7 thoughts on “Zizek and Butler on Obama

  1. S. Critchley’s essay might be one of the most vapid, and should be incorporated into our reflections here. His essay (and to a lesser degree Butler’s) assumes that there were Leftists who did in fact take Obama at his word — in the process, they will be let down and the cause will be diminished. This of course assumes a lot, since I know of no Leftist, and indeed very few liberals, who actually took Obama at his word. We’ve become very sensitive to political rhetoric, and even the least savvy recognize it for what it is — even when they participate in and celebrate its propagation.

    My take, and I guess I’m closer to Z. here, is that the problem is precisely not taking Obama at his word, and in the process changing the terms of the promise. The key is to demand in specific terms what he called for in generalities. There is, for example, nothing necessarily wrong or fascistic about national unity. One can, for example, conceive of an evolutionary unity, one in flux; perhaps one in which unity’s artificial nature is for all to see, and is thus freed to be defined by that which was denied inclusion in earlier instantiations. This is perhaps a move through cynicism, which incorporates and eclipses cynicism.

    A theme raised in all three articles is that of defeatism. Critchley’s articulation is perhaps the most clear, and for that, the most pernicious: “There is the potential for a political moment here, but it is a potential whose actualization is denied by the very representative process which is being celebrated. At the moment when people become aware of their power through the activity of the vote, they are simultaneously rendered powerless by the representative process. Liberty slips from the hands of those who have suddenly become aware of its power.” Toward the end of his essay, he will hedge his bets: this political moment may be basically impossible, but it’s at least conceivable. Is this not simply a distancing mechanism, a way to defend against disappointment when “the political moment” doesn’t happen? — versus the danger of actually being engulfed in the defeat when it doesn’t happen?

  2. And, before I forget, this is the key to Z.’s essay. Many liberals, in defiance of the polls and all available evidence, sought reasons to believe Obama would lose — the Bradley effect, fraud, etc. And yet, he won. That, along with the obvious racial implications is the power & hope of the election — that defeatism did not take. Or, as the Onion said, “The failure to blow the election stuns the Democrats.”

  3. Zizek here seems to be arguing for a kind of Berkeleyian approach to politics. What’s with the illusions? Is their reification supposed to help somehow? Maybe all that situational optimism can be channeled into Dearborn in lieu of a bailout. I don’t buy it (or any GM products, for that matter)…And Detroit is still Detroit.

    Plus ça change

  4. Ha! I found you guys while reading through various blogs (namely a link from “Spurious”.)

    After reading around a little, I was like, hmm.. this seems a lot like the kind of stuff Virgil’s weird U of C theology friends talk about.. :)

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