Agitating The Frame, a collection of Zizek’s six essays, has an ambitious plan with lofty objective which attracts, while the very same turns out to be unmanageable monstrosity. And thereby it succeeds in becoming a book worth reading, to love as well as to hate the theoretically instigating monster named Zizek in the contemporary social science and humanities. One is inclined to read between the lines when Alain Badiou notes in his comment about the book: This is the first time that anyone has proposed to psychoanalyse our whole world.
The significance of Zizek’s works lies in the undying politico-theoretical optimism. This is optimism about a possibility of universal theoretical scheme in which one can comprehend the globally rampant issues of oppression. The latter subsumes sexuality, xenophobia, genocide, ethnic-conflagration, racist violence and so on so forth. The socio-cultural resources, particularly cinematic and literary, neatly befit this scheme. The scheme uncannily blends a few of the strands from the grand narratives of the bygone times, such as Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, and Marxian historical sociology. Suffice to say, Zizek is an artist in full control while blending; for, he does not like his work of art to become a la Dionysus devil beyond his control. This is the inimitable merit of the astute Frankenstein that his monster cannot dominate him. Zizek ingeniously endeavours to reinvent his scheme, every now and then, encapsulating and becoming, from sublime to ridiculous. The sublimity is characterized by politics of hope and the ridiculousness by desperate attempts to be perseverant, palatable, and provocative. His attacks are unequivocal; his critique is unsparing; his idioms are provocative; his analogies are sexually appetizing; his metaphors are scandalous; his self-defence is tight and linear; his arguments are clinically perfect; and suffice to say, his scheme is adequately fortified and hence seemingly unassailable. But then, could anything be unassailable in the age of pluralism?
To agitate his frame of discussion, bolstering his politico-theoretical scheme of reasoning, he steers clear of a few of the recent theoretical challenges. They are, namely, Berardi’s pessimism about the modes of protests in the contemporary world and a little exaggerated euphoria of Hardt and Negri about the neoliberal capitalism and thereof ‘multitude’. Zizek is hopeless about both, Berardi’s hope of ‘self-reliant communities’ and the multitude of goods, services and social relation of Hardt and Negri. And in the same breath, literally too hastily, Zizek also seeks to debunk Mignolo’s critique of ‘Leftist Eurocentrism’.Almost like a novice, ready to quickly rubbish a sensitive and sensitizing critique, rather than self-reflexively engaging, Zizek resorts to Fanon for his defence. While there is little dispute about the everlasting significance of Fanon’s propositions for the decolonized world, Zizek seems to take these ideas in a manner which elsewhere Alatas characterized as ‘captive mind’.1 It is an unreflective and uncritical emulation, in which Zizek engenders a scheme, rigid and hence vulnerable to the accusation of Eurocentrism.
No wonder, most of the substantiation hinges upon the socio-cultural resources from, literally, European context(s). Most of the targeted frames belong to either the Catholic worldview or western secular cultural domains. And, furthermore, it amounts to careless readings of the dalit scholarship from India. This is a lip service to local variants in the wake of acknowledged pluralism. He perfunctorily calls B.R Ambedkar ‘the main political figure of Dalits’, running the risk of ignoring the rich posterity of dalit corpus of knowledge. Even though it may pander to the dalit commonsense manufactured and savoured in a historical sense, it does not quell the debatable nature of the mention. Be that as it may, he argues that ‘a large section of Dalits have welcomed English and in fact even the colonial encounter’ (p. 16). Needless to say, Zizek is blind to the sociological complexity of the industry of English language and the Janus-faced relation of not only dalit but larger category of subaltern with English in India. Furthermore, there seems to be a blanket-blindness toward the layered tryst with modernity in India, which enveloped the messy evolution of modern education in English in India. However, Zizek seems to be religiously following the demands of academic capitalism whereby it is profitable in the academic milieu to myopically employ socio-political icons such as Ambedkar or Gandhi. The token mention of Ambedkar, and hasty conclusion about the dalit preference for the colonial laws undermines the intellectual credibility of a gigantic scholar that Zizek, indeed, is.
Perhaps, most enrapturing is Zizek’s irreverent psychoanalysis of the sexual behaviour, the relation between sexuality and cognition, whereby he resurrects Freud and Lacan; this may however be prosaic to many who have been familiar with Zizek’s previous works. Not to accuse him of self-plagiarizing since recycling scholarly intentions, motives, schemas of thinking do not figure in the software programme to detect plagiarism. Imperative is to comprehend the crucial thesis, interspersed with the hyper-intellectualized and exaggerated, to the extent of being arcane, discussions. So, what is the thesis? That sexual and mystical desires and urges have one grotesque commonality; they both thrive on fantasies; that ‘there is no sexuality without knowledge’ (p. 42); and that ‘sex spiritualizes itself only when it abstracts from its natural end and becomes an end-in-itself’ (p. 51). So much ado to draw a parallel between sexual-libidinal and spiritual! And readers of the popular-spiritual-pulp discourses in India must be puzzled about the novelty claim of Zizek’s thesis; for, didn’t Osho, one of the ostentatiously intellectual and self-proclaimed prophets of modern India in the decades of 1960s, also known as Rajnish, deliver a thesis on ‘from sex to salvation’?2 That too in a more accessible manner without turning esoteric and yet couched with a fusion of modern psychoanalysis, invented notion of spirituality, and a sense of aesthetics of everyday life. If only Zizek cared to find out about some of these eccentric thinkers, languishing in ignominy, and their radical thoughts on human sexuality. Instead, he dabbles in half-baked comparison between human and animal sexual instincts, sporadically. Or bizarre remarks, smacking of racist perceptions, such as, ‘to be fucked by a white man means socially acceptable but intimately not satisfying sex, while to be fucked by a black man means socially inadmissible but much more satisfying sex’ (p. 41). And to top it all, establishing the feature of a captive mind, blindly parroting Freud, and perpetuating Freudian fallacy, ‘If what “subjects” long for most intensely in their phantasies is presented to them in reality, they none the less flee from it’ (p. 23); and hence Zizek says, every woman phantazies to be raped, and shriek when it really happens!
With these many ifs and buts, one could ask why one should still read Zizek? To defend Zizek, without dismissing the inherent irony, one should read Zizek because he claims to be operating in the framework, which promises to enable us to comprehend the structures of oppression. At least, he does promise. One could also read Zizek to comprehend the consequences ofa very important theorist’s reluctance to engage with the theoretical posers from a large variety of thinkers in the milieu which has been a little too conveniently summarized as postmodern. One should, lastly, read it because one does experience the urgency to build up a context-sensitive framework in the world fraught with myriad forms of exploitation, injustice, and anti-humanness.
Notes and References
1Alatas, S.H. 2004. Captive Mind and Creative Development, in Partha Mukherjee and Chandan Sengupta edited Indigeneity and Universality in Social Science: A South Asian Response, Delhi: Sage.
2 Osho Rajneesh, From Sex to Super consciousness, http://www.oshorajneesh.com/download/osho-books/hindi-translations/From_Sex_to_Superconsciousness.pdf
Dev Pathak is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, South Asia University, New Delhi.