Democracy... and beyond
Slavoj Zizek (University of Ljubljana/Princeton)
We should gather the courage to abandon "democracy" as our Master-Signifier. Democracy is today's main political fetish, one that enables a disavowal of basic social antagonisms. While in the electoral situation, the social hierarchy is momentarily suspended, the social body is reduced to a pure multitude that can be numbered, and the antagonism is here also suspended.
Take for example that a decade ago, during the election for governor for the State of Louisiana, when the only alternative to the ex-KKK member David Duke was a corrupt Democrat, one saw on many cars a bumper-sticker which read, "Vote For A Crook -It's Important!" Contained within the message of this sticker resides the ultimate paradox of democracy; that within the existing political order every campaign against corruption ends up being couped by the populist extreme Right.
The idea of a "honest democracy" is an illusion, the same one as the notion of the order of Law without its obscene superego supplement: what appears as a contingent distortion of the democratic project is inscribed into its very notion, i.e., democracy is "democrassouille." The democratic political order is in its very structure susceptible to corruption. The ultimate choice is this: does one accept and endorse this corruption on behalf of a realistic resigned wisdom, or can one gather the courage to formulate a Leftist alternative to democracy in order to effectively break the vicious cycle of democratic corruption and the consequent Rightist campaigns that promise to get rid of it?
Tricks that won't do
Evolutionary psychology and the quest for human nature
Jack Vromen (Erasmus University Rotterdam)
If pointing out that science cannot reflect upon its own horizon of understanding is a worn-out trick, then so is arguing, as transcendental-hermeneutic philosophers are prone to do, that science cannot transcend its own presuppositions and standards of what counts as real. What is achieved by the latter "trick" is that all conceivable cognitive claims are radically relativized and contextualized. This can surely be repeatedly endlessly, but doing so does not satisfy our curiosity. Zizek is right in stating that at the end of the day people simply want to know how things are, and what is behind them.
Rather than dismissing such need as being utterly naļve, it makes more sense to enquire how this need can be met. In this respect, evolutionary psychology is interesting for several reasons. Evolutionary psychology, at the interface of cognitive science and evolutionary theory, arguably belongs to "The Third Culture." This concept holds that issues preoccupying the Geisteswissenschaften can fruitfully be illuminated with the aid of the natural sciences. Evolutionary psychology resuscitates the notion of human nature, at the same time as it stresses that the human mind is fragmented. What is interesting also is that in its attempt to overcome the traditional nature / nurture dichotomy, evolutionary psychology indulges in some sort of transcendental reasoning; for each and every cultural phenomenon it asks what biologically evolved capability renders the existence of the phenomenon possible.
This reasoning can also be applied to the engaged subjective position that people take in some alleged struggle. But in the end this "trick" is not wholly satisfactory either. Pointing out the capabilities that are necessary for someone to be in an engaged subjective position does not exhaust the meaning of what it is for someone to be in such a position. However, it can also be argued that evolutionary psychology draws our attention to a dimension that eludes the grasp of cultural studies. What I suggest is that we do not have two opposing camps here, but in fact two complementing perspectives that can mutually inform and possibly correct each other. The presentation concludes with an analysis of emotions that illustrates this.
Gijs van Oenen (Erasmus University Rotterdam)
Trauma creates both the source and the force of law. Law, as authoritative rule, is created through violence, and always remains marked and haunted by its foundational trauma. The rule of law, however, requires law to sustain the illusion of its being a formally closed system and therefore to mask or cover up this chronic trauma.
We may recognize two traditional ways in which law takes care of its trauma. First, we entertain the illusion that law's trauma is absent; or rather, we entertain a class of lawyers to believe this on our behalf "interpassivity." Second, this class contains or "breeds" magistrates, functionaries who by their superior training and standing are supposedly able to withstand the haunting suspicion that given its foundational trauma, law's legitimacy is always fundamentally in doubt.
Legal theorists may recognize these symptoms and implications of legal trauma but seldom succeed in dealing with them in a satisfactory manner. Two instructive examples are: either neurotically maintain that law's trauma can "in the last instance" be fully covered, for instance through philosophical construction (Dworkin), or perversely enjoy the impossibility of this move (Fish).
The operation of "covering up" law's trauma is as necessary as it is delicate, requiring us neither to particularly enjoy nor to deny the "unruly practices" that appear as its symptoms. Rather we should "come to terms" with law's trauma, through social cooperation in such practices that resists law's elitist and formalist aspirations. This involves developing ways of dealing with the practical social manifestations of law's "obscene supplement", not through rhetoric or repression, but through a shared practice of what the Dutch call "gedogen", or the deliberate lax enforcement of law, creating space for what we might call "citizenship contra legem." Law's possible illegitimacy is thus not neurotically denied or perversely enjoyed, but rather accepted and dealt with in semi-public space.
