the free slave
September 24, 2013, 3:10 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , , ,

Zizek improves on Chesterton: true that worry about one’s life can freeze us; but an overstatement that self reflection enslaves:

We may say broadly that free thought is the best of all the safeguards against freedom. Managed in a modern style the emancipation of the slave’s mind is the best way of preventing the emancipation of the slave. Teach him to worry about whether he wants to be free, and he will not free himself.

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

One can … claim like Chesterton that the abstract freedom to think (and doubt) actually prevents actual freedom. But is the subtraction of thinking from acting, the suspension of its efficiency, really as clear and unequivocal as that?

Slavoj Zizek, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, Introduction


a zero level that is always already given
February 12, 2013, 9:35 pm
Filed under: brave new world, departure lounge, the sweet life | Tags: , ,

Rez-de-chaussee is the ground floor of a building in France.  In that country you enter at the rez-de-chaussee, and climb the stairs to la premier etage.  In America, on the other hand, you enter a building from the street directly to the first floor.

Zizek, the Slovakian philosopher, uses these … construction notes, to illustrate a cultural difference between the European and American visions of freedom.

In his metaphor, the French rez-de- chaussee is a sort of ante chamber, outside of time, uncounted, a base of tradition from which we draw the resources needed to live a life of freedom.

Modern, traditionless America, on the other hand,  jumps directly into the deep end – equipped with credentialing and ambition  in lieu of the base of history and tradition that undergird the European way – and thereby finds its own kind of freedom.

Here is Zizek:

The lesson to be learned is that freedom of choice only functions if a complex network of legal, educational, ethical, economic and other conditions is present as the invisible background to the exercise of our freedom. This is why, as a counter to the ideology of choice, countries like Norway should be held up as models: although all the main agents respect a basic social agreement and large social projects are enacted in a spirit of solidarity, social productivity and dynamism are at extraordinary levels, contradicting the common wisdom that such a society should be stagnating.

In Europe, the ground floor of a building is counted as zero, so the floor above it is the first floor, while in the US, the first floor is on street level. This trivial difference indicates a profound ideological gap: Europeans are aware that, before counting starts – before decisions or choices are made – there has to be a ground of tradition, a zero level that is always already given and, as such, cannot be counted. While the US, a land with no proper historical tradition, presumes that one can begin directly with self-legislated freedom – the past is erased. What the US has to learn to take into account is the foundation of the “freedom to choose”.

Slavoj Zizek, Why Obama is more than Bush with a human face, Guardian

picture: the Spanish Steps in Rome

cannot buy red ink
October 20, 2012, 2:55 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

A good illustration of how there is the perception of freedom – a constitution, abundance of goods and services, a shot at life, etc – but not the whole story of our relative freedom.  Not only is the whole story not a part of our daily existence but, more critically, we lack the language to begin to tell it:

Let me tell you a wonderful, old joke from Communist times. A guy was sent from East Germany to work in Siberia. He knew his mail would be read by censors, so he told his friends: “Let’s establish a code. If a letter you get from me is written in blue ink, it is true what I say. If it is written in red ink, it is false.” After a month, his friends get the first letter. Everything is in blue. It says, this letter: “Everything is wonderful here. Stores are full of good food. Movie theatres show good films from the west. Apartments are large and luxurious. The only thing you cannot buy is red ink.” This is how we live. We have all the freedoms we want. But what we are missing is red ink: the language to articulate our non-freedom. The way we are taught to speak about freedom— war on terror and so on—falsifies freedom. And this is what you are doing here. You are giving all of us red ink.

Slavoj Zizek, The Spirit of Rebellion

the falsity of permissivity
September 18, 2012, 11:42 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , ,

I had such a father too:

“My psychoanalytical friends are always telling me that we once needed classical therapy to free us from internalised repression so we could do it. But today you feel guilty if you do not have wide-ranging sexual desire and experience. Once enjoyment becomes permitted it slides imperceptibly toward the obligatory. You have to do it and you have to enjoy it. Think about extremely hedonistic gay communities in America: life there is totally regimented. They eat the same food, take vitamins, watch the same films. We live in a permissive society but the price we pay is that there never was so much anxiety, depression, impotence and frigidity.”

“the falsity of permissivity: … Say you are a little girl and I am a totalitarian father. It is Saturday afternoon. I say, ‘I don’t care what you want to do, you have to visit your grandmother.’ You go but you secretly hate me and try to revolt and that is OK. That is good. But the monstrous permissive father will say: ‘You know how much your grandmother loves you, but visit her only if you really want to.’ Beneath the appearance of a choice is a much more severe order. Not only must you visit grandma but you must want to and like it. I had such a father, which is why I hate him.”

Slavoj Zizek: The World’s Hippest Philosopher, The Telegraph