers of support. “We will come here as to our workplace. No one else will free us but ourselves.””), the fact that some of the largest and wealthiest global corporate interests are around the production and service of communication technology, and Zizek’s insights, it becomes curious to imagine what the trajectory, the future of such a struggle just might look like. It is very difficult to imagine the powers that be giving up the emphasis, enforcement and efficacy of continuous and omnipresent mediation (the frame). Maybe the achievement will be freedom and technocracy.

The Empty Chair

September 8, 2012

Re-reading Lacan in order to re-read Zizek. Cod only know why. I couldn’t help but be struck by the cover art for The Parallax View.  Of course, being the cover art for a parallax view, the front side articulates with the back (though it is not “the fold”). Together they make up the painting of a furnished room. On the front is an arm chair covered by a sheet (either the home owner owns pets as I do or this is a museum room) and the back has ditto but with Lenin seated on a likewise covered armchair taking notes, much as one would imagine Freud to have done (Zizek’s short circuiting).  But wait, there’s more! On the back inside book jacket cover is a photo of an installation by Rudjer Kunaver and Miran Mohar entitled Slavoj Zizek Does Not Exist. It shows, again, an empty chair positioned before a mirror and within the mirror is Zizek seated within the reflected chair. And so the empty chair, again, brings us to the recent clichéd popular empty chair of Dirty Harry and the RNC. And why did Mr. Eastwood do that? What could he be thinking?

The man with no name gives improv reasons for doing improv. But could that be all? Perhaps the folks from Occupy have told us more than the man looking for a few dollars more. What have they told us? That there’s not a rat’s ass difference between the candidacies for president proffered by the two major parties (“”Romney and Obama,” he added: “They’re two peas in a pod.”” Occupy Movement older, wiser By Karen Aho, MSN Money 9-5-2012). That, in a sense, they are two sides of a coin, two backs of a book cover (“Adam said he has never been under the illusion that Obama would be able to remake Washington, because of the corporate influence on politics. “It’s not his fault that to be elected president that you have to live within the existing paradigm. The existing paradigm is the problem.”” ibid.). Which brings us back to The Parallax View, and Zizek’s gap revealing more about “What could he be thinking?” than a hundred speculative commentaries. This election, with all its emphasis on what makes little difference, turns on the “objet petit a” (Were the survivors of the Titanic better off four years after its sinking? Are all the numbers and statistics factual? Are wealthy people, to reference F. Scott Fitzgerald, really different from you and I?). Each side is proselytizing what is “in you more than yourself.” Talking to what is “in you more than yourself” makes Clint Eastwood’s day!

Talking GM Beans With An Amish Man

July 10, 2011

            I knew I knew nothing about him. OK, Ok, I knew he wasn’t a devotee of Islam, that Sundays were a nyet, and photos were frowned upon. Actually I probably thought I knew more than I would allow myself to believe I did. I felt all that was useless information considering the matter at hand was what brought us together. What brought us together were the bees, his bees at that. Well, at least what he believed to be his bees considering he had paid for them and they were now on his property, meant to fulfill his expectations. I guess we all fall prey to that, believing that the bees actually “belong” to someone, forgetting that they are of no good or benefit unless they can go freely and be unrestrained. It’s the restrictions that ultimately add up to the bees leaving, and the beekeeper wondering what happened to the property he thought he owned and his invested intentions. But I digress.

            It was within the context of the condition of his hives, the unusual year, the lateness of the season, and what should be blooming, isn’t blooming and is blooming that the conversation drifted to legumes- the staple, middle American nectar source. It should have been plentiful considering the site but the yellow sweet clover has come on very late this year, if at all, and what little white is out there, was also behind by a month and seems to have just started. It was not enough to compensate for the many weeks of near daily rain. His bees were starving. His farm adjoined fields of intensively farmed beans and corn. Corn is a grass but the beans are legumes. Long ago in another time and space, before GM and the Internet, the extension service promoted bees for soybean farmers to enhance their yield. The flowering legumes provided an extra kick of nectar at the end of the season. But GM beans are self pollinating along with being pest resistant. What is GM?

            I thought I knew about GM, at least enough to communicate the rudiments. I mean, it is a corporate mandate of 21st century, Twitter, Facebook and Internet reality to at least be conversant of the operational fundamentals of technology in order to survive its eye blinking changes. Confident of my abilities to live along with the other progressive denizens of my 21st century culture, I proceeded to try to explain Genetically Modified biology to my fellow beekeeper. He, of course, understood the working practicalities of Mendel’s experiments with legumes and the everyday exigencies of selective breeding. I could see from his nodding and “Is that so’s?” that he was being polite when I spoke of DNA and molecular composition (rather than letting his eyes glaze over). Finally, I tried to explain through the use of the often employed, corporate model of the frost proof strawberry, solely possible thanks to the integration of fish DNA. I found myself at a loss to bridge this theory of engineering with the practical reality of thousands of plants produced to stock the grocery stores of major cities, and able to satisfy the demands of discriminating consumers at just the peak of perfection. We looked at each other for a while; he- positive but not supportive, me- wondering where I was.

            “Oh, you mean like Round Up Ready?” he contributed.

            Yeah, the Zizekian short circuit which makes for the politics of political economy and the ability of people who actually know less than they believe they do to bridge their differences and thrive in a technologically expanding world.