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Zizek

I am sharing a piece written by Dr. Andre Goodrich (South African Anthropologist and author of “Biltong Hunting as a Performance of Belonging in Post-Apartheid South Africa” (2015)) focussing on the statue controversies in South Africa.


andre goodrich

Andre began with this observation on FaCeBOOK

Against my better judgement I tricked myself into agreeing to write something about the statue controversies for the local paper. The copy follows. Whether they print it is another story.

“In 2014 Tokolos Stencils, a Cape Town based group of graffiti activists sprayed the words ‘Disown this heritage’ in red across the base of Cape Town’s Paul Kruger Statue. The point that they were trying to make was that while statues of Kruger and other colonial figures might represent white South Africans’ heritage, black South Africans’ heritage is grounded in a protracted struggle against these figures and the social and political order they signify.

It was, however, Chumani Maxwele’s emptying of a bucket of human faeces onto the Rhodes statue on the University of Cape Town’s upper campus on 9 March 2015 and the ensuing media coverage of the Rhodes Must Fall Movement’s successful campaign to have Rhodes removed from UCT that has brought statues to the centre of a much broader discussion of contemporary South Africa. The Anglo Boer War memorial in Uitenhage was spectacularly necklaced on 2 April. On 7 April the Paul Kruger statue in Pretoria’s Church Square was spattered with paint and Port Elizabeth’s horse memorial was broken with a sledgehammer. On 10 April it was Queen Victoria’s turn. Her statue in Port Elizabeth was doused in green paint. It seems as if people all over SA have responded to Tokolos Stencils’s call to disown the heritage these statues represent.

Of course there are those who have felt the need in this period to take ownership of this heritage. Sunette Bridges and Steve Hofmeyr were at the forefront of a defence of what they see as their heritage. Bridges rather unconvincingly chained herself to one of the Church Square statues, sparking an avalanche of ’50 shades of khaki’ memes on social media while Hofmeyr delivered a speech talking up the importance of history to a true civilization. Setting aside the comedy of the chaining, of Hofmeyr’s penchant for malapropisms (his condemnation of the ‘deflowering’ of his heritage) and of their supporters smilingly holding their placards upside down on the front page of Beeld newspaper and we have a matter of some concern. Two relatively small activistic minorities, one wanting statues of colonial and apartheid figures removed, the other wanting them to remain. I think it is safe to say that most South Africans, by contrast, have no strong feelings one way or another, most think of statues as irrelevant.

Slavoj Zizek begins Tarrying with the Negative with the image of the Romanian flag waving after the fall of Ceausescu with the star, the symbol of the communist past cut out, leaving only a hole in the middle of the flag where the star used to be. He invokes this image to discuss the open situation, a situation in which one symbolic order has fallen and not new one has risen yet to take its place. My contention is that the open situation is desirable and for that reason we need to take both of these minorities seriously – regardless of how much we might like or dislike them or how much we may be tempted to mock or dismiss them.

This is why I find the majority attitude that statues are irrelevant particularly disappointing. The most common response seems to be that people should focus on ‘real’ issues, like poverty, inequality, environmental problems, state corruption, crime and so on. This is obviously a logically bankrupt argument as it implies we suspend everything and focus on the ‘real’ issues while ignoring who gets to set up the list of ‘real’ issues. But to simply dismiss it as a bad argument is boring and misses a useful insight, namely that this response shows the potential latent in the open situation created by the statue controversy.

Most of those calling for people to engage in ‘real’ issues and leave the statues alone do not daily call for action on these serious issues. However, a contest in the realm of heritage and symbol has provoked them to do just that, even Chumani Maxwele’s opening salvo on Rhodes gathered the sanitation crisis in Khayelitsha to the controversy. This indicates that statues and memorials, when destabilized, have the power to provoke and gather up public concerns about important material issue faced by South Africans generally. The same response characterized the controversy that sprung up amid the proposed street-name changes in Potchefstroom years ago (Goodrich, A. & Bombardella, P. 2012. Street name-changes, abjection and private toponymy in Potchefstroom, South Africa. Anthropology Southern Africa, 35(1&2): 20-30). While two small groups vociferously defended the outgoing names or their proposed replacements, the majority, from civics organizations to the white middle class felt the exercise to be a waste of money that could be better spent on ‘real’ issues. While there are unavoidable practical reasons to fix street names, there are no such reasons to fix statues. My interest, therefore, is in keeping this open situation open.

