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Apr 23, 2014

Love as a Political Category: Zizek

Source: http://daily-struggles.tumblr.com/post/50765863638/slavoj-zizek-on-love-as-a-political-category
Love as a Political Category: Zizek 
This is a, somewhat loose, transcription of a talk by Slavoj Žižek given on Subversive Festival 2013, which can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b44IhiCuNw4
The majority of the text is actually, as often is the case with talks (and also writings) by Žižek, a rehash of ideas and analyses from Žižek’s books and articles (see the links I included at the end of the transcription, also see his own reference to this in the talk to his repetition of his idea of decaffeinated coffee), and, to my disappointment, the majority of the material Žižek discusses does not or only barely touches upon the subject of love. Nonetheless, put together Žižek draws some interesting connections between love, violence, spirituality, religions, modernity, capitalism and so on, and so on. 

I didn’t transcribe the whole of the Q&A, except for an interesting relevant statement Žižek makes about love.
________________________________________________
“If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and, if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the Universe would turn to a mighty stranger. I should not seem part of it”.
This is how, in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Cathy characterizes her relation to Heathcliff, and provides a succinct definition of unconditional erotic love. There is an unmistakable dimension of terror at work here. Think about the ecstatic trance of Tristan and Isolde; ready to obliterate the entire social reality in their immersion into the night of deadly enjoyment. 


Now I could go on here about erotic love, because I sincerely think that in contrast to our youth, the youth of those who are already old, when fighting for sexual freedom was experienced as liberating and even monogamous love was considered/dismissed as a bourgeois convention, I think today, more and more, love is emerging as something dangerous and subversive. Think about how you are addressed in your everyday life by society, what society demands of you. It’s basically a kind of slightly spiritual, pseudo-Buddhist hedonism. Ideology is telling you: “be faithful to yourself”, “realize your true potential”, “experiment with your life”, “try all different options”, “don’t fixate yourself on a certain stable identity”, “life is dynamic, fluid” and so on, and so on. And I claim that within this economy, not only is stable love/passionate love emerging as an obstacle to your “authentic development”, but even the crucial dimension of love is gradually disappearing. What is love? As Alain Badiou, our good friend, put it in his wonderful book In Praise of Love, there is always something traumatic/extremely violent in love. Love is a permanent emergency state. You fall in love. And it’s crucial [to know] that in English and in French we use this expression; you “fall” in love. You lose control. I claim that love, the experience of passionate love, is the most elementary metaphysical experience, it’s a platonic experience. In the sense of, you lead your easy, daily life, you meet [up with] friends, go to parties and whatever, everything is normal, maybe here and there a one-night stand, and then you passionately fall in love, [and] everything is ruined. The entire balance of your life is lost. Everything is subordinated to this one person. I almost cannot imagine in normal daily life, outside war and so on, a more violent experience than that of love. And I think [this is] which is why all the “advisers” that we [supposedly] need today are trying precisely to domesticate or erase this excess of love. It’s as if love is too poisonous and then they, [i.e.] all the marriage and dating agencies, tell you that the trick is how to find yourself in love without falling in love. This idea came to me when on one of my Transatlantic flights I read one of those stupid airline journals and there was a text in there, in big letters, claiming: “We will enable you to find yourself in love, without the fall”, without this dangerous exposure. And I think this fits perfectly to our daily narcissistic metaphysics. You know the old story that I repeat all the time; we want coffee without caffeine, we want beer without alcohol, and we want love without its dangerous moment, where you get lost. 

Now this is Eros, erotic love. Then we have its counterpoint, in Christianity, Agape. Agape functions in a wholly different way. How? It may appear that in contrast to Eros, with its violent subtraction from the collective space, the love for a collective succeeds in getting rid of the excess of terrorizing violence. Does Agape not imply an emphatic yes to the collective, ultimately to the entire humanity? Or even, as in Buddhism, to the entire domain of suffering life? The first counterargument is provided here by the reply to a simple question, just think about it: which political regimes in the twentieth century legitimized their power by evoking the subjects’ love for their leader? It was the so-called, I don’t like the term, totalitarian ones. Today, remember, it is only and precisely the North Korean regime which evokes all the time the infinite love of the Korean people for Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and so on, and vice versa the radiating love of the leader for his people. Love expressed in continuous acts of grace. Kim Jong Il wrote a short poem along these lines: “In the same way that a sunflower can only thrive if it is turned towards the sun, the Korean people can only thrive if their eyes are turned upwards towards their leader”, towards himself of course. Terror and mercy are thus closely linked. They are effectively the front and the obverse of the same power structure. Only a power which asserts its full terrorist right or capacity to destroy anything and anyone it wants, only such a power can systematically universalize mercy. Since this power could have destroyed everyone, those who survive are all still alive because of the mercy of those in power. Consequently, the very fact that we, the subjects of power, are alive, is the proof of the power’s infinite mercy. This is why the more terrorist a regime is, the more its leaders are praised for their infinite love, goodness and mercy. Theodor Adorno was right to emphasize that in politics love is evoked precisely when another democratic legitimation is missing, loving a leader means you love him for what he is, not for what he does. 

