Žižek – ‘Trouble in Paradise’

Trouble in Paradise sets out to argue that:

the capitalist dynamics […] are boring, offering more of the same in the guise of constant change, and that the struggle for emancipation is still the most daring of all ventures {…][1]

rather than vice versa.  In short, a situation has not occurred whereby the emancipatory project has become boring in the sense that it is the norm, and adherence to the capitalist dynamic is the true rebellious act.  No, for Zizek the struggle for emancipation is the most rebellious and attractive act … because it’s the most rebellious and attractive act.  To be honest I’m not sure why he didn’t just state this outright, instead of explaining how the minority action becomes boring the more popular it becomes and then refuting this.

This argument (and the book itself) is divided up into five sections:

  • A diagnosis of modern capitalism.
  • A ‘cardiognosis’ of the ideology underlying this system.
  • A prognosis of the future, provided things stay as they are.
  • An ‘epignosis’ of the adaptations the new emancipatory struggle must take.
  • And finally an appendix exploring the barriers to today’s struggle.

‘Paradise’ = the ‘paradise of the end of history’.  A reference to Francis Fukuyama’s famous declaration that a liberal form of democratic capitalism is the ideal form of society.

‘Trouble’ = the ongoing crisis (presumably the crisis of capitalism) which deems the paradise unattainable.

Hence, there is trouble in paradise as the ‘trouble’ is the capitalist crisis, which is in turn the ‘paradise’.  Paradise is its own trouble, and therefore its own downfall.

The rest of the introduction consists of (seemingly random) nods to popular culture and contemporary politics, designed to outline the modern format of capitalism.  Some of the most interesting are:

  • South Korea and the growth of capitalism with a lack of communal history.
  • The rise of fundamentalism as a response to a loss of shared social narratives.
  • The changing nature of vampires. Namely, that they are part of modernity, not separate to it.  Hence, drawing a link between capitalist functioning and the portrayal of vampires in modern popular culture.
  • The self-irony of ‘Gangnam Style’.
  • Maternalism as central to Korean society, rather than paternalist leadership.

Diagnosis – what is modern capitalism?

The main points raised include:

  • Revolutions occur when expectations are raised and then disappointed.
  • The notion that negations presuppose a positive. For example, coffee without cream as opposed to coffee without milk.
  • The decline of European welfare states linked to the decline of the communist bloc. For instance, governments made concessions to workers because there was a viable alternative; in the absence of the alternative welfare is no longer necessary.
  • Sees austerity as superficial, not admitting or approaching the roots of crisis. Lowering the tax rate would actually increase tax revenue by not discouraging capital and increasing the number of parties paying said tax.
  • The so-called spectre of debt, whereby social provision is removed and compensated for via debt – which is used as a form of control. e.g individuals are not even expected to repay it. Hence, the base of the banking system is a promise that can’t be met, but which makes behaviour predictable and revolt unlikely.  When debt is written off the individual becomes forever indebted to the person who wrote it off.

How to summarise this section?  In short, modern capitalism is ingrained into society and economics for the pragmatic benefits to capitalism itself.


Cardiognosis – the underlying ideology.

Key points to note:

  • Julian Assange as a ‘spy for the people’; which is a self-negation. e. everyone knows he’s a spy and therefore is not.[2]
  • The internet as a communist entity due to the free flow of data (this is a good link to the breakdown of the principium individuationis in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy).
  • Any attempts to control the internet demonstrate an underlying class struggle.
  • Vampires live among normal people in modern portrayals (upper class).
  • Zombies are clumsy and dirty (lower class).
  • Fundamentalist (anti-capitalist) regimes eventually incorporate capitalism into themselves.
  • Illusions (ideology) are efficient and underpin leaders’ power. However, those in power are blind to it.  They are cynics don’t recognise the efficiency of illusions and how they create social reality
  • Enjoyment comes from the ‘indefinite postponement’ of a goal rather than its achievement.[3]
  • Therefore, to critique an ideology you have to look at how the ignorance underlying it is socially constructed. For example, how social memories are constructed by collective ignorance and forgetting.
  • Enjoyment is not a spontaneous act – it is learnt. g. alcohol.
  • A person is guilty if they break the law, but guiltier if obey it as they get the pleasure from it without paying the price.

Hence, the underlying ideology is an illusion based upon ignorance.  A socially constructed and maintained illusion ( e.g. constructed group memory).


Prognosis – the future

  • We use de-realisation as an escape from reality.
  • WW1 led to a re-normalisation via myths and narratives – the ‘symbolic return of the real’.[4]
  • There are many false divisions and we need we need the true division of society. E.g the place of class (meta-classism and hyper-classism).
  • What divides us today is no longer class conflict – the ‘principle contradiction within peoples […] not between the people and the enemies of the people’.[5]
  • When opposition movements win, and is no longer united by the common struggle, it splits into factions.
  • This is why revolutions have to happen twice, only being truly united in the second attempt.
  • The emancipatory project ends up imitating old order, and therefore needs to be positive rather than simply a negation of the existing system.

In the future, attempts at change will result in more of the same because resistance in disunited and not actually based upon ‘the real’.


Epignosis – required structures

  • … Didn’t read this chapter, had given up by this point.

Appendix – Batman

  • Ideology structures what we call reality. Therefore, to critique ideology we should critique our dreams rather than our reality.
  • … goes on about the Nolan Batman films (for no apparent reason).

Overall:

To be blunt – this book was disappointing.  Don’t get me wrong, it is packed with interesting and nuanced references to popular culture, as well as to philosophical works (Hegel and Lacan being the most frequently cited, as well as others including: Ricoeur, Nietzsche, Kant and Marx).  But, these references do not necessarily fit into a flowing and unravelling argument throughout the text.  As in the introduction (see above), there are many stories about recent events, historical occurrences and individuals scattered throughout the book.  On their own, some of these tangents are quite interesting and offer unusual interpretations.  However, they do not appear (to me at least) to fit together in a coherent way.  As a result, it was difficult to even summarise each chapter given that, after reading it, you’re not even sure what the point of that chapter was.

So, in terms of explaining how and why capitalism will fail – as promised in the subtitle: ‘From the End of History to the End of Capitalism’ – the book does not deliver.  However, some of Zizek’s thoughts are of interested – the one reason why I’m not completely disappointed with this book.

EE

 

Based on: Zizek, Slavoj. Trouble in Paradise (London: Penguin, 2015)

DON’T FORGET TO LIKE AND FOLLOW!

[1] Slavoj Zizek, Trouble in Paradise (London: Penguin, 2015) p. 4

[2] Slavoj Zizek, Trouble in Paradise (London: Penguin, 2015) p. 52

[3] Slavoj Zizek, Trouble in Paradise (London: Penguin, 2015) p. 68

[4] Slavoj Zizek, Trouble in Paradise (London: Penguin, 2015) p. 92

[5] Slavoj Zizek, Trouble in Paradise (London: Penguin, 2015) p. 96

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