ZIZEK: BUFONUL MORTAL (Adam Kirsch în The New Republic)

Un articol despre neo-leninistul Slavoj Zizek.

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2 Responses to ZIZEK: BUFONUL MORTAL (Adam Kirsch în The New Republic)

  1. quaecumque spune:

    Maciej Nowicki interviews Slavoj Žižek, April 2007
    (originally the interview appeared in Europa, a supplement to Dziennik, on 24th April2007)

    MN: You insist that we live in an extremely permissive society. At the same time, we have lost any freedom of choice – meaningful choices have been substituted with seeming ones. Thus comes your main advice, borrowed from Alain Badiou’s writings: in order to regain freedom, we need to become merciless censors of ourselves. How can we find freedom as such censors?

    SŽ: The problem is with the fact, that the price we pay for today’s permissiveness is a growing barracking. On one hand, gays and lesbians enter the mainstream. On the other, our existence becomes more and more regulated. This paradox always fascinated me – on what bases, and in the name of what, permissiveness coexists with a growing level of injunctions, which enter all the recesses of our ordinary life?

    MN: Sociologists and philosophers continue to stress that our world is a world in which people don’t find any values. Your diagnosis is exactly the opposite – we deal with a universe completely impregnated with ethical demands.

    SŽ: We all remember what Dostoevsky wrote: „If God doesn’t exist, everything is permitted”. What we see today proves the exact opposite: If God doesn’t exist, then everything is prohibited. So called fundamentalist terrorists are a living proof – God exists and everything is permitted. You don’t even need to refer to Islamic terrorists. A Serbian journalist, Alexander Bialic, once wrote a beautiful text in an almost pro-Milosević vein.

    He was wondering, why was Milosević so popular in his country for so many years. And so his answer was: “Because he gave his people the illusion of everlasting holidays.” Once I visited Belgrade, about 10 years ago and had a traumatic meeting with a few lovers of nationalism. Then, once and for all I understood that the description of today’s society which you mentioned – that people can’t find any values and they turn to the old fundamentalist systems – is completely wrong. They said: “If I want to be a normal citizen in today’s world you need to follow an infinite number of rules. You aren’t allowed to smoke in public places, you can’t beat your wife and so on. You constantly need to be careful what you’re doing. And if you’re a nationalist, you can do almost everything. You can even kill.” Adorno (some make a fool of him nowadays, but I don’t agree with that), in a very interesting text on structure of fascist propaganda, stressed that Hitler wasn’t only a master saying: “You need to be obedient” – simultaneously he offered some obscene delight. I think all totalitarian regimes worked similarly – excluding Stalinism. Here we return to what I said before: permissiveness has always had a second face, unusually disciplining.

    MN: That’s why you’re so distrustful of, so common today, aiming for pleasure and you point that we shouldn’t permit ourselves too much. You describe a modern society in Hegel’s words as a “spiritualized community of animals.” We use our reason only to articulate our private interests, to manipulate others to serve our pleasures. This is the world which lacks any spiritual substance, in which people behave like intelligent animals. We tend to think that our world is a world of human rights, while in fact it’s a place of struggle for human animals’ rights …

    SŽ: We need to ask ourselves a question: “What is freedom?” Answering this question, I’m totally on Badiou’s side, but also on the side of Christianity or Kantism. I don’t think freedom has something to do with spontaneity. I think that on a spontaneous level we are slaves, we only want delight and pleasure. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and as the only representative of my generation to have never even touched drugs. I only allow myself to have Coke Light. I think that freedom is something you need to conquer and that this liberation hurts. That is why I have a huge problem with the dominant ethics of today, which is based on self-realization – “You need to stay true to yourself”. Whereas, if you want to stay true to yourself, you need to reproduce the whole shit that’s inside of you. There are things in us that are disgusting. I’m an old leftist. On the psychological level, however, I have a conservative and pessimistic vision of a man – there’s something terrible in all of us and we have to destroy it at all cost.

    MN: Attacks on permissive society are in fact only an introduction to a more fundamental dispute – attacks on the ideology of multiculturalism, which today’s left wing has made its main weapon. It’s the campaign for recognition of the next groups or cultures that were supposed to give it a victory in a political battle. You’re a radical leftist – and, at the same time, you’re determined to attack multiculturalism.

    SŽ: For many old leftists multiculturalism is in fact an ersatz of politics for people – since we don’t even know if the proletariat still exists, let’s talk about the persecution of several minorities.
    Today, it’s physical work – not sex – which is more clearly perceived as something obscene that has to be hidden from public. Hard physical work is associated with criminal conspiracy. In Bond movies there is always that scene: the villain is showing 007 around his factory, presenting him with pride all his machines. Later Bond blows all this in the air, so we can forget about the proletariat once and for all. Thus we return to a place we love most – consumerist paradise…

    That’s very characteristic for – as Jacques Ranciere calls it – post-politics. All conflicts have to be hidden.