The trouble with statues and memorials is that they tend to close the symbolic order. Once they are up on their pedestals they have the effect of concretising one particular story, of fixing in stone, so to speak, one version of the past. Stories about the past do not simply tell us where we come from, they also tell us where we belong and where we should be headed. In other words, stories about the past influence how we understand our present and imagine our future. South Africa’s memorial landscape is unfortunately one that has concretised the social divisions of the colonial and apartheid orders by fixing a monolithic story in terms of which past regimes justified the many lines of separation and inequality we continue to struggle with. Leaving the statues as they are, therefore, closes the open situation in a manner that encloses our ideas of who we are, how we relate to one another, and how we are going to move ahead within the horizons of the symbolic order that gave us the divisions and discriminations we want to get beyond. This is not an option. Replacing them with statues of a new catalogue of national heroes closes the open situation in favour of a new order. This is not an option either as it risks creating the impression that South Africa has transformed when we in fact have a long way to go. Simply removing them and not replacing them seems more sensible, but the cost here is still that the open situation the statue controversy has given us will close and participation in the public realm will dissipate.

So the challenge before us is to figure out how we can replace/reimagine statues in a way that enables them to keep the open situation open. Unstable statues seem to make people uncomfortable enough to take seriously the serious problems. Unsettled symbols from street names to statues seem to gather appeals to confront ‘real’ problems. The good in this situation then is to be found in answering the question of how to reimagine/recontextualise/replace statues and put them in a permanently unstable state that provokes contestation rather than unity. After all, contestation and not unity is what lies at the heart of democracy. Statues and memorials can be sites that as we have already seen in the responses of many gather up general concerns and that can perhaps provoke public engagement with those concerns if they are carefully reinterpreted to do so. The choice we are face with is do we want a static monolithic memorial landscape (removing statues produces the same stasis) or do we want a memorial landscape that provokes us to discuss and debate and demand that general concerns are taken up. This is a huge challenge, but there is no shortage of artists, intellectuals and other potential contributors who can participate in transforming the controversy around statues into the vital agora for a country that is deeply in need of one vis a vis the spread of privatization and the criminalization of public space.”


Also see: tokolos-stencils on tumbr and facebook 

Their mission statement reads:

To terrorise the powers that be, the tokoloshe emerges from obscurity. It reminds South Africans, young and old, that freedom and justice remain elusive unless we are willing to fight for it.


The following pictures was portrayed in media

"Rhodes statue goes but protesters take on other symbols of South Africa's past" http://www.english.rfi.fr/africa/20150410-rhodes-statue-goes-row-spreads-other-symbols-south-africas-past

“Rhodes statue goes but protesters take on other symbols of South Africa’s past” http://www.english.rfi.fr/africa/20150410-rhodes-statue-goes-row-spreads-other-symbols-south-africas-past

"Memorials to British colonials attacked across South Africa as protesters demand statues honouring 'racist' figures from its past are removed" http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3038655/Memorials-British-colonials-attacked-South-Africa-protesters-demand-statues-honouring-racist-figures-past-removed.html

“Memorials to British colonials attacked across South Africa as protesters demand statues honouring ‘racist’ figures from its past are removed” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3038655/Memorials-British-colonials-attacked-South-Africa-protesters-demand-statues-honouring-racist-figures-past-removed.html

"Rhodes statue removed in Cape Town as crowd celebrates" http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-32236922

“Rhodes statue removed in Cape Town as crowd celebrates” http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-32236922

I disagree with Žižek on the radical distinctness of human subjectivity. I think sapience is an elaborated capacity of sentience, which is itself a capacity emerging from organic dispositionality viz. the capacity for sensation. All wholly natural, ecologically evolved and material-energetic. Yeah for me, boo for the beard.

