Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Zizek on Katrina

Friend, read this article now:
Twelve years earlier, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell... In the beginning of October 2005, the Spanish police, who have dealt with the problem of desperate African migrants trying to penetrate the small Spanish territory across Gibraltar with lethal force, displayed their plans to build a wall between the Spanish and Moroccan border.

The images presented -- a complex structure with all the latest electronic equipment -- bore an uncanny resemblance to those of the Berlin Wall, only with the opposite motive, designed to prevent people from coming in, not getting out.

The cruel irony is that it is the government of Zapatero, arguably the most anti-racist and tolerant in Europe, that is forced to adopt these measures of segregation -- a clear sign of the limits of the multiculturalist "tolerant" approach which preaches open borders and acceptance of Others.

It is thus becoming clear that the solution is not "tear down the walls and let them all in," the easy, empty demand often put forth by soft-hearted liberal "radicals."

Rather, the real solution is to tear down the true wall, not the police one, but the social-economic one: To change society so that people will no longer desperately try to escape their own world.

-- "Katrina: Rumors, Lies, and Racist Fantasies," by Slavoj Zizek, In These Times. Posted October 31, 2005

Slavoj Zizek is undoubtedly the most articulate and brilliant of the remaining postmodernists. Lacan is gone; Derrida and Sontag ascended into heaven this past year: Zizek remains, a younger avatar, dead-set on commenting on contemporary society.

Zizek's ethics are unremittedly ethical, even Christian, without compromising his intellect. He brings in Marx because he understands class; he brings in Freud because he wants to make sense of ill-expressed desires. And this unswerving intellect gives Zizek real punch when he comes to look out our modern world. He writes, "In the much celebrated free circulation opened up by the global capitalism, it is "things" (commodities) which freely circulate, while the circulation of "persons" is more and more controlled."

As my friends reading this know well, I was trained in many of the same philosophers and froofy French deconstructionist disciplines as Zizek, and I've often felt let down by them: my fellow grad students are often so dark about the semi-fascist presidency, so bereft of hope for America or any other nation, so unwilling to engage popular culture on its own terms and ask why it takes the expression that it does. My heart leaps when I read Zizek: he stands as the emblem of what all those books can do when they're put to good use.

Zizek parses as fantasies about freedom we tell ourselves when we keep repeating that goods will, as they never have before, lead us into human liberties beyond our wildest dreams. They're fantasies bent of good intentions -- peace and prosperity for all -- but the most muddled and cruel of realizations, where old forms of racism come to life more intensely than ever before.

It takes Zizek all his training in psychology, philosophy, history, and politics to make sense of similar lies told about New Orleans. His is a model well worth attention for the rest of us.


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