    MN: That’s a pretty common diagnosis: we live in a post-political world. You think of it as a lie?

    SŽ: We live in a world which falsely introduces itself as a post-political, in order not to discuss some primary social decisions. It’s a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: when we say that we live in a post-political world, everything becomes post-politics. Let’s have a look at the last 2-3 decades of our history. I can’t see any post-politics there. The economy has gone through radical changes due to globalization, national insurance is perceived totally differently, and the social role of the state has also changed. There has been a great break and we had no influence on that. No one has voted in this case. This means that we should at least ask some questions: “What does democracy truly mean today? In what way does it function?”. In the past people wondered what will the future of the world be like – capitalistic or socialistic? Or maybe fascist? There’s no such thing anymore.

    MN: What is the conclusion then? There’s no conflict between multiculturalism and global capitalism? Or – to say it in Stalin’s language, which you like so much – multiculturalism is an objective ally of capitalism.

    SŽ: That’s absolutely clear. Today’s capitalism develops thanks to differences, not due to the homogenization of society based on some cultural and patriarchal model. In order to constantly be reborn, to meet expectations of consumer society and keep up with the dynamics of market, capitalism can’t do without multiculturalism. The latter is not only an objective ally, but also the main ideology of a globalized capitalism. My friends, leftists, have completely missed that fact. It’s all about creating a world in which every, even the most specific, lifestyle can fully develop.

    MN: That’s the opinion which Peter Sloterdijk has already expressed years before – he claimed that the dynamics of today’s society is based on constant inventing itself anew and testing new versions of “I” in all possible conditions.

    SŽ: Sloterdijk is a great philosopher, to whom I’m indebted a lot, though he’s my political enemy. The fact, that he isn’t treated seriously in Germany nowadays, is a proof that the Spirit, who loved the country so much, has left it.

    Let’s return to what you said. Experiencing the self-transformation used to be considered as traumatic – today it’s supposed to be a proof of freedom. That’s how it looks in the language of culture. Let’s now express the same thing in language of economy. As you know, one of the biggest problems nowadays is that many people have to constantly change their jobs. Of course such experience is traumatizing – no-one likes to be unsure of tomorrow. In the meantime we are told: “How great it is to invent yourself anew every few years”. That’s what I was talking about before: economic problems are being culturalized in order to enter the area of post-politics. Let’s look at Spain. Zapatero puts a lot of energy in his attempts to legalize homosexual marriages and to guarantee parental rights to gays. At the same time he does it order not to take care of the economy! For me, such behavior has nothing to do with real politics.

    MN: Thus, the problem is that it is all reduced to cultural wars…

    SŽ: Exactly. In this sense, there’s something true in The Clash of Civilizations by Huntington, though not in the way he assumed. I lately talked with Fukuyama. I told him: “Do you notice that there are no contradictions between you and Huntington? Cultural wars are the only politics at the end of the history. The only problems we’re interested today, are problems of culture”.

    We abandoned searching for universal truth. Instead of that we have narratives about what we are, stories we tell about ourselves. I object to that completely. I’m an old universalist Goschist and the only problems I’m interested in, are those of the universal character. I don’t agree to a situation where the number of tales is the ultimate ethical horizon. It isn’t enough for a particular group to say: “We want the rest of a society to hear our story”. No, the story of the group should point on what is really wrong with today’s society.

    MN: You simply stated that multiculturalism is a perfect way to keep status quo – a liberal capitalism deals with it perfectly, in fact it, not the left, has invented multicultural ideology. Therefore, I will ask a naïve question: what can threaten the liberal capitalism? What constitutes a deadly danger for it? Do you really think liberal capitalism will end soon? Every person who reads you carefully sees that you don’t believe that revolution is at the gates…

    SŽ: A near end of liberal capitalism isn’t my problem. Let’s be serious. We need to say one thing: if we have a look at the western part of Europe, it’s absolutely obvious that never, in the history of mankind, so large a population has lived in such wealth. It’s not about fighting liberal capitalism today. I’m interested in what capitalism will be in 20 years – I want to fight the exact thing it’ll become. You can already notice the birth of the new society, the new apartheid. This tendency is extremely visible in United States…

    MN: Indeed, there’s growing number of analyses which show that American society becomes less egalitarian. It moves back a few decades, to a situation from the early 60s.

    SŽ: In America, this tendency is clearest, but we can see something similar in all western countries. Generally there are about three groups. Firstly, so called symbolic class which consists of journalists, managers, academic teachers etc. It constitutes about 20 percent of the society. Then there’s middle class, living in a constant threat, becoming more nationalistic. At the end, there are the excluded that don’t have the access to anything.

