Leigh Alexander and Slavoj Zizek

A reminder that this talk by Leigh Alexander exists:

She makes the following claim quite near the end of her talk:

“…we need to trigger that panic response that gives birth to new societies.”

And a quote from Slavoj Zizek in this NY Review of Books piece on his two newest ones:

“The Khmer Rouge were, in a way, not radical enough: while they took the abstract negation of the past to the limit, they did not invent any new form of collectivity.”

Perhaps, just perhaps, Zizek is not literally advocating mass murder and class-based genocide… perhaps he’s trying to evoke the “panic response” that Leigh is talking about. But I don’t know, I’m no Zizek expert. Interesting parallel anyway.

Pity the NYRB review is so down on him and his stuff, despite (seemingly?) giving it a pretty fair shake. I’m pretty interested in ideas with novelty at the moment, so I’m inclined to at least entertain Zizek’s weird “violent visions”. Maybe that makes me horribly complicit, but so far it’s entirely imaginary violence.

Addendum: in ‘Slavoj Zizek responds to his critics‘, Zizek excoriates the NY Review’s selective quotation and says his own position is the absolute opposite of what they describe. I had hoped this was the case, and reading some of the longer quotations that Zizek posts in reply is illuminating. For Zizek, violence is not the typically straightforward planting-of-fist-into-face, but instead is more about an abstract imposition of force. With this knowledge, it’s clearly easy to see how and why Zizek can label Ghandi the “more violent” than either of Hitler and the Khmer Rouge:

Instead of directly attacking the colonial state, Gandhi organized movements of civil disobedience, of boycotting British products, of creating social space outside the scope of the colonial state. One should then say that, crazy as it may sound, Gandhi was more violent than Hitler. The characterization of Hitler which would have him as a bad guy, responsible for the death of millions, but nonetheless a man with balls who pursued his ends with an iron will is not only ethically repulsive, it is also simply wrong: no, Hitler did not “have the balls” really to change things. All his actions were fundamentally reactions: he acted so that nothing would really change; he acted to prevent the Communist threat of a real change. His targeting of the Jews was ultimately an act of displacement in which he avoided the real enemy—the core of capitalist social relations themselves. Hitler staged a spectacle of Revolution so that the capitalist order could survive – in contrast to Gandhi whose movement effectively endeavored to interrupt the basic functioning of the British colonial state.

I find that a rather more compelling vision of ‘violence’ than the typical. It also gels with how I think of Leigh Alexander – a ‘violent’ person but not in the punchy sort of way – as a person willing and able to “do violence” (of the Zizekian sort) to “trigger [the] panic response that gives birth to new societies.”