Revolutionary becoming and the future of revolution
Paul Patton (University of New South Wales)
Deleuze does not advocate the pursuit of revolution but the pursuit of revolutionary becomings at all levels and in all spheres of individual and social life. But what is the force of "revolutionary" in this phrase? Is this a recipe for a reformist politics that does not extend to challenging the order of global capitalism? Does it imply acceptance of Rorty's view that, "Western social and political thought may have had the last conceptual revolution it needs." (CIS, 63) Or does it allow for the possibility of a revolutionary politics consistent with Zizek's desire for a change in the "very fundamental structural principle of society"? (CHU, 93) Answers to these questions will be canvassed with reference to the logic of becoming and the nature of the processes of deterritorialisation as these are developed in Deleuze and Guattari's political philosophy.
The work of art that observes itself
Interpassivity and Social Ontology
Robert Pfaller (University of Linz)
Delegating work to others is a common rule in the use of machines as well as in the social division of labour and of classes. This principle also underlies interactive installations in the arts where an artist tries to delegate some artistic work to the observers. But there exists yet another opposed and much more uncanny phenomenon: people delegating their pleasures to others, or to machines. In this case no difficult and productive activity is fulfilled by someone or something else, instead a pleasantly consumptive attitude, a languid passivity, is bestowed upon the human or machine. In the case of interpassive art, this results in a masterpiece that observes itself, thus relieving the heretofore observers from the duty of their pleasure.
Politics of Becoming and Sustainable Ethics: a Feminist Perspective
Rosi Braidotti (University of Utrecht)
The "return of the body" as a theme has gained much relevance at the end of the postmodernist wave in poststructuralist philosophies. It often implies the critique of the linguistic turn and of psychoanalysis as a theory of the subject. As a feminist philosopher I am structurally suspicious of any "return", let alone one which allegedly concerns an entity as constitutive of the theoretical and political agenda as the embodied self. Nonetheless, I will situate my work on philosophical nomadism within this trend.
My paper will critically examine current theories of material embodiment and more especially brands of post-psychoanalytic feminism, with special emphasis on issues of embodiment and radical immanence. Attention is given to psychoanalytic theories of the subject and to contemporary critical variations. Emphasis will also be placed on the effects of new technologies on the debate about the body.
Is Antigone a protofascist?
On Slavoj Zizek's interpretation of Antigone
Marc De Kesel (Arteveld Hogeschool Gent)
For Slavoj Zizek, Antigone's tragic existence illustrates the radicality of an "act", both in the ethical and the political senses of the word. From a Lacanian perspective, Antigone exemplifies for Zizek the fact that we are not only "subjected" to a symbolic order, but also able to act against it. In other words, Antigone illustrates the possibility of ethical or political revolution. For Zizek, ethical and political practice is based in such a radical "act." He describes this "act" in purely formal terms: as the affirmation of the lack, or lacking object, on which the symbolic order is grounded. Yet this formal definition also threatens to enable Antigone's act to illustrate a right wing, or even fascist revolution.
In his lecture, Marc De Kesel will comment on Zizek's reflections on Antigone's act. He notes that many of the problems of Zizek's Lacanian interpretation of Antigone disappear if one just reads the Lacanian text carefully. There, Antigone is not introduced as an "example", but only as an "image"; not as "Vorbild", but as "Bild" De Kesel will further elucidate what it means for Lacan that ethics and politics should be considered from the perspective of an "image" which does not function as an "example."
Derrida, Schmitt, Zizek
Erik Vogt (Wadham College, Oxford)
Jacques Derrida's thought has been a constant reference point for Slavoj Zizek's writings. While Zizek's early texts have focussed primarily on and taken issue with Derrida's readings of Hegel and Lacan, his recent texts are permeated with suggestions as to what he considers the problematic political implications of deconstruction. It is, above all, Derrida's "radicalization" of Marx, that is, Derrida's hauntological reading of spectrality and his continued insistence on the abyss between ethics and politics, undecidability and decision, that Zizek finds politically unacceptable.
My paper will attempt to focus on Derrida's and Zizek's readings of Carl Schmitt in order to describe Derrida's and Zizek's respective political positions. While Derrida's reading of Schmitt (in Politics of Friendship) leaves one with the impression that, in short, Schmitt's thinking of the political is something that has to be "overcome" for the sake of a "coming democracy." Zizek (for instance, in his contribution to The Challenge of Carl Schmitt) attempts to re-configure and transform Schmitt's notion of decision, that is, he attempts to maintain and preserve certain Schmittian insights that can help elucidate -against deconstruction's "renunciation of any actual radical political measures"- the notion of the act which is seen in terms of a collapsing of the "distance between the ethical and the political" capable of changing the coordinates of the present political situation.