    Well, there’s no contact between them today, they develop in totally different directions, become another societies. Representatives of American symbolic class read more or less the same books as I, we understand each other well. And who’s the favourite author of American middle class? That’s Tim LaHaye who writes Christian fundamentalist political thrillers – he has already sold over 60 million copies. For him the Antichrist isn’t the Arabs. They’re just puppets of a real Antichrist, namely Europe, who hired them. The 11th September attacks had place because European Union wanted to ruin New York, in order to move the UN location to Brussels.

    Someone would say: “That’s an incredible stupidity. Why should anybody read that?” Whereas it’s all about that – an incredible stupidity becomes the culture of the American middle class. For me it’s a sign of one thing: we’re coming closer to the moment of disintegration of nations because particular classes are no longer bond together. Instead of this, we’ll have a new apartheid.

    MN: To be honest, I thought you’d like it. As an author who constantly emphasizes his disgust with any forms of national feelings and writes: “I hate them!” about local cultures.

    SŽ: OK, I’m one hundred percent anti-nationalist. I know well that for all Goschists patriotism is synonymous with proto-fascism. However, I must admit that the loss of patriotic spirit also has its bad side. Even my Jacobin friends in France – such as Badiou – admit that democracy can’t function without a dose of patriotism. Patriotism gives us the feeling of belonging to certain group. New apartheid destroys it all. Of course, you can assume that a possible solution would be a society ruled by experts, where there are groups representing different lifestyles, which experts are to coordinate.

    On one hand there’s a rule of the technocrats, on the other small conflicts of cultures. I’m sure it’s the way to catastrophe. Such society wouldn’t have a universal dimension, nor space for mutual debate. I’ve read Hannah Arendt lately, with whom I have very little in common. She was fascinated by the fact that during Vietnam War there was an opportunity for a real public debate. Of course you can point cynically: “It’s obvious why the opponents of Vietnam War have won. That’s because young people didn’t want to risk themselves”. But – and here Arendt was right – the debate about Vietnam didn’t concern just Vietnam. Something else was more important: people asked in what way we can change our society. Today there’s no such thing.

    MN: Still, we have a general world debate about the Iraq War. It’s not only about the military issues or attitudes to American policy. Almost everybody thinks that one should have some opinion about this war – it became one of regular elements of the definition of us…

    SŽ: That’s actually pretty good. However, it lacks one basic thing. It’s not about if Americans made some mistakes in Iraq, but if the leftists have any vision. I don’t have any doubts about the military and political consequences of occupation of Iraq. It’s Iran who turned out to be the winner. As a spectator I suggested imagining a Stalinist prosecutor in today’s America, who would order to arrest Bush and torture him, so that he confessed that he’s an Iranian agent and he did it all to obey the order of Tehran. But it’s not the problem of the left. The left’s problem is: “What’s the alternative?”

    Many Goschists hate me when I say: “Let’s not yield to the easy anti-Americanism!” Why? Because the trap of anti-Americanism reduces us to projecting the whole evil on America, whereas, the global capitalism is in fact international. There’s no sense in saying that it’s being controlled by USA. Capitalism lost its relation with nation-state. We entered a new phase of colonialism. Once, colonial nations subjugated other nations. Today there are only colonies. International companies are the colonizing power today. That’s why each one of us – no matter where he lives – is a citizen of a Banana Republic.

    MN: Today you’re an opponent of any action. You always say that when you have choice to do something or not to do anything, you tend to choose the latter. Perhaps then you should be the one visited by Stalinist prosecutor, not Bush, with the accusation: “you are an objective ally of capitalism”?

    SŽ: I hate the rhetoric which says: “Let’s do something, enough of this talking”. No and no. These are just great liberal capitalists like Bill Gates who say: “What’s happening is terrible, we have to do something.” They earn billions and then drop crumbs from the lord’s table. Secondly – when we already find the right words, we will no longer be able to act like we did before. Today we have to change Marx’s words and say: “We have changed the world so much, that it’s high time to interpret it.” Either we assume that liberal capitalism is the final frontier of what can be done, or we think that we should do something more. I absolutely think that we should do something more. If it comes to action, however, I’m a huge pessimist – I don’t really know what should be done.

    There’s this old joke. Someone asks Marx, Engels and Lenin, who would they prefer – a wife or a lover. Marx says: “Wife”. Engels: “Lover”. And Lenin says: ”Both”. Everyone are surprised: ”How’s that Lenin, you’re an ascetic. Why would you need a wife and a lover?” And he explains: ”What for? I would tell my lover that I’m at my wife’s and my wife that I’m at my lover’s place.” “But what would you do in the meantime?” Lenin says: “What would I do? I’d study.” When I was at school, there was this message of Lenin to young people on every wall: „Uczitsia, uczitsia, uczitsia” [Study, study, study]. It’s pretty topical again.

    MN: We finally reached it. I didn’t want to start our conversation with Lenin or Stalin. I wanted the people who regard you as a dangerous man, portending the return of Soviet totalitarianism, to at least start reading this interview. But I need to ask you: why Lenin?

