On Slavoj Žižek: The Stranger in our Midst

The true question is not “are immigrants a real threat to Europe?”, but “what does this obsession with the immigrant threat tell us about the weakness of Europe?”
– Slavoj Žižek: What our fear of refugees says about Europe

First is their such a unity as ‘Europe’ anymore? And, to describe it as having a ‘weakness’ concerning an “obsession with the immigrant threat” tells us what exactly? Zizek, as usual, sets up a straw dog, a fictional entity against which he can begin an argument not about the economic entity known as the EU, nor of any of its member nations and their present immigration policies and politics, but rather he will draw a Lacanian comparison of psychopathology telling us this problem is like that of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy whose anti-Semitism will serve Zizek as a notation form current anti-Islamic ideology throughout many countries of the European nations.

This so to speak ideology is based on two dimensions he’ll tell us: fear “against the Islamization of Europe…”; and,  the other dimension is the humanitarian idealization of refugees. And, like the liberal democrat socialist that he’s become of late he’ll tell us of these various nations of Europe that there “is no place for negotiated compromise here; no point at which the two sides may agree”. As if this was just a matter of bringing people to the table for a nice chat, a friendly talk over the fine points of sociopathy and psychopathological inhumanity; as if we could just reason together and come up with a universal solution viable for all, etc. In fact, as he’ll suggest the task before us is none other than “to talk openly about all the unpleasant issues without a compromise with racism”. Listen to that sentence carefully “all the unpleasant issues” without “compromise with racism”, as if we should admit to ourselves openly there are unpleasant issues that must be brought out into the open without pulling us back into the old fascisms of scapegoating and exclusion that have dominated European politics for millennia; with the hint of WWII and the Nazi holocaust shadowing over all of this table talk.

Instead we should put the shoe on the other foot, why not bring the one’s in question to the table for a talk in this manner too? Zizek never even mentions such a breach in the political etiquette of negotiations, instead he mentions that arch conservative Catholic G.K. Chesterton who will remonstrate humans as the alienated animal, the animal that is not at home on earth, not at home in their body, but rather a “stranger” and alien in the midst of those nonhuman creatures we share this planet with. Then he’ll  bring it down to this notion of one’s culture, one’s “way of life” – custom, habit, law, ethics, etc., all those things that form and shape our lives in a life-world. What Lacan would call our Symbolic Order within which we move and breath like automatons of some vast network of power and knowledge (Foucault). Finally he admonishes that the “point is thus not to recognise ourselves in strangers, but to recognise a stranger in ourselves – therein resides the innermost dimension of European modernity. The recognition that we are all, each in our own way, weird lunatics, provides the only hope for a tolerable co-existence of different ways of life.”

So is this it? Is this the wisdom of Zizek? We should honor the lunacy of our stance, that seeing the stranger in ourselves is allowing the lunatic out into the light of day? As if admitting we are all raving lunatics we’ll suddenly learn to tolerate those strangers in our midst and their way of life. What wisdom is this? Has Zizek turned preacher, a sort of soap-box speaker dreaming of peace and kumbaya? We should all dance and sing around the lunatic table of our strangerhood and become brothers, sisters, children of the greater light of toleration and co-existence because of our acknowledgement of lunacy and strangerhood?

Maybe I’m a little more realistic… lunacy usually leads to dire and dark places, more violent and atrocity ridden than Zizek on his good days might imagine. I remember reading from his book, Violence another truth that is more likely to remain and cause further division:

The fundamental divide is one between those included in the sphere of (relative) economic prosperity and those excluded from it.1

That’s the real divide in all European nations, the divide between those who have and those who do not, the prosperous and the excluded poor, migrant, refugee, worker, proletariat, precarious citizen, etc. Do you think they might actually come together over that? Or, even better let all those excluded in their midst have the ability to speak for themselves at this table of economic and social negotiation? Offer all those excluded strangers in their midst, both citizen or refugee, a way to gain a real life worth living rather than just a tolerable co-existence in the midst of degradation and corruption? Maybe they should just wipe the entire debt system, start fresh, open those hidden books of the corrupt bankers in their midst, all those rich plutocrats and oligarchs, politicians and statesman, etc. who have imposed generations of austerity on the poor and excluded.


 

  1. Zizek, Slavoj (2008-07-22). Violence (BIG IDEAS//small books) (p. 102). Picador. Kindle Edition.

2 thoughts on “On Slavoj Žižek: The Stranger in our Midst

  1. It’s my first term commenting here, so first of all thankyou for your speculations and mind-blinding prolificness! I’ve been an avid reader for a few months now.

    I would suggest you’re being a little unkind Zizek here. The opposition he suggests is the one that as TIqqun, would say run’s right through the middle of each contemporary subject. Rather that speak about the vast inequity, in this piece he’s turning towards the western liberal subject, the one that sets up a kind of false dialectic, a Satrean bad faith in order to Remain in control of the situation. Rather than practise a kind of reverse anthropology as David Graeber suggest we must do, instead the Western subject either responds thru a guilt ridden injunction or a recourse to intolerance and hatred. I would suggest Zizek is attempting a certain kind of de territorializing here, a confrontation of the fascist within, who thru the layer of cultural assumptions and socially inscribed normativities sticks to the script – the script being “you’re either with us or against us” Zizek is recognizing where power lies in such conversations, it lies with those have it, and as such this fake dialectic is purely rhetorical, enforcing the status quo of thought and action, as the strange messy unpleasantness of wildly different cultural difference are never able to be brought into play.

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    • Not believing in the Subject, but rather in subjectivation I’m not an affirmer of Zizek’s dialectical pretensions to materialism; or, should we say his absolute Idealism that seeks materialism in the gap or break or cut between his Subject and the Real, etc. Oh, yes, I’ve written on him for years now, but to me he is a staid liberal middle-of-the-Road thinker… His reading of this situation as I suggested does not go far enough… he only attacks the superficial truth of his own mirrored ideological stance based on his Lacanian universe of lack, etc. Instead of attacking the actual problem of the economics that underpins the whole EU conflict, he attacks the image of the problem rather than its violence. Not being a dialectician to me his luke warm diagnosis is just that, superficial at best and leaves off at the point where a true critique should begin. What bothers me about Zizek is that he is almost non-committal, almost as if he is more concerned that he stick with his grounding in Lacanian ideology than in addressing things himself. He is always speaking through the lens of theory rather than speaking from his own heart on the matters at hand… as if he were at one remove, and were no longer dealing with real actual human beings, but numbers and as you say “conversations”.

      Behind all this is real actual human suffering that must be addressed. Both of the refugees and the poor and excluded humans under austerity all over Europe. So yes I’ll be unkind to man who supposedly stands for the Left. We need more from such thinkers than this luckwarm mishmash of overloaded Lacanian backwash material and repeats… It’s as if as he has grown older he’s become lazier and lazier in his thinking, rehashing the same old, same old… as if it were too much effort to deal with actual issues.

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