So how about the next candidate for love as a political category? The so-called oriental spirituality, Buddhism, with its, so we are told, more gentle balanced, holistic, ecological approach. You know, all the stories about how, when digging up earth for the foundation of a house, Tibetan Buddhists are careful to not kill any worms and such. In the whole of the last 150 years Japan’s rapid industrialization and militarization, with the ethics of discipline and sacrifice, was sustained by the large majority of Zen Buddhist thinkers. Who today knows that Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki himself, the high guru of Zen in the United States of the 1960’s, supported in his youth in Japan of the 1940’s the spirit of utter discipline and militaristic expansion. There is no contradiction here, no manipulative perversion of some authentic, compassionate insight. The attitude of total immersion into the selfless now, of the Instant, this so-called Buddhist enlightenment in which all reflexive distance is lost, in short in which absolute discipline coincides with total spontaneity, perfectly legitimizes our subordination to the militaristic social machine. It’s quite interesting to read Buddhist texts on war, where they claim openly that, for ordinary people, who don’t have time to meditate for years, the best shortcut for overcoming you false self and reaching nirvana, satori whatever we call it, is total subordination to the military discipline. And Suzuki himself wrote a wonderful text, where he even gives advice to the military how to use Buddhism to make killing easier. He says that if I persist in my everyday attitude of false belief in that I have a self, which is the free agent of its acts, and let’s say I have to kill one of you, this is difficult, I look into your eyes, I find it difficult, [I hesitate whether] I should stab the knife into you, I feel responsible. Then Suzuki says if you reach Buddhist enlightenment it’s much easier. You no longer believe in your autonomous self, your perceive yourself as just a void, an anonymous, impassive observer of life around you where phenomena simply are engaged in their cosmic dance, which is a totally neutral process. From this distance, as Suzuki puts it, you simply observe your knife in a cosmic dance of phenomena hitting the eye or the throat of your enemy. This is no joking matter, because I’m not blaming Buddhism for this. I’m just saying how even the most radical spirituality is no guarantee that we will not be doing horrible things in our daily life. 



What this means is that the Buddhist all-encompassing compassion has to be opposed to the Christian intolerant violent love. I want to praise the Christian love. Though Christian will probably lynch me for what I will say now. The Buddhist stance is that of indifference, of quenching all passions which strive to establishing differences. While the Christian love is a violent passion introducing difference, a gap in the order of being, to privilege and elevate some object at the expense of others. Love is violence, not in the vulgar sense of the well-known Balkan proverb “if he doesn’t beat me, he doesn’t love me”, [but] violence is already the love choice as such which tears its object out of its context elevating it to the sublime absolute thing. In Montenegrin folklore the origin of Evil is a beautiful woman. She makes men lose their balance, she literally destabilizes the universe, coloring all things with a tone of partiality. Among Christian theologists it was Gilbert Keith Chesterton who fully assumed the consequences of this violent aspect of love: one has to get rid of the old Platonic topos of love as Eros which gradually elevates itself from the love for a particular individual through the love for the beauty of a human body in general and the love of the beautiful form as such to the love for the supreme Good beyond all forms: true love is precisely the opposite move of forsaking the promise of Eternity itself for an imperfect individual. What if the gesture of choosing temporal existence, of giving up eternal existence for the sake of love, from Jesus Christ to, for example Siegmund in Act II of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre, who prefers to remain a common mortal if his beloved Sieglinde cannot follow him to Walhalla, the eternal dwelling of the dead heroes. What if this is the highest ethical act of them all? I think this is the message of Christianity which is still alive. Not forsake all terrestrial things for eternity, but love means I know you are a miserable, mortal being but I am ready to forsake eternity itself for you. Based on this insight Chesterton rejected the fashionable claim about the alleged spiritual identity of Buddhism and Christianity. To quote Chesterton from his Orthodoxy:  