    SŽ: When somebody asks me a question: “What type of Leninist are you?” I reply: “I’m like Lenin from 1915, who hid in Switzerland and started reading Hegel.” That’s exactly what we need – a return to fundamental matters. We don’t have any general theory of what’s happening. For example, it’s clear that the only historical function of Chinese or Russian communism was as a break between different phases of capitalism. Today China shows us what the next great question concerning the future of capitalism looks like. Is this authoritarian capitalism a bastard phenomenon? Or it foreshadows the future of authoritarian capitalism, postmodernist one? That’s of course possible. Finally, the tragedy of capitalism is that historically it’s connected with Protestantism, with Christianity. But thanks to globalization it starts to function as universal machinery, it’s compatible with almost everything. Returning to Lenin. As you know, when I wrote the foreword to Lenin’s texts, there was a huge scandal. I don’t think that we should return to Lenin in the sense of what he’s done. I keep on repeating that Lenin is dead…

    MN: He’s dead and he isn’t, at the same time. There must be some reason why you keep on referring to him all the time. Probably not only because he thought about fundamental matters (which has on the other hand brought only disasters) – then, there would be many more candidates. I’ve got only one choice here: either I will treat this patronage as a pure provocation – you don’t want it, you wrote about it many times – or we can assume that the choosing Lenin is something much more important.

    SŽ: Firstly, Lenin doesn’t suit today’s universal canon. Someone who refers to him, hears: “Do you want new gulags? What can be positive about this choice?” Well, we’re at a standstill today. That’s why we should just express our disagreement or discontent. Yes, we don’t have a positive program, but at least we can prepare the ground for new fights. For me that is the basic ethical act: to keep an open space. It’s about a minority gesture which leads to rearticulating the world.

    Secondly, some idiots think that I’m fascinated with what’s worst in Communism, that I love Stalinism etc. Well, I live in a constant trauma of Stalinism, in the sense that it’s an unusually enigmatic and perverse phenomenon. Fascism is a phenomenon relatively easy to explain: it’s a conservative revolution, which aims for the creation of, what today’s post-colonial studies call, the alternative present. Meanwhile, we don’t know what Communism was. We, Europeans, regard it as the incarnation of an Eastern satrap, Russian nationalists think of it as one of the stages of Western modernization imposed from the outside, which began with Peter the Great. For me, Communism is a big philosophical mystery… Please have a look at Stalinism. On one hand it was unusually cruel system, controlled by some unknown suicidal dynamics – in the middle 30s about 80 percent of Central Committee was killed. On the other hand they took real care of the appearances – the whole of reality got a theatrical form.

    MN: You talked about the cruelty which communism included. I have the impression that the system fascinates you just because of the violence related with it…

    SŽ: It’s not only related to Communism. In this sense no one can answer the question which of the systems was worse. Nazism was a more radical culture – it naturalized the guilt. If you were a Jew, there would be no redemption for you. You were guilty for who you were. On the other hand, in Soviet Union purges had even more mass character…

    MN: That’s what I was driving at. You are suspected not only of love for Stalinism. Declarations concerning the “ethical dimension of violence” made some people see a tone close to a fascist one…

    SŽ: My celebration of violence may in fact seem proto-fascist. I’ve been attacked for this on the left. I’ll reply in a scary manner: “So what?” When we have look at history, many things we regard as proto-fascist, are not so in fact. Let’s take Leni Riefenstahl, about whom I wrote a few times. It’s said about her films: they’re fascist because they constitute a celebration of mass spectacles. But the Nazis took the form of their assembly from the social democrats.

    My way of thinking is as follows: we shouldn’t renounce something just because it was once taken over by some villains. We should rather think how to regain it. Of course here’s a great problem – it’s hard to draw a border between violence, which liberates, and one which is a celebration of violence for violence sake, so it’s fascist. This way or another, I don’t buy the idea of “revolution without revolution”, that everything will change and no one gets harmed. Unfortunately, every true change has to hurt.

    MN: At the beginning of our conversation – before I started recording – you stated: “I don’t believe in my own theories.” Referring to this I need to ask: What should I do with everything what you said? Why should I believe your words, when you don’t believe them? That’s how communist propaganda showed the priest – it’s a man, who already knows that his religion is dead, but he pretends in front of other people in order to keep his power…

    SŽ: It’s said that we live in a post-ideological era. I don’t think so. For me ideologies are not great projects of reconstruction of the world. For me, these are attitudes and behaviors in everyday life. Many of these things can be found in mass culture, many of them are created by mass culture. That’s why it’s the main ideological battleground. Here we reach the issue of faith.

    What is it supposed to mean? My Jewish friends say: “We don’t believe!” But on the other hand they don’t eat pork. Another example – I found it in Niels Bohr biography. Somebody visited Bohr and noticed a horseshoe on his door. He asked him: “Do you believe in it?” Bohr replied: “No, I don’t. But I was told that it works!” Therefore, in fact faith is not a matter of faith. Faith is a matter of practice.

