What’s Z say on Israeli-Palestinian relations?

January 2, 2009

Happy New Year to all…

Does anyone off the top of their head know how Z weighs in on this or where he speaks at length on it? I’m certain he speaks of it in his books, but I never really paid all that much attention to it. I haven’t read his ‘Violence’ yet – he must say something there, right?

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19 Responses to “What’s Z say on Israeli-Palestinian relations?”

  1. The Universal Singular said

    He does talk about it in ‘Violence’; also in ‘Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle’ and ‘Welcome to the Desert of the Real’.

  2. The Universal Singular said

    Chapter 5 in Desert of the Real is the best reference for this, I think.

  3. Joe said

    Zizek’s discussion of Isreali-Palastinian relations is one of my favorite parts of Violence. In many ways it reminds me of Marx’s “On The Jewish Question,” which had a similar discussion of the emancipation of a minority religious group (Jews) in the context of a dominant State religion (Christian State). For Zizek, as for Marx, the answer is really for both sides to let go.

    So to the big question: what would be the truly radical ethico-political act today in the Middle East? For both Israelis and Arabs, it would consist in the gesture of renouncing (political) control of Jerusalem, that is, of endorsing the transformation of the Old Town of Jerusalem into an extra-state place of religious worship controlled (temporarily) by some neutral international force. What both sides should accept is that by renouncing political control of Jerusalem, they are effectively renouncing nothing. They are gaining the elevation of Jerusalem into a genuinely extra-political, sacred site. What they would lose is precisely and only what already, in itself, deserves to be lost: the reduction of religion to a stake in political power play. This would be a true event in the Middle East, the explosion of true political universality in the Paulinian sense of ‘there are for us no Jews and no Palestinians.’ Each of the two sides would have to realize that this renunciation of the ethnically ‘pure’ nation-state is a liberation for themselves, not simply a sacrifice to be made for the other. (127)

    Then, in the next paragraph, Zizek goes on to confirm the allusion he makes when he argues for both sides to let go. It’s regarding the story from Kings I 3:16-18 where King Solomon has to decide who, between two women in a dispute, is the mother of a child. He suggests cutting the child in half, so each of the two women would have one, but the true mother gives up the baby in order to save it.

  4. The Universal Singular said

    To that, I think the element of displacement needs to be added; specifically, the displacement of class struggle:

    “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, in the most radical sense of the term, a false conflict, a lure, an ideological displacement of the ‘true’ antagonism” (Welcome to the Dessert of the Real, p. 131).

    “There is, then, an ‘Arab question’, in almost the same way as there was a ‘Jewish question’: is not the Arab-Jewish tension the ultimate proof of the continuing ‘class struggle’ in a displaced, mystified, ‘post-political’ form of the conflict between Jewish ‘cosmopolitanism’ and the Muslim rejection of modernity? In other words, what if the recurrence of anti-Semitism in today’s globalized world provides the ultimate truth of the old Marxist insight that the only true ‘solution’ to this ‘question’ is Socialism?” (Ibid, p. 134).

    And, adding to that, Zizek suggests (in ‘Violence’) that the disturbing element of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that Israel is a state that has not yet “obliterated the ‘founding violence’ of its ‘illegitimate’ origins, repressed from them in a timeless past. In this sense, what the state of Israel confronts us with is merely the obliterated past of every state power” (p. 117).

    Based on this, I would argue that the way to approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to reset the co-ordinates of the dispute so that the conflict is brought back to the central social antagonism of class struggle (and not a racial/cultural/religious/etc. struggle between Jews and Arabs). In arguing this, I believe that the conflict should not be discussed in any terms other than that of class struggle.

    In this way, it is not a matter of the plight of Jews or Arabs, but the universal struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat! Any and every state is nothing more than the political-legal apparatus of class rule (it’s just that other liberal democratic states have managed to repress their founding violence better than Israel).

  5. Joe said

    Singular,

    I agree with you about shifting the terms from religious or ethnic struggle to class struggle, which is why I recommended “On The Jewish Question.” There Marx is turning the critique of religion (a la Bruno Bauer) into the critique of political economy, and it is absolutely amazing.

    In terms of the realization of the proletariat, I also suggest reading Marx’s introduction to “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” which conveniently enough follows the other essay in the Marx-Engels Reader. At the same time, Marx is using the critique of political economy as the basis of his own theological critique of Judaism and (ultimately Jewish in his mind) Christianity. It is along these lines that I think a lot of interesting cooperation has been forged between religious thinkers and Marxists, especially Zizek, who I see attempting to set up a similar critique with regards to “Western Buddhism.”

