Friday, October 21, 2005

Slavoj Zizek on "The Subject," Racism, and Hurricane Katrina

ZizekWho says critical theorists, even famously abstruse ones like the Slovenian post-Lacanian critic and professor, Slavoj Zizek, don't or can't make valuable contributions to the (American) public discourse? Here's one: in "The Subject Supposed to Loot and Rape," in In These Times, he reads the "racism" in the hyperbolic claims of violence and looting that were made as the Hurricane Katrina tragedy unfolded. Though subsequent studies of the supposed orgies of bloodthirstiness (including child rapes and cannibalism!) have been debunked, Zizek is more interested in the psychological mindset that constructs the "subject who is supposed to..." and this case, "the [Black] subject who is supposed to [commit violent acts when unloosed, by events like Hurricane Katrina, from the constraints of civilization]...." You know, those _______ gangbangers who were firing at helicopters, conducting street-by-street serial rapes, etc.

(Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, and thousands starved and thirsted, suffered from lack of medicine and adequate medical treatment, lost everything and were subjected to a horrifically cruel oversight by the federal government which, astonishingly (or not) is still paying "Brownie-you're-doin'-a-heckuva-job!" even though he was more concerned with getting his eat on than dealing with the dire conditions in the Superdome and elsewhere....)

Zizek goes on to link this to a larger discussion of globalization and the fall of walls meant to keep people in (as in the Berlin Wall), which led Francis Fukuyama, recently a critic of neoconservatism and the W debacles, to declare, pompously, "the end of history." Ah, such vision, such genius. Only, as Zizek points out, what has followed is the rise of new walls, such as the one in Ceuta, to keep the ______ Others out of the wealthy, liberal states (Spain, France, Italy, etc.) of the West, as well as the continuing existence of internal, often "invisible" socioeconomic walls and barriers which separate the impoverished, mostly Black (but also poor Whites, Asians, Latinos, and others) from the middle and upper-classes and industrial base in New Orleans, which in any case depend upon low-cost labor for capitalism to flourish. (And so far, no one wants those poor folks, especially all those poor Black folks, to come back anytime soon.) He even includes that monstrous hypocrite Bill Bennett in his reading (who says foreigners aren't paying attention to our barbarism?). Says Zizek:

This brings us back to rumours and “reports” about “subjects supposed to loot and rape:” New Orleans is one of those cities within the United States most heavily marked by the internal wall that separates the affluent from ghettoized blacks. And it is about those on the other side of the wall that we fantasize: More and more, they live in another world, in a blank zone that offers itself as a screen for the projection of our fears, anxieties and secret desires. The “subject supposed to loot and rape” is on the other side of the Wall—this is the subject about whom Bennett can afford to make his slips of the tongue and confess in a censored mode his murderous dreams. More than anything else, the rumors and fake reports from the aftermath of Katrina bear witness to the deep class division of American society.

It's also worth reading the comment section, where several posters go at each other and misread Zizek, which is hardly surprising. (The denial of racism, unsurprisingly, factors in here.) That Sublime Object of Ideology requires at least two or three readings, almost Straussian in focus, to be understood fully.


  1. John, Did you note that the Washington Post article you link to also links to you? Interesting . . .

  2. ... you are right, John - the comment section is fascinating. By dismissing and misinterpreting Zizek, they're actually proving his point.

  3. Thanks for the heads up on Slavoj Zizek and In These Times. I'll be on the lookout for it.

  4. very interesting indeed. Zizek is one of my all time favorites, really. I've always thought that his explication of racism as the Other's paranoia of stolen jouissance is such a delicilous concept. Good to see there is still hope and room for postmodern, pyschoanalytically informed public intellectualism.