Two conferences, three papers and one ppt. presentation destined for mistrustful economists and philosophers of science were enough to keep me away from this blog for more than a month (hope I am excused). That it simply took one Zizek appearance to induce a short comeback is certainly indicative of the bad state of my imagination these days… Unless this lack of imagination can be partly attributed to the unwillingness of some leading intellectuals to start “thinking” rather than merely (re)acting to the financial crisis, as Zizek himself suggested in a recent popular video or implied in his OWS talk.
Anyway, I just stumbled upon his common interview with Alexis Tsipras, the head of the greek radical left (and government opposition) SYRIZA party. The Greek media (as well as several facebook intellectuals) urged to reprimand Zizek for his gulag joke near the end of this video. And ok, I can understand this reprimand insofar as the Greek government coalition launches a riduculously populist rhetoric against SYRIZA, identifying it as the opposite extremist pole of neonazism. But Zizek does not experience the schizophrenic tension of Greek everyday life where every metaphor or joke is taken literally by citizens who are ready to tear their interlocutor apart at the sound of one wrong word. So let’s grant him yet another joke.
Neo-liberalism has become a bit of buzz word, replacing postmodernity (although the two are crucially interlinked). So two books and a film which provide excellent in-roads into the topic.
First: Foulcault’s lectures on the “Birth of Biopolitics”, given in 1978-79, particularly lectures 4,5,9,10,11. He has the remarkable power of being able to condense the gist of neo-liberalism into one sentence: “more state, less government”. He equally traces the emergence of neo-liberalism as the obverse side to the Frankfurt School: a response to Nazism, which was taken to be the solution to the political-economic constellation of pre-WWII Germany.
Two: David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neo-Liberalism. Read alongside The Condition of Postmodernity one can trace the link between the two.
Three: the documentary Catastroika. It’s artfulness under the circumstances merely contributes to the terror of what it reports:
CATASTROIKA – ENGLISH SUBTITLES
In the last two posts (1,2) we briefly considered what happened in the run-up to, and during Britain’s mass public sector strikes a little over a week ago on 30th November 2011 (so-called N30). We fitted it into a longer running series of agitations, beginning with the student movements this time last year, the major strike on 30th of June, and ultimately the incredible austerity measures being imposed by the Conservative/Liberal coalition government. In this sense it was just one action in the midst of actions against neo-liberal mass-austerity all over the globe, from the general strikes in Greece, the Occupy Movement, even the revolution in Eygpt. The point is simply that the crisis is deep in the “globalised” neo-liberal process of accumulation itself, and this is giving rise to resistance globally.
István Mészáros calls this economic collapse, which began three years ago, a “structural crisis”, rather than a cyclical crisis (the latter is of the kind seen in the dot com bubble, the 1999 Argentinian debt crisis, Japanese asset price bubble, 1998 Russian economic crisis, the 1997 Asian financial crisis, etc). Meszaros identifies four key features of the ongoing 2008 economic crisis which suggest its structural nature (putting it in the same realm as the 1930′s Great Depression and the 1873-mid-1890s Long Depression): it becomes universal and not limited to just one sphere of production; it is global in scope, and not regionally localisable or containable; it takes place on an extended timescale, and takes on an air of permanence rather than cyclicality; it unfolds “creepingly” rather than just explosively and spectacularly (in other words, the banking collapses in America, Iceland and Britain, plus the spectacles of national indebtedness, these are the tips of the iceberg, not the “thing itself”).1 Finally Meszaros concludes that the crucial dimension of the structural crisis is that it is a crisis not of the immediate limits to a given mode of capitalist accumulation, but its ultimate limits. Or as David Harvey has endlessly repeated since 2008, 3% annual compound growth globally was one thing when, in 1750, capitalism was a few mills around Manchester; it is something altogether different today given the very mass of value, fixed and circulating, of which capitalism consists today.
On 29th November I spoke to an ambulance driver (who wished not to be named) at a major urban hospital.
“What are you lot on about?” He approached me, pointing to the copies of the newspaper which I was distributing. “The public sector strike tomorrow, and the pensions the politicians are pulling in” I replied, swapping a bundle of papers for a notebook, and pulling out a press card (impartiality, fairness, balance and other journalistic watchwords were summoned). “Will you be on strike tomorrow?” I asked.
continent. is pleased to announce the addition of a new voice. From the worn, emotional streets of Athens, we introduce Nick Skiadopolous who will be posting here regularly on politics and philosophy and life on the edge of that wine dark sea…
One thing is decisive: that Marxism has contributed and always contributes to the impoverishment of political imagination. This is the point of our departure.
– Michel Foucault (1)
This is not a formal introduction. Yet something obliges me to introduce myself –so persistently that I feel compelled to write about it. Hence this is de facto an introduction on the importance of not succumbing to the temptation of introducing oneself when a given sense or gesture of “urgency” compels one to do so.
Still, I can almost read myself: “I am a middle-class Greek. I happen to be stuck in Athens, after a failed attempt to escape it. I want to convince myself that I am here in transit. This is why I prefer to stay at my mother’s place reading and trying to find some means to escape my purgatory. The conformism of my upper-middle class reveries secretly celebrates the complete crash of my country’s economy: since the job-market is dead, I won’t even have to consider Greece as an option.” I should be ashamed of myself –but I am not. For, if there is one thing that makes me hesitate to rip those quotation marks apart, is my active resistance to an identification that is not simply false, but even more indebted than my poor, devastated country. Continue reading…