Monday, 16 March 2009

Zizek is not simply itself: some thoughts on the 'communist hypothesis'

This is still in a rough draft stage, but I am putting it up anyway and will add/modify when I have time.

Some of the highlights of the Communism conference this weekend are Zizek's retorts in general discussion, which I must admit, as much as I might disagree with him on some points. To the suggestion, advanced by Badiou and others, that there is no 'outside', that it is impossible to construct an outside to capitalism today, that everything is by now fully subsumed within the logic of capital, Zizek summed up his proto-Hegelian reply with "Capitalism is not simply itself".

Well, duh. Isn't this Marx's whole point? All those internal differences, contradictions, inconsistencies - are they not simply to show that 'capitalism is not simply itself"?

Yet this is where Zizek is fundamentally mistaken on Deleuze. For if, as Zizek claims (and has proclaimed during the conference), we have to abandon the notion that 'history is on our side', or if the emergence of communism out of capitalist society is no longer simply a matter of developing productive forces and moving history forward toward this ineluctable goal, do we not then have to abandon Hegelian dialectics - the 'false movement' of negativity - altogether in favour of Deleuze's notion of the virtual?

Is this not precisely the difference between Hegelian dialectics and the Deleuzian virtual: while Hegelian dialectics is dependent on a certain inertia or movement of history where for traditional Marxists communism is simply the 'development' of capitalism, the virtual - 'real without being actual' - must be actively struggled for at every step and made spatially possible in order to become actual, or to actualize itself. It is never inevitable or determined in advance, but always contingent on the spatio-temporal conditions of the actual: history must be made.

It is here that Deleuze's intervention - the splicing of Proustian poetics with the Darwinian notion of 'actualization' - is crucial. If we are to take seriously Zizek's pronouncement and if communism should no longer be conceived as the inevitable dialectical end of capitalism, its presence within capitalism must be conceived as the virtual 'not itself' of the capitalist idea, its internal difference. The split between the virtual and the actual means that it is never a matter of simple contingency (what Deleuze calls the 'possible' as opposed to the virtual), or of dialectical necessity.

Unlocking the revolutionary potential of a situation in this sense is equivalent to creating the conditions necessary for the expression of a gene (the virtual). There is no linear progression at stake, and it is not a matter of historical development, but simply dynamic and volatile spatial reorganization which is responsive to change and can always change direction when the conditions are right: "the world is an egg, but the egg itself is a theatre: a staged theatre in which the roles dominate the actors, the spaces dominate the roles and the Ideas dominate the spaces."

Capitalism may generate contradictions, and may have a tendency to produce the conditions of its own downfall, but this negative space should not be mistaken for the path to communism. The actual expression of the communist Idea as the internal difference of capitalism is not simply the effect of a negation (this is the mistake of dialectics), but an act dependent on concrete will, as suggested in Peter Hallward's paper at the conference, 'Communism of the Intellect, Communism of the Will': "the virtues of the communist idea are distinct from anti-capitalism. Anti-capitalism concedes too much to the idea of capitalism." Internal difference is not a contradiction actualized in the unfolding of an idea, it is there in the beginning, it is a difference and an antagonism that precludes and precedes identity and the negative.

There are two ways one could explain Zizek's turnaround. On one hand, this could be simply further insight into Zizek's polemical approach, which is to win every argument by adopting theoretically inconsistent positions on different issues if necessary, so long as the inconsistency is not immediately obvious in the moment. On the other, it could be a complex case of philosophical parapraxis, indicating Zizek's secret wish to reconcile with his philosophical father, Deleuze. (hehe)

Hardt and Negri's papers both dealt with the notion of the common in some form and, for Hardt especially, the necessity (for the actualization of the communist idea) of producing the common. What is crucial here is the opposition of the socialist model (top-down, statist) to the communist one (the common as commonly produced); which is echoed in Zizek's interpolation that, especially in view of the current financial crisis and government responses to it, the future will be either socialist (Keynesian, perhaps?) or communist.

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