"Love desires personality; therefore love desires division. It is the instinct of Christianity to be glad that God has broken the universe into little pieces. […] This is the intellectual abyss between Buddhism and Christianity; what for the Buddhist (or Theosophist) personality is the fall of man, for the Christian is the purpose of God, the whole point of his cosmic idea. The world-soul of the Theosophists [or Buddhist] asks man to love it only in order that man may throw himself into it. But the divine center of Christianity actually threw man out of it in order that he might love it. […] All modern philosophies are chains which connect and fetter; Christianity is a sword which separates and sets free. No other philosophy makes God actually rejoice in the separation of the universe into different living souls.”

A tremendous violence thus dwells in the very heart of the Christian notion of love for one’s neighbor. The violence which finds its most direct expression in a series of Christ’s disturbing statements. Here are some of these passages from the Gospels. You may be surprised what you find in what Christ is saying:

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on Earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me."


“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”

“Perhaps people think that I have come to cast peace upon the world. They do not know that I have come to cast conflicts upon the earth: fire, sword, war. For there will be five in a house: there’ll be three against two and two against three, father against son and son against father, and they will stand alone.”

So how are we to read these statements? And believe me I know what I’m talking about. All the time when I engage in debates with Catholic or Protestant or Orthodox priests, I ask them to tell me what this means, and it is incredible how they try to squeeze out of it. One way is the linguistic one, they claim maybe hate is not the right translation, that Christ just wanted to say if you love some people more than me, not to hate them. I claim this is a blasphemy for a true Christian. God appears here then as a stupid jealous guy who says: “you can love others, but be sure that you love me more”, that’s an obscenity! The best answer was given to me by a Polish priest in Warsaw during a debate, when I asked him what does this mean, he told me he did not expect this question today and needed more time to prepare the answer, to which I answered him: fuck you, you had 2.000 years to prepare the answer. I didn’t pull out an unknown passage. And it’s absolutely incredible how they are really not ready to provide a clear answer. 

To put it in a somewhat simplified way, there are two basic attitudes discernible in the history of religions. On the one hand there is the pagan cosmos, the divine hierarchical order of cosmic principles which, when copied on the society, gives the image of a congruent edifice in which each member is at each/his/her own place. The supreme good is here the global balance of principles, while the evil stands for their derailment or derangement, for the excessive assertion of one principle to the detriment of other principles, of the masculine principle to the detriment of the feminine one, of reason to the detriment of feeling, and so on and so on. The cosmic balance is then reestablished through the work of justice which, with its inexorable necessity, sets things straight again by crushing the derailed element. With regard to the social body, an individual is good when he or she acts in accordance with his/her special place within the social edifice, when he respects nature which provides food and shelter, when he shows respect for his superiors who take care of him in a fatherly way, and so on and so on. And evil occurs when some particular strata or individuals are no longer satisfied with their proper place within the global order, when children no longer obey parents, when servants no longer obey their masters, when the rulers no longer take care of their subjects and so on, and so on. I think that this is the ethics which even now is re=emerging often in the guise of some New Age wisdom, its so-called holistic approach. Every element should be in its proper place, evil is imbalance and so on, and so on. I claim that Christianity does precisely the opposite. Christianity introduces into the global order a principal totally foreign to it. A principle that measured by the standards of the traditional cosmology cannot but appear as a monstrous distortion, the principle according to which each individual has an immediate access to the universality, in Christianity the universality of the Holy Spirit, or today, of human rights and freedoms.  The idea is that I can participate in this universal dimension directly, irrespective of my specific particular place within the global order. So do Christ’s scandalous words, not point, in the same direction? Here we are not dealing with a simple brutal hatred demanded by a cruel and jealous god. When Christ says “if you don’t hate your father and mother you cannot be my follower”, I think the point is not that you should simply hate them as living being. I think that in a very simple way you can resolve this dilemma. Father, mother and so on, here condense the entire hierarchic social order, the network of relations of domination, subordination and so on. So that the hatred Christ mentions is simply the hatred of established social hierarchy; “you are my follower, if instead of functioning as a part of social hierarchic order, you see as your true home, as it were, the Holy Spirit, an unconditionally egalitarian community.” [The hatred enjoined by Christ is therefore not any kind of dialectical opposite of love, but the direct expression of love.] Or as St. Paul put it, it is love that enjoins us to unplug from our social community into which we were born, so that “there are neither men, nor women, neither Jews nor Greeks.” This is I think the very core of the Christian insight for me. God dies, Christ dies, at the same time the Father dies, all that survives is the Holy Spirit, which is the first name of the Communist Party as we know.  A radically egalitarian society which violently opposes social hierarchy, an immediate violent assertion of universal equality. 