  2. quaecumque spune:

    Maciej Nowicki interviews Slavoj Žižek, April 2007
    (originally the interview appeared in Europa, a supplement to Dziennik, on 24th April2007)

    MN: You insist that we live in an extremely permissive society. At the same time, we have lost any freedom of choice – meaningful choices have been substituted with seeming ones. Thus comes your main advice, borrowed from Alain Badiou’s writings: in order to regain freedom, we need to become merciless censors of ourselves. How can we find freedom as such censors?

    SŽ: The problem is with the fact, that the price we pay for today’s permissiveness is a growing barracking. On one hand, gays and lesbians enter the mainstream. On the other, our existence becomes more and more regulated. This paradox always fascinated me – on what bases, and in the name of what, permissiveness coexists with a growing level of injunctions, which enter all the recesses of our ordinary life?

    MN: Sociologists and philosophers continue to stress that our world is a world in which people don’t find any values. Your diagnosis is exactly the opposite – we deal with a universe completely impregnated with ethical demands.

    SŽ: We all remember what Dostoevsky wrote: „If God doesn’t exist, everything is permitted”. What we see today proves the exact opposite: If God doesn’t exist, then everything is prohibited. So called fundamentalist terrorists are a living proof – God exists and everything is permitted. You don’t even need to refer to Islamic terrorists. A Serbian journalist, Alexander Bialic, once wrote a beautiful text in an almost pro-Milosević vein.

    He was wondering, why was Milosević so popular in his country for so many years. And so his answer was: “Because he gave his people the illusion of everlasting holidays.” Once I visited Belgrade, about 10 years ago and had a traumatic meeting with a few lovers of nationalism. Then, once and for all I understood that the description of today’s society which you mentioned – that people can’t find any values and they turn to the old fundamentalist systems – is completely wrong. They said: “If I want to be a normal citizen in today’s world you need to follow an infinite number of rules. You aren’t allowed to smoke in public places, you can’t beat your wife and so on. You constantly need to be careful what you’re doing. And if you’re a nationalist, you can do almost everything. You can even kill.” Adorno (some make a fool of him nowadays, but I don’t agree with that), in a very interesting text on structure of fascist propaganda, stressed that Hitler wasn’t only a master saying: “You need to be obedient” – simultaneously he offered some obscene delight. I think all totalitarian regimes worked similarly – excluding Stalinism. Here we return to what I said before: permissiveness has always had a second face, unusually disciplining.

    MN: That’s why you’re so distrustful of, so common today, aiming for pleasure and you point that we shouldn’t permit ourselves too much. You describe a modern society in Hegel’s words as a “spiritualized community of animals.” We use our reason only to articulate our private interests, to manipulate others to serve our pleasures. This is the world which lacks any spiritual substance, in which people behave like intelligent animals. We tend to think that our world is a world of human rights, while in fact it’s a place of struggle for human animals’ rights …

    SŽ: We need to ask ourselves a question: “What is freedom?” Answering this question, I’m totally on Badiou’s side, but also on the side of Christianity or Kantism. I don’t think freedom has something to do with spontaneity. I think that on a spontaneous level we are slaves, we only want delight and pleasure. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and as the only representative of my generation to have never even touched drugs. I only allow myself to have Coke Light. I think that freedom is something you need to conquer and that this liberation hurts. That is why I have a huge problem with the dominant ethics of today, which is based on self-realization – “You need to stay true to yourself”. Whereas, if you want to stay true to yourself, you need to reproduce the whole shit that’s inside of you. There are things in us that are disgusting. I’m an old leftist. On the psychological level, however, I have a conservative and pessimistic vision of a man – there’s something terrible in all of us and we have to destroy it at all cost.

    MN: Attacks on permissive society are in fact only an introduction to a more fundamental dispute – attacks on the ideology of multiculturalism, which today’s left wing has made its main weapon. It’s the campaign for recognition of the next groups or cultures that were supposed to give it a victory in a political battle. You’re a radical leftist – and, at the same time, you’re determined to attack multiculturalism.

    SŽ: For many old leftists multiculturalism is in fact an ersatz of politics for people – since we don’t even know if the proletariat still exists, let’s talk about the persecution of several minorities.

    Today, it’s physical work – not sex – which is more clearly perceived as something obscene that has to be hidden from public. Hard physical work is associated with criminal conspiracy. In Bond movies there is always that scene: the villain is showing 007 around his factory, presenting him with pride all his machines. Later Bond blows all this in the air, so we can forget about the proletariat once and for all. Thus we return to a place we love most – consumerist paradise…

    That’s very characteristic for – as Jacques Ranciere calls it – post-politics. All conflicts have to be hidden.

    MN: That’s a pretty common diagnosis: we live in a post-political world. You think of it as a lie?

