Sunday, October 17, 2010

Zizek again, and Badiou. No dinner this time.

I saw them again the next day in a different context. The audience overlap was small, which says something about the relations of intellectual to political life in the US. As I've said before, the self-imposed isolation of the art world and US academia parallel each other, when they don't overlap. But neither Badiou or Zizek are American. It says something also about the relationship of philosophers to the arts that the art they choose to engage is as middling and pretentious in it's way as the art of those who pretend to engage them. Diderot's favorite artist was Greuze. Aloni's speech made me cringe. Apparently he can't talk "as a Palestinian" to a Palestinian student who described to him, with shame, how he once hit his sister for flirting with a boy, but he can talk to him about feminism, since feminism is universal. Later he tried, with limited success, to lead the audience in a chant. Still he was careful to note the perversity of Waltz With Bashir.

I have a hard time with kitsch especially when it's well meaning. Foregrounding intentionality, or sincerity, is more than foregrounding bias -honest observation is always biased- it puts the author/observer before his observations; its focus is on the teller not the tale. Kitsch is always narcissistic and Aloni at one point, in an aside the context of which I've forgotten and in an act of feigned humility, called himself "too much of a narcissist to..." (and here my mind goes blank).

Badiou made a boilerplate speech on humanist values and the importance the the Palestinian struggle. Zizek was the only one of the three to deal with the history of anti-semitism and its relation to Zionist and Israeli ideology. And as he had the night before he referred to Kant's model of public reason, this time specifically to deny that it could ever refer to the language of nationalism. So he made no reference to a Palestinian state but only to democracy. The only way to fight nationalist ideology is fight for something else.

The symposium was sponsored by the Friends of The Jenin Freedom Theater. It would have been interesting to hear from Juliano Mer-Khamis, though apparently he was at the evening screening. If I'm not capable of sitting through either Forgiveness or Arna's Children in their entirety the reasons have nothing to do with one another. (The full movie is below.)

Zizek is wrong about public reason. "There is no such thing as 'public reason'. Reason is always private. What there is is 'public form'." [And again] The focus on reason maintains a focus on the reasoning person as individual, on the subject rather than the subject at hand, and the means. As with the trolley problems discussed in the previous post, the focus on problems ignores the problem of others, and their perceptions. "Ask the fat man if he sees a moral difference between being killed by hand or by push-button."

Related: The Extended Mind. As I've said before. "the limits... are pretty clear: If my arm is an extension of my mind, is my hand like a fork? " In some ways it is and we can play games with semantics and argue preference. The only reason it interests me is for what it means as history. The attempt by Chalmers et al. to extend the the mind into the world is another example, like Kant's, Rawls' and now Zizek's public reason, of philosophers trying to expand individualism outwards to encompass the world. And trying to expand philosophy now (as experimental philosophy does also in other ways) is more than anything a response to the increasing sense of a world moving inwards, to encompass us. Zizek tries to deal with this as an individualist obsessed with morality.

If language as a tool is part of me and language preexists me, am I part of language? The less hyperbolic (and therefore more disturbing) way to put it would be to show simply how we're constructs of culture, less individuals than tokens, and that the best route to an earned rather than assumed individuality is to examine others through the common means we share. Most documentaries are bad art because most documentarians refuse to understand that all art is documentary, of the author's relation to the world and the other. Most academic intellectual prose is hopeless in the world at large because it focuses on the world at large and the authorial Cogito is both assumed and ignored. Zizek and those he follows focus on the self and try to imagine a union of self and other as a super-moral-self. But in both cases the self is central, is the center. My argument continues to be that focusing on observation and articulate description in common language -the craft of writing, cinema or any other form- are more richly communicative than anything produced with the false confidence of the Cartesian "I". Close observation, close reading, undermines labels and assumptions. Generalizations and "ideas" left to their own devices slowly become anti-political assumption. Close description, read closely by others, is the highest form of intellectual and political exchange.
The failure of Israel is the last failure of the modernist project, the project of expanding rationality and reason. The fact that so many who self-identify as enlightened, as intellectuals, are unwilling to see the facts before them is proof of our inability to look beyond our assumptions and our fears, proof that our consciousness by default is more product than producer. In the second half of the 20th century in the western imagination Palestinians were the heirs of the Nazis, when that label more closely fit the Nazi's greatest victims. Israelis are the abused children of Germany and their state was built in its image. The Nakba was 62 years ago. The occupation of the west bank began 43 years ago. These facts are not new, except to the people who have been able to ignore them, refusing to describe, choosing to assume, operating on faith.

Arna's Children



A little more on Zizek and Badiou, at the end here

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