As the world upends with the news of Zizek’s sudden demise, I thought I’d at least point to a (mostly) worthwhile effort on Z’s part. In the latest LRB, Zizek finally enters the fray per Wikileaks and secret governments. The essay is a bit, you might say… all over the place. And not always in the classic Zizekian way, as some of the bits on “tact” seem out of place in terms of coherence and not simply linearity. However, the coda of the work gets back on track quite nicely (almost like a season of Dexter). Succinctly, Zizek argues that the political use of tact entails well-meaning lies meant to uphold the social order, and that there are occasions when social good is achieved through the keeping up of appearances. However, certain situations, following Marx’s famous quip about farcical historical reenactment, require the logic of shame:
There are moments – moments of crisis for the hegemonic discourse – when one should take the risk of provoking the disintegration of appearances. Such a moment was described by the young Marx in 1843. In ‘Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law’, he diagnosed the decay of the German ancien regime in the 1830s and 1840s as a farcical repetition of the tragic fall of the French ancien regime. The French regime was tragic ‘as long as it believed and had to believe in its own justification’. The German regime ‘only imagines that it believes in itself and demands that the world imagine the same thing. If it believed in its own essence, would it … seek refuge in hypocrisy and sophism? The modern ancien regime is rather only the comedian of a world order whose true heroes are dead.’ In such a situation, shame is a weapon: ‘The actual pressure must be made more pressing by adding to it consciousness of pressure, the shame must be made more shameful by publicising it.’
A more pressing question: Is Zizek’s controversial descent into social conservatism the farcical repetition of some tragic earlier demise hitherto unrealized? I, for one, hope not.