    SŽ: We live in a world which falsely introduces itself as a post-political, in order not to discuss some primary social decisions. It’s a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: when we say that we live in a post-political world, everything becomes post-politics. Let’s have a look at the last 2-3 decades of our history. I can’t see any post-politics there. The economy has gone through radical changes due to globalization, national insurance is perceived totally differently, and the social role of the state has also changed. There has been a great break and we had no influence on that. No one has voted in this case. This means that we should at least ask some questions: “What does democracy truly mean today? In what way does it function?”. In the past people wondered what will the future of the world be like – capitalistic or socialistic? Or maybe fascist? There’s no such thing anymore.

    MN: What is the conclusion then? There’s no conflict between multiculturalism and global capitalism? Or – to say it in Stalin’s language, which you like so much – multiculturalism is an objective ally of capitalism.

    SŽ: That’s absolutely clear. Today’s capitalism develops thanks to differences, not due to the homogenization of society based on some cultural and patriarchal model. In order to constantly be reborn, to meet expectations of consumer society and keep up with the dynamics of market, capitalism can’t do without multiculturalism. The latter is not only an objective ally, but also the main ideology of a globalized capitalism. My friends, leftists, have completely missed that fact. It’s all about creating a world in which every, even the most specific, lifestyle can fully develop.

    MN: That’s the opinion which Peter Sloterdijk has already expressed years before – he claimed that the dynamics of today’s society is based on constant inventing itself anew and testing new versions of “I” in all possible conditions.

    SŽ: Sloterdijk is a great philosopher, to whom I’m indebted a lot, though he’s my political enemy. The fact, that he isn’t treated seriously in Germany nowadays, is a proof that the Spirit, who loved the country so much, has left it.

    Let’s return to what you said. Experiencing the self-transformation used to be considered as traumatic – today it’s supposed to be a proof of freedom. That’s how it looks in the language of culture. Let’s now express the same thing in language of economy. As you know, one of the biggest problems nowadays is that many people have to constantly change their jobs. Of course such experience is traumatizing – no-one likes to be unsure of tomorrow. In the meantime we are told: “How great it is to invent yourself anew every few years”. That’s what I was talking about before: economic problems are being culturalized in order to enter the area of post-politics. Let’s look at Spain. Zapatero puts a lot of energy in his attempts to legalize homosexual marriages and to guarantee parental rights to gays. At the same time he does it order not to take care of the economy! For me, such behavior has nothing to do with real politics.

    MN: Thus, the problem is that it is all reduced to cultural wars…

    SŽ: Exactly. In this sense, there’s something true in The Clash of Civilizations by Huntington, though not in the way he assumed. I lately talked with Fukuyama. I told him: “Do you notice that there are no contradictions between you and Huntington? Cultural wars are the only politics at the end of the history. The only problems we’re interested today, are problems of culture”.

    We abandoned searching for universal truth. Instead of that we have narratives about what we are, stories we tell about ourselves. I object to that completely. I’m an old universalist Goschist and the only problems I’m interested in, are those of the universal character. I don’t agree to a situation where the number of tales is the ultimate ethical horizon. It isn’t enough for a particular group to say: “We want the rest of a society to hear our story”. No, the story of the group should point on what is really wrong with today’s society.

    MN: You simply stated that multiculturalism is a perfect way to keep status quo – a liberal capitalism deals with it perfectly, in fact it, not the left, has invented multicultural ideology. Therefore, I will ask a naïve question: what can threaten the liberal capitalism? What constitutes a deadly danger for it? Do you really think liberal capitalism will end soon? Every person who reads you carefully sees that you don’t believe that revolution is at the gates…

    SŽ: A near end of liberal capitalism isn’t my problem. Let’s be serious. We need to say one thing: if we have a look at the western part of Europe, it’s absolutely obvious that never, in the history of mankind, so large a population has lived in such wealth. It’s not about fighting liberal capitalism today. I’m interested in what capitalism will be in 20 years – I want to fight the exact thing it’ll become. You can already notice the birth of the new society, the new apartheid. This tendency is extremely visible in United States…

    MN: Indeed, there’s growing number of analyses which show that American society becomes less egalitarian. It moves back a few decades, to a situation from the early 60s.

    SŽ: In America, this tendency is clearest, but we can see something similar in all western countries. Generally there are about three groups. Firstly, so called symbolic class which consists of journalists, managers, academic teachers etc. It constitutes about 20 percent of the society. Then there’s middle class, living in a constant threat, becoming more nationalistic. At the end, there are the excluded that don’t have the access to anything.

    Well, there’s no contact between them today, they develop in totally different directions, become another societies. Representatives of American symbolic class read more or less the same books as I, we understand each other well. And who’s the favourite author of American middle class? That’s Tim LaHaye who writes Christian fundamentalist political thrillers – he has already sold over 60 million copies. For him the Antichrist isn’t the Arabs. They’re just puppets of a real Antichrist, namely Europe, who hired them. The 11th September attacks had place because European Union wanted to ruin New York, in order to move the UN location to Brussels.