Sovereignty and beyond: Balibar, Nancy, Schmitt
Theo de Wit (Catholic University for Theology, Utrecht)
In their contributions to the current discussion on the meaning of the notion of national sovereignty, Jean-Luc Nancy and Etienne Balibar interrogate the philosophical legacy of the concepts of sovereignty in their diverse forms: sovereignty of the prince, state sovereignty, national sovereignty, and sovereignty of the people.
The genealogy of sovereignty (Balibar) and the deconstruction of our "attachment to sovereignty" (Nancy) both concentrate on the most rigorous theory of state sovereignty, that of Carl Schmitt. Their interrogations culminate in discussing the fate of the democratic sovereignty of the people in a globalizing world. Problems include the "powerlessness of the omnipotent people" (Balibar), the necessary separation of the sovereignty or "sommet'' of the world, and the issue of political-economical domination (Nancy).
The ontology of social values: affect or effect?
Theo van Willigenburg (Erasmus University Rotterdam)
Social values are often determined by their context-dependence in that they derive their status from scarcity. A few people are famous or influential because many others are not, while some objects are highly valuable because of their uniqueness.
I will present an account of the nature of social value in which to be valuable is to be an object, person, or state-of-affairs to which it is appropriate to take a favorable or unfavorable attitude. The idea is that we can explain what it means for something to be valuable according to the attitude we should take towards it and by the very properties of what is valued. That understanding the value of something is not primarily a matter of knowing how valuable it is, but rather a matter of knowing how to value it.
My account is reductionist, but not naturalist. It reduces evaluative notions (value) to deontic notions (the attitude that we should take), but it does not reduce the normative to the empirical. This means that value is not effected by whatever favorable attitude we take, but that value is only effected by attitudes taken for the right reasons: a pushpin does not become like poetry because we view it as such. I will argue that one can only come to know how to value something by attentive observance of its detailed properties. One's attitude should be affected by the characteristics of the value-bearers in such a way that it not only involves theories about what one has reason to do, but also involves an emotional engagement. Valuing something, that is knowing how to value it, requires affective involvement. Affect does not disclose value. It simply informs the attitudes that make up appropriate valuing.
The Interpassivity of Politics vs the Politics of Interpassivity
Jos de Mul (Erasmus University Rotterdam)
In the introduction of Interpassivität. Studien über delegiertes Genießen Robert Pfaller suggests that "es Vergesellschaftsungsprozesse [gibt], die gerade über Abwehrbewegungen gegen das Gesellschaftliche verlaufen" (Pfaller 2000, 9). As an example of these paradoxical interpassive processes, he cites religious rituals such as burning a candle in a church, which replaces the absent believer and shields him from religious experience. In this light, political rituals, as we find them in Western democracies, such as voting every four years to elect ones representatives in parliament, seem to function as mechanisms of defence against real political action. In this case the pleasures and displeasures of controlling the actions of the others - a (dis)pleasure that, as we can learn from Nietzsches's analysis of the Wille zur Macht, easily can result in a destructive jouissance - are delegated to a political representative.
At first sight, this reactive mechanism seems to follow the patterns of interpassivity as described by Pfaller and ˇi˛ek. Without doubt, the democratic citizen who delegates his political jouissance to a political representative, in many respects resembles the film fan who delegates the pleasure of watching a movie to his VCR, or the relatives of a deceased person who, in certain cultures, delegate their grief to professional mourners. However, there is also a crucial difference. According to ˇi˛ek, interpassivity is a basic structure of human subjectivity. In order to constitute himself as an active (modern) subject, a person has to delegate his fundamental passivity - the possibility of being a sheer object of the activity of (the) other(s) - to objects or other persons (ˇi˛ek 2000). Although this explanation applies to the examples of the VCR and the professional mourners, in the case of the parliamentary democracy, the paradoxical result of the delegation of political jouissance is that the voter, in the interval between the elections, becomes the object of political control by the other. This can lead to fundamental political alienation and, as a result, to extreme hysterical reactions as I shall demonstrate with reference to the effects of the rapid rise and the assassination of Pim Fortuyn on the affectscape of recent Dutch politics.
Politics of the in between
Henk Oosterling (Erasmus University Rotterdam)
Zizek's Postmodern Subjets
Hugh Silverman (State University New York, Stony Brook)
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