Friday, August 16, 2013

Cultural Clash of the Civilizational Titans!

Why are today so many problems perceived as problems of intolerance, not as problems of inequality, exploitation, injustice? Why is the proposed remedy tolerance, not emancipation, political struggle, even armed struggle? The immediate answer is the liberal multiculturalist's basic ideological operation: the "culturalization of politics" - political differences, differences conditioned by political inequality, economic exploitation, etc., are naturalized/neutralized into "cultural" differences, different "ways of life," which are something given, something that cannot be overcome, but merely "tolerated." To this, of course, one should answer in Benjaminian terms: from culturalization of politics to politicization of culture. The cause of this culturalization is the retreat, failure, of direct political solutions (Welfare State, socialist projects, etc.). Tolerance is their post-political ersatz:
The retreat from more substantive visions of justice heralded by the promulgation of tolerance today is part of a more general depoliticization of citizenship and power and retreat from political life itself. The cultivation of tolerance as a political end implicitly constitutes a rejection of politics as a domain in which conflict can be productively articulated and addressed, a domain in which citizens can be transformed by their participation.
Perhaps, nothing expresses better the inconsistency of the post-political liberal project than its implicit paradoxical identification of culture and nature, the two traditional opposites: culture itself is naturalized, posited as something given. (The idea of culture as "second nature" is, of course, an old one.) It was, of course, Samuel Huntington who proposed the most successful formula of this "culturalization of politics" by locating the main source of today's conflicts into the "clash of civilizations," what one is tempted to call the Huntington's disease of our time - as he put it, after the end of the Cold War, the "iron curtain of ideology" has been replaced by the "velvet curtain of culture. Huntington's dark vision of the "clash of civilizations" may appear to be the very opposite of Francis Fukuyama's bright prospect of the End of History in the guise of a world-wide liberal democracy: what can be more different from Fukuyama's pseudo-Hegelian idea of the "end of history" (the final Formula of the best possible social order was found in capitalist liberal democracy, there is now no space for further conceptual progress, there are just empirical obstacles to be overcome), than Huntington's "clash of civilizations" as the main political struggle in the XXIst century? The "clash of civilizations" IS politics at the "end of history."

-Slavoj Zizek, "Tolerance as an Ideological Category"


What occurs between Monteverdi and Gluck is thus the failure of sublimation: the subject is no longer ready to accept the metaphoric substitution, to exchange “being for meaning,” i.e., the flesh-and-blood presence of the beloved for the fact that he will be able to see her everywhere, in stars and the moon, etc. - rather than do this, he prefers to take his life, to lose it all, and it is at this point, to fill in the refusal of sublimation, of its metaphoric exchange, that mercy has to intervene to prevent a total catastrophy. And we live in the shadow of this failed sublimation till today.

Michel Houellebecq’s novels are interesting in this context: he endlessly varies the motif of the failure of sublimation in contemporary Western societies characterized by “the collapse of religion and tradition, the unrestrained worship of pleasure and youth, and the prospect of a future totalized by scientific rationality and joylessness.”. Here is the dark side of 1960’s sexual liberation: the full commodification of sexuality. Houellebecq depicts the morning after of the Sexual Revolution, the sterility of a universe dominated by the superego injunction to enjoy. All of his work focuses on the antinomy of love and sexuality: sex is an absolute necessity, to renounce it is to wither away, so love cannot flourish without sex; simultaneously, however, love is impossible precisely because of sex: sex, which “proliferates as the epitome of late capitalism’s dominance, has permanently stained human relationships as inevitable reproductions of the dehumanizing nature of liberal society; it has, essentially, ruined love.”. Sex is thus, to put it in Derridean terms, simultaneously the condition of the possibility and of the impossibility of love. The miracle of sublimation is precisely to temporarily resolve this antinomy: in it, love continues to transpire in the very imperfections of the sexual body in decay.
-Slavoj Zizek, Brunhilde's Act