    The kind of points Marx makes about political emancipation in light of and State religion are also interesting to consider in light of the paradoxes Zizek highlights about religiosity (or the lack thereof) in Israel.

  6. The Universal Singular said

    Agreed on “On the Jewish Question”.

  7. sonnyburnett said

    Many thanks on the references.

    Zizek does talk about ideological displacements of the ‘true’ antagonism regarding many issues. And if he does name this ‘true’ antagonism, he’ll usually name it ‘class struggle’, as we would expect given his marxist background.

    But ever notice that this ‘truth’ of the ‘class struggle’ is usually put in quotation marks? Why is this?

    Zizek’s topology simply calls for this treatment. For Z, you can’t approach ‘class struggle’ directly. You can’t isolate it, point to it, delineate any substantial content in regards to it.

    What you can do is what he does: Point out how an existing ideology masks the underlying ‘true’ situation, whcih can ONLY BE articulated via this ideological displacement.

    This is why, when Z gets the his ‘final’ solution, his reading of the proper 3rd (Hegelian) dialectical step, he uses words like ‘experience’ or ‘renounce’ or ‘let go’ (Joe) or ‘realize’…

    This ‘(class) antagonism’ is a Nothing. Nevertheless, a necessity for every analysis to isolate, yet contingent in whatever ‘false’ form it ‘ultimately’ takes.

    He is calling for a ‘perspectival’ change here, as he always prescribes.

    This is Z’s innovative contribution to philosophy. To social analysis.

    Otherwise, he says nothing that other marxists haven’t already been saying for decades, even about this Israeli-Palestinian issue. Imagine walking into peace talks with the attitude of ‘we need to reveal to both parties that their true fight is misplaced. That it is REALLY about capitalist exploitation.’ You’d get eyes rolling & heads shaking: ‘Another marxist ranter, full of his ideological marxist rhetoric!’ and they would have a point.

    ‘Class anatagonism’ is ‘true’, but you could never say so so directly. They would have every right to point out to you that you are a victim of your own false ideological system every bit as much as you claim them to be duped by their own ideological system. They would read your words & point out how YOU forgot to include your own subjective position in the analysis.

    This is what Zizek endeavors to account for in the very form of his text, thru his use of quotation marks, italics, his use of three parts & chapters in his books, his various scansions of his own text…

    By doing so, he ‘identifies’ with this inherent antagonism of his own text, which is the only guarantee that what he is saying is the ‘truth’, and not because marx or any other tapped into the essence of the matter. Marx’s ‘class antagonism’ works as the ‘truth’ of our socio-economic condition because it ‘directly’ addresses antagonism, but simply saying so absolves one from the true work of an analysis.

  8. The Universal Singular said

    (More later, but just one thing I want to point out) In my opinion, class antagonism is not just about ‘our socio-economic condition’, it has more to do with a political-ideological (as well as cultural) relation between those who rule a society and those who are ruled. The economic infrastructure is a means of extracting wealth from those who are ruled in order to maintain the social rule of the dominating political-cultural class.

  9. sonnyburnett said

    When I say ‘class’, I have in back of my mind the Resnick & Wolff’s definition of the term:

    the production, appropriation & distribution of surplus labor.

    So class is distinctly an ECONOMIC term for this Althusserian school (the one I got my marxist grounding in).

    Any other processes that are not DIRECTLY associated with the extraction of this surplus, but support it nonetheless (the so-called ‘superstructure’: religious, ideological, cultural etc processes) indirectly would, in this marxist school, be NON-class processes.

    So when I think of ‘class antagonism’, for me, strictly speaking, it’s involved only with the direct capitalist extraction of the economic surplus.

    But your point is well acknowledged even with Resnick/Wolff: these non-class processes are instrumental for the class process of extraction. Without the former, the exploitation involved with the latter could not take place.

  10. The Universal Singular said

    “Imagine walking into peace talks with the attitude of ‘we need to reveal to both parties that their true fight is misplaced. That it is REALLY about capitalist exploitation.’ You’d get eyes rolling & heads shaking: ‘Another marxist ranter, full of his ideological marxist rhetoric!’ and they would have a point.”

