And Now For Something Completely Different

If I was a book in a library, then I'd finally be free

More On Foucault is Dead, and a Little on Zizek’s Revolutionary Terror

with 2 comments

A couple entries prior, I quoted Foucault is Dead in a comment he posted at Thinking Girl.

…why is it so hard for you to understand that my argument is NOT dependent on widespread action? Is it, perhaps, that my emphasis on individual action and responsibility frightens you a little, because it may mean giving-up participation in a patriarchal family or relationship situation of your own?

What FiD is saying here is that (Feminist) Revolution means, among other things, throwing off the relative comforts enjoyed under (Patriarchal) oppression. It’s not a very new notion. It was clear to Marx that people, bourgeois or not, would hesitate to accept the terms of his political revolution:

We Communists have been reproached with the desire of abolishing the right of personally acquiring property as the fruit of a man’s own labour, which property is alleged to be the groundwork of all personal freedom, activity and independence.

You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society.

Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriations.

Is it possible that FiD was reproached because he was insisting that Feminist Revolution entailed the dissolution of social conditions— his main example here being The Mod-Het Family— that appear to us mystified and magical entities we are taught to enjoy? I think this entirely.

I think that we are so enamoured with the Family and Gender that to us a world without them seems like an impossibility, a terrible impossibility. It’s no wonder that the contemporary conservative racket that the failure of (their vision of) the Family is tantamount to the failure of (their vision of) society, was also the assumption of kinship studies in Anthropology for the better part of the 20th Century. It wasn’t until the mid-80s that David Schneider reproached the notion that the nuclear, biological family unit of father-mother-child was hardly the norm for kin-relations cross-culturally considered. Even then it’s been an upward battle to convince the masses that the Family and the notion of Gender that constitute it are not the global norm.

Back to FiD though.

I think that his suggestion invokes the kind of Terrorist gesture Zizek is so fond of preaching. FiD even says that “[b]y nature, by upbringing, I am a Robespierre. And my target is patriarchy.” While there is room to debate how far one goes in deploying Zizek’s distinction between Fear and Terror, not to mention his endorsement of the latter, something seems clear: the Terrorist Act Zizek admires, and here that Foucault is Dead suggests, is experienced as such by an audience content, if not thoroughly invested in some yet unspoken way with maintaining the ideological form of their social conditions.

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Written by Joe

July 27, 2007 at 9:21 pm

2 Responses

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  1. FiD’s conundrum seems to be one of the crises social theorists have struggled since Marx. In my journey through Gramsci, it seemed rather difficult to imagine a cultural counter-hegemony usurping a preexisting hegemony simply because the preexisting state is hegemonic, defined as being able to react to social situations in a manner that seems almost anticipatory.

    The few points where social control was broken wasn’t through voluntary action, but through utterly profound crises that paralyzed society in many aspects. The best examples seem to be the Black Death (where contagion wrecked clergy members performing the last rites, creating shockwaves that possibly affected the Reformation), the Great Depression (where international economic conditions created political and social opportunities for totalitarian regimes to succeed), and to a much lesser extent the World War II (America’s rise from top superpower to hegemonic power)

    I am unread in Zizek, but I do know a bit about his critique Idealism, and the general methodology and gist of Postmodernism in terms of social parameters. Criticism of “false consciousness” has not yet provided a viable solution for making a believable way of moving from one social condition to another that does not cause terror in the people. This problem, with a hegemony, is that it is self-sustaining. People enjoy fairly conservative lives, even if they enjoy incredibly dynamic and chaotic lives. If society is living, then it seeks homeostasis.

    Thus, broad restructuring is only a conceivable option when the costs of not doing a damn thing outweigh the benefits. But due to the fact that opportunity costs are impossible to define, it is highly susceptible to manipulation, especially by those who have greater power.

    I agree with FiD: individual action is necessary in a postmodern society, in Zizek’s particularistic views.

    But I disagree with him too. Currently it is too easy to construct his acts as vanguard elitism, because he is doing it for the sake of catalyzing some social change, hence changing everyone else’s experience. He knows the route, whereas everyone else does not. In seeking this route, I think the best actions are to yield to Zizek’s particularism: do it because it benefits YOU or for the sake of doing it — don’t go into it hoping to influence others.

    In this spirit I think postmodern power operates. FiD might think Foucault is dead, but in this sense his ghost continues to haunt theory: what IS the shape of without power? Is it equal distribution amongst everyone? Is it a constant power vacuum? He seems to want to lead the way to a world devoid of assigned gender norms, but in doing so he exercises power. He cries, “the means justify the ends!” And I think in doing so, he may be using the outmoded tools of modernity.

    Jonathan Reiter

    July 28, 2007 at 1:16 am

  2. This book is interesting with regard to the “necessity” of our current family structure:

    http://www.zonebooks.org/titles/HUAC_SOC.html

    larvalsubjects

    August 6, 2007 at 10:32 pm


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