Saturday, 17 November 2007

Spectacular Thinking

re Zizek's remarks about China & George Bush, as cited in the previous post:

Marxism was never a theory of how largely agrarian or pre-industrial societies could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps to become post-capitalist classless societies. This statement, pace Zizek et al, does not involve some antique concept of Iron Historical Necessity. It’s simply about material preconditions.

It would hardly be a measure of the utter tenacity of capitalism, then, that it wasn’t eradicated ‘even’ in China, with or without the ‘Cultural Revolution’. But does Zizek really think the ‘Cultural Revolution’ was primarily about eradicating traces of capitalism? And if, in error, he does think this, why from a Marxist perspective would capitalism’s ability to survive cultural assault really be so surprising.

There is no point in asking these questions. For the actual Cultural Revolution is here replaced by the mere signature or idea of the thing, as copied and profaned in the spectacular imagination.


Theorists of Hegemony have long been aware that – putting it in basic terms – the ruling class will try and appropriate, recuperate, use for their own ends, resistance and opposition. They will cite it as evidence in prosecuting their own case, rename and reinterpret it. Acts of legitimate resistance will become acts of criminal madness by agents of foreign powers. There will be attempts to ‘scramble’ or denigrate the language of opposition, to make ‘liberal’ or ‘socialist’ merely pejorative items. And these attempts will in turn be contested, will fail adequately to describe or summarise the reality of the situation.

But simply to take one of these attempts at recuperation on its own terms, to accept it, admit defeat….Bush said it: it’s true. Astonishing. And of course, what Bush said has in fact long been the staple, utterly banal and predictable, response to dissent in the liberal democracies, going back to the Cold War: you should think yourself lucky that you can protest like this. We’ve heard it all before, and for most of us it washes over us. It’s the background noise we live with. It takes a ‘brilliant dialectical philosopher’ to take it seriously.

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