    Someone would say: “That’s an incredible stupidity. Why should anybody read that?” Whereas it’s all about that – an incredible stupidity becomes the culture of the American middle class. For me it’s a sign of one thing: we’re coming closer to the moment of disintegration of nations because particular classes are no longer bond together. Instead of this, we’ll have a new apartheid.

    MN: To be honest, I thought you’d like it. As an author who constantly emphasizes his disgust with any forms of national feelings and writes: “I hate them!” about local cultures.

    SŽ: OK, I’m one hundred percent anti-nationalist. I know well that for all Goschists patriotism is synonymous with proto-fascism. However, I must admit that the loss of patriotic spirit also has its bad side. Even my Jacobin friends in France – such as Badiou – admit that democracy can’t function without a dose of patriotism. Patriotism gives us the feeling of belonging to certain group. New apartheid destroys it all. Of course, you can assume that a possible solution would be a society ruled by experts, where there are groups representing different lifestyles, which experts are to coordinate.

    On one hand there’s a rule of the technocrats, on the other small conflicts of cultures. I’m sure it’s the way to catastrophe. Such society wouldn’t have a universal dimension, nor space for mutual debate. I’ve read Hannah Arendt lately, with whom I have very little in common. She was fascinated by the fact that during Vietnam War there was an opportunity for a real public debate. Of course you can point cynically: “It’s obvious why the opponents of Vietnam War have won. That’s because young people didn’t want to risk themselves”. But – and here Arendt was right – the debate about Vietnam didn’t concern just Vietnam. Something else was more important: people asked in what way we can change our society. Today there’s no such thing.

    MN: Still, we have a general world debate about the Iraq War. It’s not only about the military issues or attitudes to American policy. Almost everybody thinks that one should have some opinion about this war – it became one of regular elements of the definition of us…

    SŽ: That’s actually pretty good. However, it lacks one basic thing. It’s not about if Americans made some mistakes in Iraq, but if the leftists have any vision. I don’t have any doubts about the military and political consequences of occupation of Iraq. It’s Iran who turned out to be the winner. As a spectator I suggested imagining a Stalinist prosecutor in today’s America, who would order to arrest Bush and torture him, so that he confessed that he’s an Iranian agent and he did it all to obey the order of Tehran. But it’s not the problem of the left. The left’s problem is: “What’s the alternative?”

    Many Goschists hate me when I say: “Let’s not yield to the easy anti-Americanism!” Why? Because the trap of anti-Americanism reduces us to projecting the whole evil on America, whereas, the global capitalism is in fact international. There’s no sense in saying that it’s being controlled by USA. Capitalism lost its relation with nation-state. We entered a new phase of colonialism. Once, colonial nations subjugated other nations. Today there are only colonies. International companies are the colonizing power today. That’s why each one of us – no matter where he lives – is a citizen of a Banana Republic.

    MN: Today you’re an opponent of any action. You always say that when you have choice to do something or not to do anything, you tend to choose the latter. Perhaps then you should be the one visited by Stalinist prosecutor, not Bush, with the accusation: “you are an objective ally of capitalism”?

    SŽ: I hate the rhetoric which says: “Let’s do something, enough of this talking”. No and no. These are just great liberal capitalists like Bill Gates who say: “What’s happening is terrible, we have to do something.” They earn billions and then drop crumbs from the lord’s table. Secondly – when we already find the right words, we will no longer be able to act like we did before. Today we have to change Marx’s words and say: “We have changed the world so much, that it’s high time to interpret it.” Either we assume that liberal capitalism is the final frontier of what can be done, or we think that we should do something more. I absolutely think that we should do something more. If it comes to action, however, I’m a huge pessimist – I don’t really know what should be done.

    There’s this old joke. Someone asks Marx, Engels and Lenin, who would they prefer – a wife or a lover. Marx says: “Wife”. Engels: “Lover”. And Lenin says: ”Both”. Everyone are surprised: ”How’s that Lenin, you’re an ascetic. Why would you need a wife and a lover?” And he explains: ”What for? I would tell my lover that I’m at my wife’s and my wife that I’m at my lover’s place.” “But what would you do in the meantime?” Lenin says: “What would I do? I’d study.” When I was at school, there was this message of Lenin to young people on every wall: „Uczitsia, uczitsia, uczitsia” [Study, study, study]. It’s pretty topical again.

    MN: We finally reached it. I didn’t want to start our conversation with Lenin or Stalin. I wanted the people who regard you as a dangerous man, portending the return of Soviet totalitarianism, to at least start reading this interview. But I need to ask you: why Lenin?

