Zizek on OWS

01/11/2011 § Leave a comment

Slavoj Žižek had a piece in the UK Guardian on the Occupy Wall Street, um, happening. He argues:

What one should resist at this stage is precisely such a quick translation of the energy of the protest into a set of concrete pragmatic demands. Yes, the protests did create a vacuum – a vacuum in the field of hegemonic ideology, and time is needed to fill this vacuum in a proper way, as it is a pregnant vacuum, an opening for the truly new.

Žižek is working from his Lacanian perspective, and arrives at an interesting result. Lacanian theory is linguistic: each signifier refers to other signifiers, and meaning is a function of the relationship between signifiers. Meaning is fundamentally relational, as opposed to absolute. To figure out what OWS means, you figure out where it ‘fits’ in the system. Once you can place it — a bit to the side of this, underneath that, contained as part of something else — then you know what it is. Then you can relate to it.

This system is linguistic as well as social, psychological as well as political. If one cannot place OWS in a linguistic system, then one cannot manipulate it in a political system, either. That is why Žižek says:

This silence, this rejection of dialogue … is our “terror”, ominous and threatening as it should be.

But let’s take it a step further. Lacan said that all demands are demands for love. I tend to like Jeanne Schroeder’s take on it: we want to be acknowledged as subjects by other subjects. In effect, Žižek is saying that OWS must forgo making its demands for love or recognition. It must terrorise itself with an unanchored symbolic system, on the way to instituting a new regime of signifiers.

Now that would be truly revolutionary.

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