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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
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Miriam Burstein
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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

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cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

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cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

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cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Eternal Zizek

Posted by Bill Benzon on 10/11/07 at 05:38 AM

First God, then Mailer, now Zizek.

Zizek has an op-ed in the New York Times about “How China Got Religion”:

The significant issue for the West here is not Buddhas and lamas, but what we mean when we refer to “culture.” All human sciences are turning into a branch of cultural studies. While there are of course many religious believers in the West, especially in the United States, vast numbers of our societal elite follow (some of the) religious rituals and mores of our tradition only out of respect for the “lifestyle” of the community to which we belong: Christmas trees in shopping centers every December; neighborhood Easter egg hunts; Passover dinners celebrated by nonbelieving Jews.

“Culture” has commonly become the name for all those things we practice without really taking seriously. And this is why we dismiss fundamentalist believers as “barbarians” with a “medieval mindset”: they dare to take their beliefs seriously. Today, we seem to see the ultimate threat to culture as coming from those who live immediately in their culture, who lack the proper distance.

He’s also got his own journal. From the home page of the International Journal of Zizek Studies:

Launched in January 2007, IJZS is a peer-reviewed, open access academic journal. As its title unambiguously proclaims, it is devoted to the work of Slavoj Zizek, a Slovenian philosopher/cultural theorist. Despite such predictably caricatured media portrayals as “the Elvis of cultural theory” and “the Marx brother”, Zizek has attracted enormous international interest through his application of otherwise esoteric scholarship to contemporary mass culture and politics.

With a desire to avoid “how many Zizeks can dance on the head of a pin?” [42, no?, BB] types of debate, and mere hagiography, IJZS aims to provide a valuable resource for those interested in his inimitable brand of critical thought.

Note that where every other academic journal starts with Vol. 1. No. 1, IJZS starts with Vol. 1 No. 0. Presumably it will end there as well – it’s currently up to Vol.1, No. 3, on film. But what will the penultimate issue be?


Comments

If the Zizek’s journal is already up to Vol. 1, No. 3, how would it end at Vol. 1. No. 0?

By Herr Ziffer on 10/11/07 at 09:10 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The Eternal Return, the Great Cipher, the Alpha and the Omega, all the mystical stuff.

By Bill Benzon on 10/11/07 at 09:19 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I like Zizek, but that op-ed is pretty aggravating to anybody who objects to China’s actions in Tibet over the past half-decade, or to anybody who wishes to hold China accountable for its horrifying approach to human rights in general. 

Zizek says: “It is strange to hear self-described democracy advocates who denounce Chinese persecution of followers of the Dalai Lama — a non-democratically elected leader if there ever was one.”

I guess if one wants to view the situation in a metaphysical abstract sense, this is true.  On the real-life human level, though, these comments aren’t very helpful.  And, when freedom-loving people speak of “democracy”, they are usually referring to a form of democracy that is compatible with freedom of religion.  The fact that some religions aren’t themselves democratic does not mean there is a contradiction between supporting democracy (which China certainly does not) and supporting freedom of religion (which China certainly does not).

By Levi on 10/11/07 at 10:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I think the Zizek op-ed makes some good points, particularly regarding the Afghani Buddha statues.  Nevertheless, there are two clear objections to his discussion of Tibet.

First, the Dalai Lama has stated that he wants Tibet to be a democracy, not a theocracy.  See here, for instance.  He owes his influence to being (as some believe) the reincarnation of the Buddha, but does not want to be head of state on that basis.

Second, supporting a sovereign Tibet is not so much a matter of supporting democracy as it is supporting self-determination.  If it was only a matter of democracy, believers in a free Tibet would also have supported the invasion of Iraq, to replace an authoritarian state with a democratic one.  (It goes without saying that most people would support the right of China or Iraq to self-determination, while opposing human rights abuses there and supporting sanctions or other measures to discourage them.)

By tomemos on 10/11/07 at 03:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I mistakenly wrote that the Dalai Lama is believed to be the reincarnation of the Buddha.  As I was writing it I had the impression that I might not be right, but I clicked “submit” anyway, then checked and, yep, wrong.  Sorry about that.

By tomemos on 10/11/07 at 03:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The Dalai Lama is believed to be the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

By on 10/11/07 at 05:57 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I thought we were all buddha-nature.

By Levi on 10/11/07 at 09:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"For some, the notion of a journal devoted to the work of a theorist very much alive and intellectually kicking is discombobulating. That death should be a prerequisite for sustained scholarly interrogation of a patently substantial body of work, however, is perhaps stranger still.”

If you meet Zizek on the road…

By on 10/11/07 at 10:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I feel like the point of the op-ed is that the West is different from China in degree rather than kind on religious issues, or something like that, but he doesn’t make the point especially well.

He almost got to the end of the article without any copy and paste, but the Afghan statue thing is a repeat.

By Adam Kotsko on 10/12/07 at 02:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

“"""the Zizek op-ed makes some good points.""""”

Mr. Op-Ed always had a way with words.

“"""I feel like the point of the op-ed is..."

Sometimes you feel like a point; sometimes you don’t.