    Doesn’t this very attitude point to the fact that class struggle IS in fact being displaced? Shouldn’t, then, a proper political act be to highlight this element, of displaced class struggle. In this way, wouldn’t the Israel-Palestine conflict help to point out the repressed founding violence of EVERY state: the founding violence which represses the class struggle?

    Here, again, I’m talking about class struggle, not necessarily in terms of socio-economic status. Yes, class is used as a social-economic term, but couldn’t it be argued that it was Marx’s critique of the capitalist economy that allowed him to uncover the subject of history: class struggle? Isn’t the proletariat the ‘non-Class’ amongst the fully formed classes? In this way, still, it is the exploitation (or disavowal/displacement) of the proletariat (the social symptom/the universal singular) that which sustains the rule of the dominating class?

    I always see (social-political) analysis as trying to interpret the material symptoms of class antagonism, such as the various -isms or -phobias (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc…) – all the things that identity politics talks about. The difference is that, to paraphrase Terry Eagleton, when Socialism comes there will still be women, there will still be people of colour, there will still be (so-called) queer sexuality (although a psychoanalyst might want to debate this point)… but there will no longer be proletarians!

    I think that a Zizekian supplement to the Althusserian economic reductionism (determination of the economy in the last instance, for example) is the ‘proto-‘ ideological level of commodity fetishism which sets up the objective conditions of the economy. So that before we can talk about the distinction between the illusion of political ideology and the reality of capitalist economic exploitation, we have to account for the proto-ideological level of commodity fetishism which sutures the symbolic (i.e. intersubjective) chain of the objective capitalist economy.

    In order for the capitalist economy to function, its constituents have to have some kind of belief in the symbolic order, the big Other, of capitalism. That’s why money has to function like a fetish (S1): the single commodity is both a use value and an exchange value, but there is still a particular commodity, money, which stands for pure exchange value (here, I’m relying on parts of David Harvey’s ‘Limits to Capital’).

    It is this symbolic order (the economy as an objective social relation) which displaces the antagonism central to (capitalist) society: class struggle.

  11. sonnyburnett said

    I usually zone in on what I see as a ‘substantializing’ of some X in another’s text & then respond by critiquing that viewpoint, basically to say ‘That is not Zizekian’ or ‘That is precisely what Zizek is arguing against.’

    This X in the above text was ‘class antagonism’, so I’m trying to point out that the danger here is always to substantialize or essentialize this concept as THE final point that we can all stop our analysis & nod our heads in agreement.

    I read a dangerous flirtation with viewing the Real of our social relations in such a manner in the above text & I only wanted to discuss whether this is the correct Zizekian reading.

    I agree you can read Zizek’s text in such a manner. That is, you can take the standard marxist understanding of ‘class antagonism’ & say, ‘well, yes, at the end of the day, Zizek sees things like this as well. He can bark as well as any other marxist dogmatist.’

    But his discussion of Hegelian dialectical logic simply does not support this reading. I take the attitude like the author of that article BattleoftheGiants just posted for discussion. In her footnote 3, she states:

    “In the Preface to The Žižek Reader Žižek… makes clear his own personal ethic and preferences, for example, his avowed Marxism, and his adherence to the “emancipatory pathos of universal Truth,” but he necessarily must refrain from defending these as ultimate truths for he is himself a paradoxical Lacanian subject; the most he can do is to theorize according to his own theory.”

    This is basically my attitude as well, that Zizek’s marxist outlook on our world is marxist because it is, ultimately, his choice. His own jouissance is tied up in his project. This might be a crude way of putting it & strictly speaking, I think I could take the time to state it in a more (correctly) Zizekian way, but I’ll stand by it until someone can come by & point out how my own jouissance is tied up in this stance on how to read Zizek.

    Here’s the question I keep axing myself: Zizek is Lacanian. Lacanians, as a rule, are NOT political at all. I vividly recall Fink last November politely dismissing the question of Z’s political project when a student asked him about Zizek as ‘these are his concerns. They never really interested me’ (I’m paraphrasing).

    My question to you, is: How do we account for this? How do we account for the fact that these Lacanian analysts, presumably going thru their fundamental fantasies, do not engage in political projects as Z (and the few others in Slovenia) does?

    Is it simply that Z is enlightened to the Reality of our situation & these others are not? Do these others know of capitalist exploitation & ‘class antagonism’ and simply choose to ignore it?