It is against this Christian background that one should read Che Guevara’s well-known statement on revolutionary love:

"At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. It is impossible to think o a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality."

There is a further step to be made here. Guevara’s statement that “the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love” should be read together with his much more problematic statement on revolutionaries as “killing machines”: “Hatred is an element of struggle; relentless hatred of the enemy that impels us over and beyond the natural limitations of man and transforms us into effective, violent, selective, and cold killing machines. Our soldiers must be thus; a people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy.” These two apparently opposite stances are united in Che’s motto: ”Hay que endurecerse sin perder jamás la ternura. (One must endure – become hard, toughen oneself - without losing tenderness.)”  I think Guevara is here basically paraphrasing Christ’s declaration of the unity of love and sword. In both cases, the underlying paradox is that what makes love angelic, what elevates it over mere unstable, pathetic sentimentality is its cruelty itself, its link with violence. So while Guevara certainly believed in the transformative power of love, he would have never been caught humming “all you need is love”, what you need is to love with hatred. Or as, another strange bedfellow, Soren Kierkegaard put it long ago, the necessary consequence, the truth of the Christian demand to love one’s enemy is “the demand to hate the beloved out of love and in love”. To such an extreme madness, humanly speaking, can Christianity drive its demand, if love is to be the fulfillment of the law. Therefore it teaches that the Christian must, if required, be capable of hating his father and mother and sister and the beloved.” 

With regard to social order this means that the authentic Christian tradition rejects the wisdom that the hierarchic order is our faith, that all attempts to mess with it and to create another egalitarian order have to end up in destructive horror. Agape as political love, and following Terry Eagleton this is how I would propose to translate Agape, means that the unconditional, egalitarian love for one’s neighbor can serve as the foundation for a new social order.

The form of appearance of this love is the so-called apocalyptic millenarianism, or the idea of communism: the urge to realize an egalitarian social order of solidarity. Love is the force of this universal link that, in an emancipatory collective, connects people directly, in their singularity, bypassing their particular hierarchic determinations. Terror is terror out of love for the universal-singular others and against the particular. This terror means exactly the same thing as the work of love. Our reproach to the fundamentalist terrorists, whether Islamist or Christian, should thus be precisely that they are not terroristic in the right way, that they shirk from authentic terror as the work of love. 

Now you might be saying I am crazy. What distinguishes this from a murderous terrorist who kills but claims to kill you because of your eternal soul and so on, and so on? I will try to explain this in the remaining part by beginning with what is precisely the form of non-love today, but which poses as love: charity.

When we are shown scenes of starving children in Africa, with a call for us to do something to help them, like something like for the price of a couple of cappuccino’s you can save their life and so on, I claim that the true message is something like: “Don’t think, don’t politicize, forget about the true causes of their poverty, just act, contribute money, so that you will not have to think!”. In short the true message is that for the price of a couple of cappuccino’s you can continue your ignorant, pleasurable life, not only not feeling any guilt, but even feeling good for participating in the struggle against suffering. The notion of love is the opposite of charity. Charity is false love, because charity is love where the true aim is to make you[rself] feel good. 

How would the authentic, violent love help us to orient ourselves today? Let me begin with a wonderful quote from the last Christmas issue of the magazine Spectator, in which there was an editorial with the title “Why 2012 was the best year ever” which argues against the perception that we live in a dangerous, cruel world where things are bad and getting: 

"It may not feel like it, but 2012 has been the greatest year in the history of the world. That sounds like an extravagant claim, but it is borne out by evidence. Never has there been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. The West remains in the economic doldrums, but most developing countries are charging ahead, and people are being lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. The death toll inflicted by war and natural disasters is also mercifully low. We are living in a golden age."