However, where I board the Slavoj-train (metaphorically speaking) is the way he talks about “the madness of the passage to the Symbolic itself, of imposing a symbolic order onto the chaos of the Real.” Human phantasy (imagination, subjectivity, etc) is generated via the delimiting neuronal specification of language. Dramatic, I know – but said another way, self-consciousness is the direct result the embodied brain’s ability to reference itself through symbolization (tokens). Mirror-neurons, pattern recognizers, blah blah blah. We create synthetic caricatures of experienced realities using symbolic tokens and language to manifest images and narratives about the Real. Thus, we enact a massive, near universally delusion epistemic cognitive detachment from the world with various and mixed results for survival and adaptation. Sometimes we use this detachment to contemplate and imagine and innovate, in other cases we project our fears and nightmares via a multitude of violent acts and collective insanities. At times symbolically achieved sapience has served individuals and collectives well, at other times it drives us off the brink of sustainability and appropriateness.

Here is Joseph Carew on Žižek’s framing of madness and consciousness:

“In short, the passage from darkness to light only occurs at the level of the Symbolic: in the Real, nothing changes, unruliness (our break from nature) is left untouched. It is this aspect of the intrinsic madness of culture, language, and phenomenal reality, its psychotic lack of contact with the world, that Žižek claims we forget, that we must necessarily forget, if the transcendental misrecognition of reality necessary to subjectification as a reaction formation is to be a successful “compensation.” All our discourses, all our “truths,” are nothing but the deluded ravings of the asylum unaware of their true origin within the founding gesture of subjectivity as a recoil spurred on by the brutal trauma of violently awakening up into a dismembering hemorrhaging of being, the ultimate ontological catastrophe. All the beauty of the world merely belies its true, unbearable horror: “[i]f we take into consideration the many terrible things in nature and the spiritual world and the great many other things that a benevolent hand seems to cover up from us, then we could not doubt that [the ego] sits enthroned over a world of terrors.” In this respect, “the true point of ‘madness’ […] is not the pure excess of the ‘night of the world,’ but the madness of the passage to the Symbolic itself, of imposing a symbolic order onto the chaos of the Real. If madness is constitutive, then every system of meaning is minimally paranoid, ‘mad.’” Paradoxically, the world can only become known to itself—being can only replicate itself within thought—if its medium of self-disclosure operates “with no external support of its truth,” without ever touching the Real.

SOURCE: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/o/ohp/12763629.0001.001/1:5/–ontological-catastrophe-zizek-and-the-paradoxical?rgn=div1;view=fulltext#note_280

Theodoor Rombouts (1597-1637)

A new Prometheus need not take the form of the ‘Modern Prince’, the party, if the latter is regarded as a commanding height and centre supervenient on any other council, association or organisational form. Collective control must involve the control and ‘recall’, to use that important slogan of delegation in communes and soviets, of its inevitable instances of centralisation. But whether the horizon be one of radical reform or revolution, a systemic challenge cannot but take on, rather than blithely ignore, the risks of Prometheanism, outside of any forgetful apologia for state power or survivalist, primitivist mirage (Toscano 2011).

Despair 

So says Alberto Toscano in a paper The prejudice against prometheus. We all know the legend of Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to men enabling the opening of progress, the driving force of civilisation, there is no need to repeat it again. In Toscano’s essay he surveys the political scene in 2011- the year of the high point of the UKs student mobilisations, the year of riot- and finds that on the left and on the right everyone was decrying Prometheus. On both sides of the political divide everyone threw their hands up in despair at the thought of taking drastic action and mounting a campaign oriented to the ‘control of collective destiny’. On the right he finds calls for reform that do nothing but nourish the repressive function of the state. In the UK this has been borne out. The state has indeed become more repressive under the guise of welfare reform measures that have actively impoverished unemployed, zero-hour and part time workers, forcing them into a state of dependency on food banks, into homelessness, and sinking the mental health of the working class into abjection. On the left, he diagnoses ‘melancholy or illusion’.