    Or is the Reality of class antagonism to be questioned in a Zizekian way, a way that will lead us, ultimately, to the fact that via his topology, we must face that this is ultimately a contingent concept, one that we ourselves are a part of in choosing it as such?

  12. sonnyburnett said

    I should answer your top questions directly.

    You asked “Doesn’t this very attitude point to the fact that class struggle IS in fact being displaced?”

    Yes! Of course!

    You asked “Shouldn’t, then, a proper political act be to highlight this element, of displaced class struggle?”

    Yes again, but as long as you seek to highlight (or interpret) the very displacement as the critical factor to be ‘grasped’, to show its speculative identity with the ‘class antagonist’ object. The latter object must be experienced as a reflective determination of our (marxist) external reflective rants about how ‘class antagonism’ is the key to be grasped in any socio-economic analysis, one that in an external reflection keeps slipping away from us, again & again being displaced by other ideological, religious etc guises.

    (I just figured out how to bold & italicize in comments. I’m quite thrilled w/ myself).

  13. The Universal Singular said

    “How do we account for the fact that these Lacanian analysts, presumably going thru their fundamental fantasies, do not engage in political projects as Z (and the few others in Slovenia) does?”

    Very simple answer: they’re probably not Marxists!

    “Is it simply that Z is enlightened to the Reality of our situation & these others are not? Do these others know of capitalist exploitation & ‘class antagonism’ and simply choose to ignore it?”

    Again, a simple answer: Zizek is a Marxist.

    “Or is the Reality of class antagonism to be questioned in a Zizekian way, a way that will lead us, ultimately, to the fact that via his topology, we must face that this is ultimately a contingent concept, one that we ourselves are a part of in choosing it as such?”

    We ourselves DO choose it as such: don’t forget that Marxism is not a Weltanschaung, a total worldview; it is simply the worldview of the proletariat! It is a politics that speaks from the position of truth of the global proletariat. As a Lacanian, Zizek is simply using Lacanian psychoanalysis to re-interpret German Idealism and Marxist politics. This is not the project of all Lacanians.

    With regards to displacement: again, the point in the critique of ideology is not simply to uncover the reality behind illusion, but the reality IN illusion – that is, the proto-ideological element that is inherent in the structure of objective reality. That’s why, in the introduction to Parallax View, Zizek says that, “social antagonism (‘class struggle’) cannot be reduced to an effect of objective socio-economic forces” (p. 11); and elsewhere (in the Forward to the second edition of For They Know Not… and in one of the articles in Univesal Exception), that “The easiest way to detect ideological surplus-enjoyment in an ideological formation is to read it as a dream and analyse the displacement at work in it” (Universal Exception, p. 241).

    (Please do share on the bolding and italicizing!)

    • sonnyburnett said

      I’m wondering if you can comment more on this sentence of yours?

      “With regards to displacement: again, the point in the critique of ideology is not simply to uncover the reality behind illusion, but the reality IN illusion – that is, the proto-ideological element that is inherent in the structure of objective reality.”

      Reality in illusion is being likened to the proto-ideological element in objective reality.

      I’m not following this. It might be the way you arranged the terms here, but I’m either seeing you equate ‘Reality’ with the ‘proto-ideological element’ and ‘illusion’ with ‘objective reality’ or you conceive of the reverse as well: Not only ‘Reality in illusion’ but also the reverse, ‘the proto-ideological element’ [which is illusory] in ‘objective reality’.

      I’m sure I’m missing something obvious here. I’m essentially looking for a Zizekian accounting of ‘objective reality.’ That is, Z’s lesson from his German Idealist forefathers is that every ‘objective’ reality we encounter is (already) subjectively constituted. So ok, our experience is, we see the world the way it really is, even though we sense that it is not really just so. (Or ‘Everything depends upon me, nevertheless I can do nothing about it’).

      So marxists see the world the way it ‘really’ is – torn apart by ‘class antagonism’
      Some non-marxists do not. They see it ‘really’ another way.

      Has Z just given us a more clever repetition of ‘subjective relativity’? I don’t think so. But how can we express that it is not so, that for Z, things are ‘subjectively objective?’

      And because of your slothfulness of not retying & directing us to an outside text: a big fat NO! on your request for the bolding/italicizing secret.