Though, conceding to the devil what belongs to the devil, many things are true in this statement, the first thing to add here is that people rebel not when things are really bad, but when their expectations are disappointed. The French revolution occurred only once the king and the nobles were losing their hold on power; the 1956 anti-communist revolt in Hungary exploded after Imre Nagy had already been a prime minister for two years, after (relatively) free debates among intellectuals; people rebelled in Egypt in 2011 because there was some economic progress under Mubarak, giving rise to a class of educated young people who participated in the universal digital culture. And this is why the Chinese Communists are right to panic: because, on average, people are now living better than 40 years ago – and the social antagonisms (between the newly rich and the rest) are exploding, and expectations are much higher. That’s the problem with development and progress: they are always uneven, they give birth to new instabilities and antagonisms, they generate new expectations that cannot be met. In Tunisia and Egypt just prior to the Arab spring, the majority probably lived a little better than decades ago, but the standards by which they measured their (dis)satisfaction were much higher. So yes, the Spectator is in principle right claiming that we live in a golden era, but the very facts the Spectator emphasizes are creating conditions for revolt and rebellion. 

What rebellion? There is a more down-to-earth version of this claim by the Spectator, which I often hear in the mass media, especially when I visit non-European countries. They laugh at me and say: “Crisis? What crisis are you talking about?”. Look at the so-called Bric countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China, or at Poland, South Korea, Singapore, Peru, even many sub-Saharan African states – they are all progressing. The losers are western Europe and, up to a point, the US, so we are not dealing with a global crisis, but simply with the shift of the dynamics of progress away from the west. A potent symbol of this shift is the fact that, recently, many people from Portugal, a country in deep crisis, are returning to Mozambique and Angola, ex-colonies of Portugal, but this time as economic immigrants, not as colonizers. So what if our much decried crisis is a mere local crisis in an overal [frame of] progress? Even with regard to human rights: is the situation in China and Russia now not better than it was 50 years ago? Describing the ongoing crisis as a global phenomenon, the story goes, is a typical Eurocentrist view coming from leftists who usually pride themselves on their anti-Eurocentrism. Our “global crisis” is in fact a mere local blip in a larger story of overall progress. But we should restrain our anti-colonialist joy. The question to be raised is: “if Europe alone is in gradual decay, what is replacing its hegemony?” The answer is: “capitalism with Asian values” – which, of course, has nothing to do with Asian people and everything to do with the clear and present tendency of contemporary capitalism to limit or even suspend democracy. From Marx on, the truly radical left  was never simply progressive, it was always obsessed by the question: “what is the hidden price of progress?”. Marx was fascinated by capitalism, by the unheard-of productivity it unleashed; but he insisted this success engenders antagonisms. We should do the same today: keep in view the dark underside [of global capitalism that is fomenting revolts.]

How? First I want to note something about the status of universality, because critiques of Eurocentrism usually emphasize the ideological limitation/lie/deception of western European universalism, which are right up to a point [for example] when we talk about human rights where we privilege a certain ideological set of human rights specific to western, individualist societies and so on, and so on. It’s true, but it lies a little bit more complicated, because, in a proper dialectical Marxist perspective, every universality can be false. It is always over determined by some particular content, for example looking closely at human rights it secretly privileges whites, males, people of some property and so on, and so on. When we for example talk about Chinese philosophy, it is clear that we are doing a Eurocentrist operation, because philosophy as we know it emerged in Europe and if we applied the same notion to Chinese thought it is automatically in a disadvantage. But this historicist relativism, i.e. the caution of how universality can be a false universality, is just one side of the story. Marx is saying something, I think, which is much more actual today: that we are not only less universal than we think, but we are also much more universal than we think we are. For Marx the uniqueness of capitalism is that, as agents in a market we ourselves, as individuals, occupy a universal position, in the sense that we relate to ourselves as universal subjects, universal in the sense that we are no longer fully rooted in or identified with a particular social, ideological position. It’s not a universality with regard to others. Today I am an engineer, when I lose this work tomorrow I can be a taxi driver. Our particular field of work is experienced as something ultimately contingent, the same goes for market commodities. So universality is a way of life as it were, a mode of our immediate experience. And now the big question is, what role, with regards to the process of emancipation, this brutal capitalist universality, this unknown heard of force of capitalism to dissolve all particular modes of life has.

