Thursday, May 18, 2006
Initial Thoughts, and Did Someone Say Totalitarianism?
I’ve submitted my Zizek piece - half review of The Parallax View, half general discussion - to The Common Review. I hope they like it. While we wait on that, I’ll tell you a few things I learned that didn’t make the cut.
First, I happened to quote something from Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind [amazon] whose cover reads in toto: "being part three of the Encyclopaedia of The Philosophical Sciences (1830) translated by William Wallace together with the Zusätze in Boumann’s text (1845) translated by A.V. Miller, with Foreword by J.N. Findlay, F.B.A." There’s a bunch of scrollwork, too. I see that the latest cover omits the scrollwork and the information about Findlay’s degree. This is all fine. But suppose, hypothetically, you wanted to know the author - Hegel’s - name; that is, his initials and/or at least one given name; as opposed to the translator’s initials or the introducer’s degree? Well, presumably you would look inside. Where you would ... not find it. Nowhere does this book tell you anything more about the author than that he was named ... Hegel. He’s, like, the Sting of philosophy.
This reminds me of a story. Someone - can’t remember who - was complaining about someone else - can’t remember who - giving Hegel lectures and presuming to call the subject ‘Georg Hegel’, or even just ‘Georg’. Apparently even Hegel’s wife didn’t call him ‘Georg’. The story goes: she called him ‘Professor Hegel’. But I still think it would be ok to include his initials on a cover.
Second, I’ve been reading Alexei Monroe’s Interrogation Machine : Laibach and NSK (Short Circuits) [amazon]. The introduction is by Zizek and he edits MIT’s Short Circuits series, which includes The Parallax View. I found occasion to discuss it briefly in the piece I’ve just finished.
I heard about Laibach for the first time while touring Yugoslavia with the University of Chicago Symphony Orchestra way back in the 80’s. I’ve written about that experience here. Someone had a Laibach tape on the tour bus; we all agreed it was strange. Here is a post by Scott McLemee (scroll down to Sept 16) quoting a different book about the Zizek/Laibach/NSK connection. It’s rather intriguing, for someone trying to crack the Zizek conundrum; and Interrogation Machine is rather a fascinating read in its own right. NSK [Neu Slowenische Kunst] has an extensive website, so poke around for yourselves.
I’ve frequently hammered on about how it’s important to understand that Zizek is kind of - well, kitschy. So there is a certain amount of fodder to be found. Also, Irwin, the visual art wing of the collective, calls their style ’emphatic eclecticism‘ (hmmmm). A passage from Interrogation Machine:
NSK works appeal to (and highlight the manipulation of) the "Wagnerian" oceanic emotions associated with any total art project. Heroic chords and verses are all central to the engineering process. While these are often qualified by the use of irony, and the knowing way they are deployed gives them a kitsch status, their power to affect is nevertheless active. Those who can admit to it are genuinely moved and fascinated by the NSK spectacle, particularly at its most monumental, totalitarian moments. If it were "only" conceptual, and did not use such traumatic-fascinating material, it would not have the same power to disturb, confuse, and interrogate. The fact that these works are also the product of alienation and rigid conceptual mechanisms does not "negate" these moments, but sets them in a new context, beyond and against the regimes they represent. A "total phenomenon on the scale of NSK has to (at least appear to) engineer and to access the deepest levels of the imagniation and the spirit. In practice, alienation and transcendence are actually interwoven, each being capable of producing the other. In some circumstances, the sublime can alienate and the alienated can be sublime. (p. 73)
I can’t find much Irwin art on the net. Maybe I’ll find some later. Anyway, I’ll try to post more about the book later. Oh, but I like this bit from a manifesto: "In art, we appreciate humor that can’t take a joke."
To back up this point about Hegel, in Derrida’s Glas (which I have definitely not read, only browsed), all of the many letters Derrida quotes seem to be signed merely “Hegel.” I found this extremely humorous on first discovering it.
NetFlix has a Laibach video collection that one can put in one’s queue. Anthony availed himself of this opportunity earlier this year, so I watched it. I couldn’t make it all the way through, though, because I had just taken a chocolate laxative.
One quick question on the review: as per The Common Review‘s self-description, does your piece “deliver tough, street-smart prose that will challenge, amuse, and sometimes offend”?