Don't be afraid to take a big step; you can't cross a chasm in two small jumps

New Issue of the Zizek Studies Journal – Johnston and Vighi

In Anti-capitalism, Badiou, Johnston, Journals, Marx, Marxism, Zizek on February 24, 2010 at 9:31 pm

The latest issue of the International Journal of Zizek Studies hit the net today.  It is the first of an annual special ‘Zizek and Ideology’ edition edited by Cardiff University’s Centre for Ideology Critique and Zizek Studies.  It has some great contributions including, Jodi Dean’s on  Zizek and the Internet (I’m hoping this will feature in her new book Blog Theory) . And an excellent breif exchange between Adrian Johnston and Fabio Vighi regarding the former’s new book on Zizek and Badiou, The Cadence of Change.

Anyone familliar with Johnston’s work will know that it offers a formidanble (and encyclopedically argued) critical reading of both Badiou and Zizek. His most important contribution, and one that Zizek acknowledges in several places, is that we must carefully supplement the notion of Event (as used by both Zizek and Badiou) to overcome the common criticism hurled at it (i.e. by describing a transformation so radical that it creates it’s own presuppositions retroactively, the event/act can only result in political quietism and the naive belief that change can and will occur ex-nihilo ).

Johnston’s argues that to prepare the ground for the radical (truly) historical otherness which flares up all too briefly in an Evental situation, we need to develop a mode of pre-evental awareness (in time/politics).  Rigorously outlined in his latest book, this will ensure that we will engage in practical action in the meantime and yet still be ready for the big event when it “seems suddenly to present itself”.

Vighi’s critical retort to this is that, although insightful, it fails to break out from the specifically Badiouian/Zizekian problem that Johnston initially aims to overcome. By limiting his intervention to merely outlining a philosophical problem and daring not to apply it in the current conjecture, Johnston is only really, in effect, repeating the problem.  (i.e once again in a formal way Cadence of Change succumbs to an awkward quietism whilst awaiting  the miraculous intervention of an Event.)

In this way, Vighi rightly questions, to what extent does Johnston’s intervention, finely balanced as it is, “address the real problem” in Zizek’s and Badiou’s work? Even with Johnston’s important contribution to the debate, it he appears to remain “stuck in a somewhat fetishistic use of critical theory”.

Vighi asserts that the gap between theory and practice which Johnston attempts to bridge is in fact a false dichotomy. Thus, whilst theory is undoubtedly vital, it can only go so far. As he argues, “by definition, a political theory that does no include ‘seeds of the future’ by defying the material and ideological framework from which it speaks, cannot even dream to connect with empirical reality in the struggle for radical emancipation.”

What I really like about Vighi’s argument is that it unabashedly affirms a necessarily Marxist stance.  Indeed, the whole direction of his argument is along the lines of Marx’s statement regarding the  significance of ‘practical-critical’ activity. To once again state Marx’s oft-repeated eigth Thesis on Feurebach: “all mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.”

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  1. A recent article in Platypus Review in alignment with Vighi’s arguments can be found here: http://platypus1917.org/2010/02/26/rejoinder-to-david-black-on-karl-korschs-marxism-and-philosphy/. I haven’t taken the Journal of Zizek Studies very seriously but this may change.

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