Thursday, March 19, 2009

Courage Is The Primary Virtue

March 16th was the sixth anniversary of Rachel Corrie's death. (Seems more recent doesn't it.)


NAIMA SHAYER: [translated] On that last day, she didn’t want to leave our house. She’d get to the door and then rush back to hold and kiss us goodbye again. I asked her, “What’s wrong? Do you think you’re going to die today?” She did this a few times, as if she didn’t want to leave us.


That evening, my niece told me that Rachel Corrie had been killed by an Israeli bulldozer and had watched it on television. I didn’t believe her at first and thought she must have been lying.


All of us in the house were crying. She had stayed with us for over twenty days. I remember, whenever she was late, she’d call and apologize. If she got later than 7:00, she’d let us know. Once she got stuck at a checkpoint and called so we wouldn’t worry. She was just like one of us, a member of our family. She was so good to us.


ABU JAMEEL: [translated] Very few people live up to Rachel’s example. Honestly, even today, I remember her. I can see her: slender, fair, beautiful, wearing a kafia. She was graceful and so courageous, never afraid.


My house was near an Israeli watchtower near the wall. She’d be there with her megaphone, shouting, “Please, don’t fire. There are children here.” She had an open spirit, a pure spirit. She was a great person, irreplaceable. Rachel’s life should be recorded in history.


At the conference on the idea of communism in London three days before, organiser Slavoj Zizek urged his audience:

We must resist the temptation to act. We must refuse being told that children are dying of hunger in Africa or in the slums of India, for this is the philosophy of the present times. They don’t want us to think.


Oh yes that terrible temptation to act, which plagues that audience, stalks it everywhere with its blandishments and meretricious seductions, from which they know not where to hide. But one must be strong, be firm, one mustn't play into their hands, you see. Like Rachel Corrie, the hysterics of Seattle and Genoa, the antiwar protesting puppets of Bush, the shoe hurling journalists of Iraq, Free Gaza, or the millions of French strikers today.

The charismatic theorist's urgent appeal will no doubt be scrupulously obeyed. In fact it was already being obeyed before it was even made. But now, intransigent refusal to act can be self-righteous too, its protagonists can congratulate themselves, how brave and strong we are to resist the temptation to which weaklings and dupes like Corrie succumb.

9 comments:

  1. "We must refuse being told [...] They don’t want us to think."

    is this "must" a statement of what 'they' don't want us to do? or a counter to 'their' desires?

    and, in the case that he is actually arguing the latter, doesn't he then set himself up for self-sabotage by way of saying one shouldn't listen to things they are told? that is, isn't he equating the moral power of his own speech with that of the powerful - arguing that all thoughts and commands are ideological, and that one shouldn't abdicate moral authority to those least prepared to offer it?

    I used to think Zizek's nihilism was pernicious on purpose, but now I'm of the opinion that it's simply infantile gameplaying that can and should be swatted aside, and that he recognizes this and even demands it. Zizek proposes language as a necessary site of deception that is most often used to invert obvious moral propositions, and fully inhabits this in his own work. having understood this, I'm not sure its worthy of my respect, but who wants to respect philosophers? one should instead respect action.

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  2. kenoma7:14 PM

    Dave, I think you're rash to assume that the "they" who don't want us to think aren't the African and Indian children he mentions in the preceding sentence. It would be entirely consistent with his world-view.
    it's simply infantile gameplaying that can and should be swatted aside, and that he recognizes this and even demands it.
    But he got a lot of applause for what he said, and no one at that conference really challenged him on these obnoxious ideas of his. If he really is demanding to be dismissed as a child, he must be getting pretty frustrated by now with all the heavily-publicized conferences, the booksales, the interviews with the FT and BBC, the documentary film crews, the NYT editorials...

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  3. I'm sure the only objective is to flatter his white middle class and upper middle class audience, reminding them that "children starving in Africa and the slum[dog]s of India" are objects of contempt, even imaginary cardboard clichés invented by some liberal multiculturalist sorosian conspiracy to manipulate them with, impossible different,a whole lower order of being with which any contact is unimaginable, even figments of their own fantasy, while they themselves are the centre of all creation, their own psychological and intellectual state the most important thing, the very soul of the universe, the highest achievement ofnature and god, and their only duty is to pamper themselves, admire themselves and consume culture products which help them experience their own wonderfulness, which he's selling. To be completely self centred, self concerned, assured of their superiority, and to be very suspicious, indeed hostile to, left militants of all kinds.

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  4. ah kenoma; you're right. I am so used to his objectification to mere ideas that I didn't notice, but yes, at the same time it is these "others" - now in africa and india, but its fungible for him - who want to harm and degrade the european middle class and who are dividing and destroying their recent harmonious civilised utopia. He said so straight out on democracy now.

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  5. in trading the authority of 'bourgois moralism' for the authority of Zizek, those flattered audience members prove themselves buffoons, fleeced by ideologies they don't understand. I suspect Zizek simply has no hope for the future of mankind because he sees these people, who should be his allies, as just as malleable as the mass they despise. That's why I no longer find his nihilism pernicious, but resigned.

    As for his 'frustration' with fame, I suspect that he enjoys the fame itself quite a bit; I just hope he feels simultaneously sad that no one else is on his twisted joke. Zizek places himself as the emperor who asks his tailor to fashion 'invisible' clothes so as to laugh at the ensuing flattery.

    I think his jokes are counterproductive only because much of his audience is secretly reactionary - a good portion of 'radicals' actually aim to replace the existent hierarchy with one they can lead (one of political purity, or intellectual rather than economic class, etc) rather than to dissolve it. His calling this out is childish and ends up as a takedown of ideology as a possible locus of action, but SZ has always been a "Marxiste, tendance Groucho," no?

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  6. kenoma7:37 PM

    "Zizek proposes language as a necessary site of deception that is most often used to invert obvious moral propositions, and fully inhabits this in his own work."

    Or you could say his already-inverted moral propositions necessitate a belief that language is necessarily a site of deception. It's not surprising that someone basically sympathetic to neoliberalism and western chauvinism who made the career calculation of becoming a professional Marxist Intellectual should think like that, is it?
    But anyway, if you talk to the fans of Zizek, you see they never really buy this idea that language is necessarily deceptive etc. They're always so sure that he wasn't really being racist or Islamophobic or an apologist for TARP: underneath all that is a bedrock of radical Marxist hatred of oppression.

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  7. "I think his jokes are counterproductive only because much of his audience is secretly reactionary"

    when you get a thousand white people at an all white gathering giggling and applauding a "primitive half ape blacks" routine, any "secret" about them has to be considered "out".

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  8. " His calling this out is childish and ends up as a takedown of ideology as a possible locus of action"

    why would what he says relate to ideology as a possible locus of action, (whatever that means?) he's just anne coulter and hitchens for a niche of people who will work in the culture industry who won't listen to anne coulter or hitchens but who still need to be trained for their careers.

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  9. he's not really influencing anyone, but he is drilling these students who identify as too kewl for the fuddy duddies but are basically reactionary or libertarian in the clichés and topoi they will need for work, and giving them a few tools of selfjustification and a pep talk for their egotism to help them be the little eichmanns they will be required to be. those who aren't cut out for that are immune but perhaps slightly intimidated by the majority; those who are find eachother and a common tongue and earn all the dogwhistles.

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