      (There is a Lacanian reward of psychoanalytical insight in repetition, in failing to complete the task & thus having to do it all over again. Which is how I’m starting to view this blog-thing. Used to think of it as a colossal waste of time and horrified myself in my awareness of compulsively going back & re-reading, maybe re-editing, correcting for mistakes of grammar or of my thought and now it’s only to get worse now that I found the place to compose ‘Replies’ that allows you to edit & re-edit to my neurotic heart’s content. Ok then, here’s the secret: go to ‘My Dashboard’ then hit the number of comments link (currently 444) and that brings you to the magical editing page. If you are a compulsive neurotic like myself – welcome to my hell).

  14. The Universal Singular said

    Damn!!! I wrote out a whole other comment and accidentally deleted it. Instead of retyping it, see pp. 82-83 of Universal Exception on the use of the logics of sexuation to discuss class struggle. more later

  15. The Universal Singular said

    My quick answer is: not that objective reality is subjective, but that it is objectively subjective (and not the reverse).

    I am conceiving the proto-ideological element as the illusory element in objective reality.

    I’m pulling this from Zizek’s interpretation of commodity fetishism in Parallax View (in chapter three where he begins to discuss the difference between psychoanalysis and the cognitive brain sciences). Here, Zizek says:

    “What we find in Marx is not only the ‘reduction’ of ideology to an economic base, and within this base, of exchange and production, but a much more ambiguous and mysterious phenomenon of ‘commodity fetishism’, which designates a kind of proto- ‘ideology’ inherent to the reality of the ‘economic base’ itself.” (p. 170)

    Zizek relates this to Freud’s conception of the ‘objectively subjective’ in fantasy. He points out that, “Apropos of commodity fetishism, Marx himself uses the term ‘objectively necessary appearance'” (Ibid).

    The way I understand his use of ‘objectively subjective’ has to do with the social relation between people based on the suturing of the master-signifier in the symbolic order. Through a shared ‘belief’ in this element of suture (what I’ve been referring to as the proto-ideological element), the symbolic order is constituted and objective social relations are able to take place in ‘objective reality’.

    My point, is not that all objective reality is merely subjective (in order to escape solipsism this cannot be the case!), but that ‘objective reality’ relies on an inherent (shared?) illusion. So there is not simply ideology, on the one hand, and reality on the other. There is an (illusory) reality in illusion itself (here, I’m also drawing on Zizek’s discussion of The Matrix in Pervert’s Guide… the part where he says “I want a third pill!”).

    This is how a Marxist should approach the critique of (capitalist) ideology: locating the illusion constitutive of ‘objective reality’, like commodity fetishism.

    (thanks for the bold info)

  16. battleofthegiants said

    In his Lukacs essay Zizek writes that L took subjective relativism to its logical limit: there are not a ‘multitude’ of subjective positions, each of them right; there is one correct position, and it is that of the exploited classes. The correct position is that of the engaged subject, coming from the perspective of the void. This I think would qualify as ‘objectively subjective’.

    Ian Parker wrote a new preface to his ‘critical intro’ that I think Sonny-Bee will find interesting. He talks about how, coming from the perspective of clinical analysis, he misread some fundamental positions that Zizek takes – this also plays out in an interview Parker did, where he talks about the link between what is supposed to be an individual analysis (analysis) and a social analysis, a problem which you’ve brought up several times.

    http://zizekstudies.org/index.php/ijzs/issue/view/11

    (read the interview first – it’s chronologically first, though on the page second)

    In the interview Z talks about how he thinks that the subject is that which is without substance – i.e. Marx’s formulation of the proletariat; which I think is fully compatible with what I said above about Lukacs.

    Lastly, (I’ve mentioned this before), many Lacanian analysts, including J.A.M., were Maoists in the sixties. In Turkle’s book, it’s also clear that many Lacanians were political at the level of the anti-psychiatry movement at the same time. Z talks about politically conservative analysts in Parallax. Z is of course Married to a S. American analyst(/underwear model), and i wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find out that there are many politically active Lacanians down there. All this is to say that I don’t think we should take Fink as the measure.

    My personal take on “party as analyst”, when taken back into the realm of individual analysis, demands that the end of analysis turn the analysand into a political activist. The conditions under which you exist are not your own, but you are responsible for them, and the only way out is to act on that knowledge.

  17. The Universal Singular said

    Oh… don’t forget about “Interlude 2: Objet Petit a in Social Links, Or, the Impasses of Anti-Anti-Semitism” in The Parallax View.

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