Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Slavoj Is Wrong

Le Colonel Chabert appeared to have left the blogosphere for a short while, but she comes back (thankfully) with a finger pointing to Slavoj Zizek's review--or "think piece"?--on 300.

The problem with an essay like this is in all its assumptions: a correct, or radical, political reading comes from finding the appropriate "graft" of a "reading" onto a Hollywood (or other) product. Steven Shaviro (thanks Girish) puts it nicely:

Zizek, unlike the free-market economists and evolutionary theorists, justifies his contrianism in Hegelian terms; he’s performing the negation of the negation, or something like that. But this is exactly Deleuze’s Nietzschean point, that a critique grounded in negation is an utterly impoverished and reactive one. Zizek’s favorite rhetorical formulas all always of the order of: “it might seem that x; but in fact is not the exact opposite of x really the case?” Zizek always fails to imagine the possibility of a thought that would move obliquely to common opinion, rather than merely being its mirror reversal; and that is why I find him, ultimately, to be so limited and reductive.

Whether critical negation is useful or not is beside the immediate point here, and not something I'm prepared to get into anyway--but what Zizek does time and again is tweak or reverse some supposed concensus about a big Hollywood film or some other subject, essentially arguing that 'everything bad is good for you,' or the opposite, and the ultimate message is always, "Consume guiltlessly and with gusto!" No consideration for who comprises 300's audience in Zizek's review, let alone a consideration for its financiers. No attention to the fact that films like 300 are made with such ostensibly apolitical ambivalence (see Zack Snyder's comments about how the film isn't meant to play into current events debates) so as to incorporate and welcome two conflicting "readings" of the film's meaning in order to pull in as many endorsements, and hence viewer-buyers, as possible.

Now, I sometimes like Zizek's work. I especially think when he decides to play the Leninist he can sometimes be insightful. But this is precisely the sort of work that I think is harmful to the political struggle, the role of leftists and/or intellectuals in academia, and on a less important scale, harmful to film culture, too, because it strives to make film criticism a consumer's debate of people's approval-readings and disapproval-readings about a film's presence on the marketplace, disguised as "thumbs up" or "thumbs down," with no debate about historical and material context, few if any allowances for empirical facts, and little room for flexibility and nuance. Just because I decide that Tremors 4 is a great film with a subversive political edge doesn't mean it necessarily has much bearing on the political significance of such a film--which is not to say one can't offer political readings of films. But it's a matter of learning and knowing how to situate one's viewing habits and conclusions--for me, still a process and an uphill one at that ...

6 comments:

pghtos said...

Why does everything have to be about polotics? Why cant it just be a good movie, without an underlying agenda. Polotics and people like you that are always trying to find a poltical edge in everything is what's wrong with this country.

Zach Campbell said...

You don't have to visit my blog if you don't want any discussion of politics. Sometimes I talk about why I enjoy a movie or find it good (or not good), and sometimes I talk about the politics that surround it (and will surround it whether I mention as much or not). Don't read me if you think I exemplify what's "wrong" with the United States.

Joel said...

pghtos,
What the hell isn't politics? If you accept the mass news media's working definition of politics as "that which concerns politicians," then you probably feel isolated from the political sphere. But isn't "anything that affects, whether through degradation or improvement, my life and the lives of others" a more useful definition? I suppose the real question is: Does the way you live your life, the decisions you make, and the decisions made for you, have meaning? If the answer is no, I'm not sure what planet you're living on. If the answer is yes, broaden your definition of "politics" to include the films like 300, and any other decisions you make (I'm assuming you made the decision to pay to see the film). I'm not saying it has a conscious underlying agenda. But surely you must agree that there are implications, whether conscious or not. And they can be just as important to my life, your life, and the lives of everyone else in this country and world. Zach, of course, through his active, searching, and thoughtful engagement is what's wrong with this country. Not Zach Snyder, who would castrate himself sooner than admit to political involvement.

dave said...

Zizek is in the business of neutering the politics of the everyday. Explicating the ways in which a work contradicts itself on multiple levels of abstraction, he makes eveything ambivalently political, which is to say meaningless.

I'm of the opinion that he thinks all language and meaning are a big joke, and he exploits the fact that others will generally 'buy' - in both senses of the word - his schtick without applying to him the same contrarian logic he utilizes to destroy in other works the possibility of meaning [he can even get away with making statements supporting Stalin(!)]. This is why I think his work is harmful to the leftist "cause" - because it intentionally disavows the possibility for meaning and instead gets off on negation for its own sake.

pm said...

" I'm of the opinion that he thinks all language and meaning are a big joke, and he exploits the fact that others will generally 'buy' - in both senses of the word - his schtick without applying to him the same contrarian logic he utilizes to destroy in other works the possibility of meaning [he can even get away with making statements supporting Stalin(!)]. This is why I think his work is harmful to the leftist "cause" - because it intentionally disavows the possibility for meaning and instead gets off on negation for its own sake."

You describe Zizek doing something that's harmful to more than just the leftist "cause." Agreed, though.

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