Slavoj Zizek on Violence

…ugliness today is a sign and symptom of great transformations to come.

– C.G. Jung on Joyce

Contempt, it turns out, was assimilable to democracy. In fact, rather than subverting democracy, it assisted it by making generally available to the low as well as to the high a strategy of indifference in the treatment of others.

– William Ian Miller, The Anatomy of Disgust

Reading this work of Zizek, ‘Violence‘, awakens in me something old and dangerous, a realization that the power of rhetoric and the dialectic serve each other as either violent partners to an ongoing crime, or as the secret accomplices of a two-thousand year old murder and of the guilt that comes with such monstrous actions. The violence of language is at the forefront of this unique work. Zizek uses every tool at his disposal to bring philosophical speculation down into the street. He is no frigid academic whose prose, grey and analytic, distills truths that are so abstract and cold to be almost useless. No, Zizek opens up the guts of the world, spills out the grotesque humor of our dark heritage in all its disgusting glory, and offers us no absolution but the truth of our own inescapable complicity in a crime we commit daily by both our action and inaction, by our failure to solve the riddle of democracy.

According to a well-known anecdote, a German officer visited Picasso in his Paris studio during the Second World War. There he saw Guernica and, shocked at the modernist “chaos” of the painting, asked Picasso: “Did you do this?” Picasso calmly replied: “No, you did this!” Today, many a liberal, when faced with violent outbursts such as the recent looting in the suburbs of Paris, asks the few remaining leftists who still count on a radical social transformation: “Isn’t it you who did this? Is this what you want?” And we should reply, like Picasso: “No, you did this! This is the true result of your politics! (V 11)”1

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Slavoj Zizek: Description without Place

In her memoirs, Anna Akhmatova describes what happened to her when, at the height of the Stalinist purges, she was waiting in the long queue in front of the Leningrad prison to learn about her arrested son Lev:

One day somebody in the crowd identified me. Standing behind me was a young woman, with lips blue from the cold, who had of course never heard me called by name before. Now she started out of the torpor common to us all and asked me in a whisper (everyone whispered there), “Can you describe this?” And I said, “I can.” Then something like a smile passed fleetingly over what had once been her face.

The key question, of course, is what kind of description is intended here? Surely it is not a realistic description of the situation, but what Wallace Stevens called “description without place,” which is what is proper to art. This is not a description which locates its content in a historical space and time, but a description which creates, as the background of the phenomena it describes, an inexistent (virtual) space of its own, so that what appears in it is not an appearance sustained by the depth of reality behind it, but a decontextualised appearance, an appearance which fully coincides with real being. To quote Stevens again: “What it seems it is and in such seeming all things are.” Such an artistic description “is not a sign for something that lies outside its form.”  Rather, it extracts from the confused reality its own inner form in the same way that Schoenberg “extracted” the inner form of totalitarian terror. He evoked the way this terror affects subjectivity.

– Slavoj Zkizek, Violence