    SŽ: When somebody asks me a question: “What type of Leninist are you?” I reply: “I’m like Lenin from 1915, who hid in Switzerland and started reading Hegel.” That’s exactly what we need – a return to fundamental matters. We don’t have any general theory of what’s happening. For example, it’s clear that the only historical function of Chinese or Russian communism was as a break between different phases of capitalism. Today China shows us what the next great question concerning the future of capitalism looks like. Is this authoritarian capitalism a bastard phenomenon? Or it foreshadows the future of authoritarian capitalism, postmodernist one? That’s of course possible. Finally, the tragedy of capitalism is that historically it’s connected with Protestantism, with Christianity. But thanks to globalization it starts to function as universal machinery, it’s compatible with almost everything. Returning to Lenin. As you know, when I wrote the foreword to Lenin’s texts, there was a huge scandal. I don’t think that we should return to Lenin in the sense of what he’s done. I keep on repeating that Lenin is dead…

    MN: He’s dead and he isn’t, at the same time. There must be some reason why you keep on referring to him all the time. Probably not only because he thought about fundamental matters (which has on the other hand brought only disasters) – then, there would be many more candidates. I’ve got only one choice here: either I will treat this patronage as a pure provocation – you don’t want it, you wrote about it many times – or we can assume that the choosing Lenin is something much more important.

    SŽ: Firstly, Lenin doesn’t suit today’s universal canon. Someone who refers to him, hears: “Do you want new gulags? What can be positive about this choice?” Well, we’re at a standstill today. That’s why we should just express our disagreement or discontent. Yes, we don’t have a positive program, but at least we can prepare the ground for new fights. For me that is the basic ethical act: to keep an open space. It’s about a minority gesture which leads to rearticulating the world.

    Secondly, some idiots think that I’m fascinated with what’s worst in Communism, that I love Stalinism etc. Well, I live in a constant trauma of Stalinism, in the sense that it’s an unusually enigmatic and perverse phenomenon. Fascism is a phenomenon relatively easy to explain: it’s a conservative revolution, which aims for the creation of, what today’s post-colonial studies call, the alternative present. Meanwhile, we don’t know what Communism was. We, Europeans, regard it as the incarnation of an Eastern satrap, Russian nationalists think of it as one of the stages of Western modernization imposed from the outside, which began with Peter the Great. For me, Communism is a big philosophical mystery… Please have a look at Stalinism. On one hand it was unusually cruel system, controlled by some unknown suicidal dynamics – in the middle 30s about 80 percent of Central Committee was killed. On the other hand they took real care of the appearances – the whole of reality got a theatrical form.

    MN: You talked about the cruelty which communism included. I have the impression that the system fascinates you just because of the violence related with it…

    SŽ: It’s not only related to Communism. In this sense no one can answer the question which of the systems was worse. Nazism was a more radical culture – it naturalized the guilt. If you were a Jew, there would be no redemption for you. You were guilty for who you were. On the other hand, in Soviet Union purges had even more mass character…

    MN: That’s what I was driving at. You are suspected not only of love for Stalinism. Declarations concerning the “ethical dimension of violence” made some people see a tone close to a fascist one…

    SŽ: My celebration of violence may in fact seem proto-fascist. I’ve been attacked for this on the left. I’ll reply in a scary manner: “So what?” When we have look at history, many things we regard as proto-fascist, are not so in fact. Let’s take Leni Riefenstahl, about whom I wrote a few times. It’s said about her films: they’re fascist because they constitute a celebration of mass spectacles. But the Nazis took the form of their assembly from the social democrats.

    My way of thinking is as follows: we shouldn’t renounce something just because it was once taken over by some villains. We should rather think how to regain it. Of course here’s a great problem – it’s hard to draw a border between violence, which liberates, and one which is a celebration of violence for violence sake, so it’s fascist. This way or another, I don’t buy the idea of “revolution without revolution”, that everything will change and no one gets harmed. Unfortunately, every true change has to hurt.

    MN: At the beginning of our conversation – before I started recording – you stated: “I don’t believe in my own theories.” Referring to this I need to ask: What should I do with everything what you said? Why should I believe your words, when you don’t believe them? That’s how communist propaganda showed the priest – it’s a man, who already knows that his religion is dead, but he pretends in front of other people in order to keep his power…

    SŽ: It’s said that we live in a post-ideological era. I don’t think so. For me ideologies are not great projects of reconstruction of the world. For me, these are attitudes and behaviors in everyday life. Many of these things can be found in mass culture, many of them are created by mass culture. That’s why it’s the main ideological battleground. Here we reach the issue of faith.

    What is it supposed to mean? My Jewish friends say: “We don’t believe!” But on the other hand they don’t eat pork. Another example – I found it in Niels Bohr biography. Somebody visited Bohr and noticed a horseshoe on his door. He asked him: “Do you believe in it?” Bohr replied: “No, I don’t. But I was told that it works!” Therefore, in fact faith is not a matter of faith. Faith is a matter of practice.

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