By Okstok Mada on 10/12/07 at 09:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

..."vast numbers of our societal elite follow (some of the) religious rituals and mores of our tradition only out of respect for the “lifestyle” of the community to which we belong: Christmas trees in shopping centers every December; neighborhood Easter egg hunts; Passover dinners celebrated by nonbelieving Jews"""”

C’est vraiment.  Zizek may downplay China’s lousy human rights’ record: he doesn’t, however, overlook the absurdity of religious “culture”, including that of Buddhism. Whatever buddhism was initially, it’s now mostly a new-agey narcissism (--but then so is consumer Xtianity, or joodaism), superfluous except for perhaps some westside wifeys with sufficient leisure time to contemplate their, uh, navels..........

By Nekropolitan on 10/13/07 at 04:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

What the Dalai Lama seems to ignore is the Buddhist theory of karma. Tibet must have done great harm to China to have been invaded. Interesting how theology gets thrown out with the bathwater when it is no longer useful to explain events.

By on 06/01/08 at 09:14 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"What the Dalai Lama seems to ignore is the Buddhist theory of karma. Tibet must have done great harm to China to have been invaded. Interesting how theology gets thrown out with the bathwater when it is no longer useful to explain events.”

He actually blames the occupation of Tibet on the bad karma accumulated under the old feudal regime.

http://www.johannhari.com/archive/article.php?id=399

Interesting, that, seeing as how Tibetan feudalism like every feudalism relies on the coercion of the great majority by a powerful minority. Not that the Dalai Lama would have any experience at all within that structure, of course.

“First, the Dalai Lama has stated that he wants Tibet to be a democracy, not a theocracy.  See here, for instance.”

His change of mind was convenient, but anything to get the support of the West in the Cold War, I suppose.

“Second, supporting a sovereign Tibet is not so much a matter of supporting democracy as it is supporting self-determination.  If it was only a matter of democracy, believers in a free Tibet would also have supported the invasion of Iraq, to replace an authoritarian state with a democratic one.  (It goes without saying that most people would support the right of China or Iraq to self-determination, while opposing human rights abuses there and supporting sanctions or other measures to discourage them.)”

Doesn’t it make most sense to tackle the structures responsible for human rights abuses _across_ China and not in just an outlying province?

By Randy McDonald on 06/06/08 at 01:45 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I don’t know why this thread is starting up again, but if it is:

“His change of mind was convenient, but anything to get the support of the West in the Cold War, I suppose.”

Wait, hold up--you mean, he was working out a position that would gain political allies?  Get out of town!

“Doesn’t it make most sense to tackle the structures responsible for human rights abuses _across_ China and not in just an outlying province?”

Well, part of the point is that it wasn’t an “outlying province” before the invasion, so its self-determination and China’s are (or should be) separate issues.

But I’ll do you one better: it actually makes the most sense to tackle the structures responsible for human rights abuses across Asia, rather than in one province or country.  Henceforth, you can’t be concerned about any issues in North Korea, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, or the Middle East unless you’re simultaneously working on solving problems in all those countries.

By tomemos on 06/06/08 at 10:29 AM | Permanent link to this comment

As much as Tibetans might have liked it to be otherwise, Tibet was never recognized as an independent state by another country. If anything, one-time neighbours like Britain and Russia explicitly stated that Tibet was a constituent part of China.

“But I’ll do you one better: it actually makes the most sense to tackle the structures responsible for human rights abuses across Asia, rather than in one province or country.”

That’s just silly. Tibet, as part of China, shares the same polity as the rest of China. Why fight for religious freedom in only a single Chinese province, if for no other reason than that religious freedom in Tibet will be pretty threatened if religious freedom exists only there. Chinese Buddhists and Christians suffer the same sorts of issues, and Muslims in Xinjiang (I don’t know about the Hui) appear to fare even worse. Why not a campaign for religious freedom for all Chinese, regardless of region or ethnicity or religion?

By Randy McDonald on 06/07/08 at 10:26 AM | Permanent link to this comment

This is sounding too much like conversations I’ve had with people who don’t believe in the existence of Palestinians, so I think I’ll discontinue it.  So long.

By tomemos on 06/07/08 at 01:43 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"This is sounding too much like conversations I’ve had with people who don’t believe in the existence of Palestinians[.]”

?

Point A: I haven’t said that Tibetans don’t have serious grievances. They have suffered very significantly; burdens have been placed upon their culture far heavier than what one would expect if Tibet had modernized independently, to say nothing of the death toll.

Point B: I _have_ said that the moral authority of the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Dalai Lama is questionable at best, that Tibet has never been recognized as an independent state no matter how mmuch some people might like it to be otherwise, and that Tibetan problems can’t be seen in isolation from those of the rest of China if they are to be solved.

One can feel sympathy for the Tibetans without believing every claim made by Tibetans and their sympathizers. If anything, by knowing what’s actually going on and what’s actually possible, one could provide more help than anything that a starry-eyed idealists/fanatic could give.

By Randy McDonald on 06/07/08 at 03:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Oh, no no no no!

Tibet invaded China back in the First Millennium, and sacked the Tang Dynasty capital while the Tang Dynasty was in deep decline. In a sense, you could blame the collapse of the Tang Dynasty for everything that is wrong with China today.

So… karma!

By Inst on 12/25/08 at 02:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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