I share his belief that the left itself is suffering from melancholy, although I use the less psychoanalytic term “depression”. For Toscano the melancholy is directly related to loss and to mourning: the loss of the revolutionary project and the mourning for a time when communist ends were imaginable, even possible. The illusion is even simpler than this: it is the illusion that powerlessness can triumph over the powerful, the illusion that organisation is irrelevant. Toscano decries this as the counter-revolutionary impulse that believes any attempt to design a better society is doomed to fail and fall into totalitarianism. The history of the left is one drenched in blood and disaster, it is become irredeemable, beyond salvage, a mausoleum best left sealed in the past with the past silently inside it.

Already in 2011 this was familiar ground. Toscano is writing after Zizek’s In defence of lost causes wherein the Slovenian agitator wrote against the ‘liberal blackmail’ (2009,  41) that the politics of emancipation were always the politics of terror and tyranny. Zizek has long rallied against the liberal identification of fascism and actually existing Communism as two sides of the same totalitarian phenomena. In IDLC Zizek is keen to point out that this is simply not the case: German fascism succeeded in carrying out what it promised, whereas Communism was a grotesque failure. The reasons are manifold: Stalinism was supposed to uphold an Enlightenment vision of truth and responsibility in which men could be held accountable for their crimes, Nazism on the other hand smuggled into its project only the sheen of Enlightenment, justifying the mass murder of the Jews by the fact of their biology. Communism had defectors and dissidents who saw that Stalinism was a betrayal of communist principles, whereas there could be no such disagreement with Hitler; as Führer Hitler was the Reich. There are also the points that Nazism was a response to communism as a threat and as a model, adopting its forms just as the communists were usually among the first the Nazis brutalised.

Read More

The present is filled with catastrophe and apocalypticism. A certain phrase has been deployed and redeployed in summarising the condition we find ourselves in: it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalismWhile this phrase is typically used to crystallise capitalist realism, the idea that there is no alternative to capitalism, it also distils another truth: the end of the world has become the very air that we breathe.

As compelling as the discourse on apocalypticism might be it makes one fundamental mistake: it colludes with the very sense of impending catastrophe that it is usually trying to critique or to use as a means to mobilise a political movement. In what follows, I want to discussthe relation between catastrophe and apocalypse, and to look at what it would mean to shift the emphasis on the terms. I don’t mean to restate that catastrophe and apocalypse mean different things for its own sake but rather to emphasise that from the perspective of a postnihilist praxis we are neither catastrophic nor apocalyptic but living within the time of catastrophe as post-apocalyptic survivors. Read More


The Possibility of Hope is a short 2007 documentary that accompanied the home release of the brilliant film Children of Men (a film that only becomes more pertinent) focussing on the rising fascism of everyday life, immigration, global warming and its attendant migratory flows, and the absent futures of both capitalism and (potentially) civilisation. The documentary consists of talking heads from Fabrizio Eva (human geographer), John Gray (passive nihilist/pessimist), Naomi Klein (globalisation writer), James Lovelock (Gaia theorist), Saskia Sassen (sociologist), Tzvetan Todorov (philosopher and historian), and Slavoj Zizek (spider killing monster).

While the voices of these academics intone their by turns despairing, messianic or more sober analyses, the eye is subjected to images of ruin and decay, to climatological shifts and their consequences, the flows and faces of refugees, and the armoured, disciplined bodies of armed police. Running throughout the film is an emphasis on movement and its regulation through check-points and walls, nations and ideological “spooks”, as well as the urgency and inevitability of a fundamental shift in the distribution of the species and its life ways.

The film is also available on youtube in three unsubtitled segments, for those who find them a distraction.

…hope must be informed by a realistic understanding of human beings as they are. There is a type of hope now that is a kind of blocking out reality: now I think that is a much more hopeless view.– John Gray.