Tease

Molly Klein is working on a piece for First that links Trump’s spectacles to “a war on rationality that began in Baltimore in 1966 with the Johns Hopkins conference on structuralism/post-structuralism, which introduced the mountebanks Lacan and Derrida to US academia.” In the meantime, here’s a taste from her recent demolition of Slavoj Žižek, “The Protocols of the Learned Lacanian of Slovitzie,” published this year in a Belgrade academic journal. Klein’s clarity about “ecstasy of the bullying” makes her a national resource for Americans in our time of the Don. 

[Žižek’s] “mittel-European philosopher” persona is capable of little dissident enunciation beyond kvetching about “hedonistic” kids today and hippie-punching “the identitarian left”, but he will – and this is the crowd-pleasing shtick – also thrill his downwardly mobile petty bourgeois audience by dropping the mask of bourgeois civility to voice their ressentiment in naughty ways that rile them up. This usually involves ventriloquism or “sock-puppetry”, often of a very sophisticated kind where the position of enunciation is always shifting. The tactic is not original, and among the inspirations for Žižek’s signature abuse and obscenity we can almost certainly number “Nightwatch”, a regular Sunday feature in Delo,  the major Slovene daily, consisting of the latest sensational headlines (crime, atrocity, scandal) stirred into the weekly complaints of “the Barflies” – Archie Bunker s/Alf Garnetts of Ljubljana’s popular classes…

The barflies themselves and the liberal persona of the author who conveys their brutish opinions are equally fictional constructs, (albeit not equally avowedly) and the interplay of their points of view generates the varied desired effects of normalizing, demonizing, disavowed articulation, etc.; the liberal authorial persona, creature and creator of tolerance and civility, perplexed by the task of managing a world with barflies in it, is himself an illusion far more effectively created indirectly, by implied contrast to the barflies, than he could be as the result of positive portraiture. Žižek is especially deft at the management of multiple voices to produce these illusions, on a much more elaborate scale. Like “Nightwatch’s” author, while his remarkably frequent (and repetitive to self-plagiarizing) publications “incorporate ever newer current events and popular cultural phenomena” Žižek often is compelled to express at length repugnant sentiments he frequently attributes to a range of conjured stereotypes, sympathy with whom he (unconvincingly) disavows as he relishes the enunciation of effrontery or the pleasure of contemptuous caricature…

One example of the dissemination of reactionary content equipped with this type of alibi, deploying “fetishistic disavowal” to facilitate the function of the Barfly ventriloquism, ought suffice:

In a recent comment in Le Point, Jacques-Alain Miller pointed out how Sarah Palin, contrary to Segolene Royal’s masculinity, proudly displays her femininity and motherhood. She has a “castrating” effect on her male opponents not by way of being more manly than them [sic], but by using the ultimate feminine weapon, the sarcastic put-down of a puffed-up male authority – she knows that male “phallic” authority is a posture, a semblance to be exploited and mocked. Recall how she mocked Obama as a “community organizer,” exploiting the fact that there was something sterile in Obama’s physical appearance, with his diluted black skin, slender features, and big ears.

The “superego’s” proper public enunciation here is to condemn the odious celebrity Barfly Sarah Palin of course. Under cover of this condemnation of the genuinely condemnable figure, Žižek provides the “obscene” pleasure for his white audience of a rather shocking revival of the lurid phantasmagoria of biologistic racism and the image of the future US President as a “sterile” mule/mulatto whose blackness envisioned as a kind of essence is “diluted.” That the mechanism by which this racist pleasure is blamed on Palin is transparently absurd (“community organizer” may be belittling and “castrating” – the violent image around which Žižek constructs his grotesquely obscene dog-whistle – but does not conjure the myth of mulatto sterility, and even if it did it cannot account for Žižek’s positive assertion of all the evocative imagery of 19th century race theory in his insistence on “the fact that there is something ….diluted black skin”) underscores the deftness of Žižek’s operations. Although his motions here are obvious as can be, as is his delectation in exposing this unsightly conception, they are still protected from criticism or objection from the “leftist” readers, who would be implicating themselves in “defending Sarah Palin” and even “defending Sarah Palin’s racism” if they were to challenge Žižek’s obscene flashing here. This is very clever, canny rhetorical manipulation, proceeding under the flaunted shield of ad hoc, spontaneous associations and disorganization. And this overt racist aggression, in public but behind this forcefield of his always-granted benefit of the doubt, is the thrill with which Žižek seduces and converts a segment of imperial core “lefts”; the very flimsiness of the cover story, and yet its adequacy, is part of the ecstasy of the bullying, evoking the fantasy of a Jim Crow environment.

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