I want to do something extremely problematic, I want to rehabilitate two texts of Marx, which are usually dismissed by postcolonial studies as embarrassing cases of Marx’s racism and Eurocentrism, his two short 1853 articles on India: “The British Rule in India” and “The Future Results of British Rule in India”. Marx admits here without restraint the brutality and exploitative hypocrisy of the British colonization of India, up  to and including the systematic use of torture prohibited in the West but  ‘outsourced’ to Indians (there really is nothing new under the sun—Guantanamos  already existed in the midst of nineteenth-century British India): “The  profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization lies  unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable  forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked.” All Marx adds is that:

"England has broken down the entire framework of Indian society, without any symptoms of reconstitution yet appearing. This loss of his old world, with no gain of a new one, imparts a particular kind of melancholy to the present  misery of the Hindu, and separates Hindustan, ruled by Britain, from all its  ancient traditions, and from the whole of its past history….England, it is  true, in causing a social revolution in Hindustan, was actuated only by the  vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfill its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? IF not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing  about that revolution."
This is the Marx that is usually attacked. One should not dismiss the talk of the ‘unconscious tool of history’. Marx is not a naive teleologist claiming the brutal exploitation of India by the British was a tool of some higher historical reason which made it an instrument of future progress and so on, and so on. All Marx claims is that the British colonization of India unintentionally created conditions for the double liberation of India: from the constraints of its own tradition as well as from colonization itself. There is even empirical proof of this. The British colonizers were intelligent enough that they knew that if they allowed their colonization to simply dissolve the traditional, ideological, social, Indian edifice, castes and so on, this would create revolutionary upheavals in India. It is interesting to notice that from the very beginning of their rule, in contrast to what anti-colonial critics claim that British colonizers wanted them to lose their conditions and impose western standards, they put hard work into re-establishing some kind of resuscitating old, stable, value, ideological and religious system, which would keep India a stable, inert society ready to be exploited. 


For example, the ultimate Indian ideological textbook, the Laws of Manu, a pretty terrifying book, is a detailed justification of the caste system, with detailed descriptions what where to do. I learned surprisingly, from my Indian friends, that in the 17th century this book was half-forgotten. It is in the early 19the century that the British colonizers re-established this book. So I claim, all this talk about respect for local cultures, was from the very beginning the crucial part of the process of colonization. The British didn’t want the Indians to become like them, they wanted them in their inert traditional ways, and they even went as far as praising immensely the superiority of their spirituality. The standard memoir of a British colonizer read something like that; yes, we the British may be richer materially, yes, we bring progress and industry to India, but when you see a single yogi [practicing his spirituality], don’t you feel how worthless we are, don’t you feel the infinite depth of that simple spirituality, and so on, and so on. I claim that this is absolutely crucial. If you take this false respect for the Other away from colonialism, you lose colonialism itself. 

What do we have to accept here? We have to accept that, quoting from, another great dialectician, Richard Wagner from his Parsifal: “a wound can only be healed by the very spear which smote it.” That is to say, we should insist on what Marx insists on this brutal but radical ambiguity of colonization. That is to say, that it is the very power of social disintegration, unleashed by colonization, which at the same time opens up the space for liberation and also anti-colonial liberation. Let me give another example from India. When I was there two years ago I got into a heated debate with some Indian cultural theorists who complained about the fact that they had to use English language to express themselves. They claimed English is already a form of cultural colonization which censors their true identity: “you can see how strong colonization is, even now, when we try to formulate our project of liberation from colonialism, we have to do it in the language of the colonizers.” To quote one of them: “we have to speak in an imposed foreign language to express our innermost identity, does this not put us in a position of radical alienation, even our resistance to colonization has to be formulated in the language of the colonizer.” My answer to this was: yes, but this imposition of English, a foreign language, created the very X of unknown quantity which is oppressed by it. My message was received differently among my partners in the debate, but in strict correlation to their social status. The top Brahmin intellectuals shouted at me as colonizer blabla, the Dalits, the untouchables immediately accepted it.  Me message was that, it is true, when you speak a foreign language, you feel deprived of the very core of your identity, but my thesis is a much more radical one; it is that which you feel deprived of is a specter engendered by this very colonial imposition of a foreign language. In other words, it is a very refined dialectical paradox, Hegel uses the wonderful term “the absolute recoil”, the very loss of something, in a properly dialectical notion of history, creates the lost dimension. We don’t have a pre-colonial India and then brutal colonization, which makes people aware what they lost, and then in anti-colonial struggle they are trying to regain what they lost. No, the pre-colonial India was something totally different, it was irredeemably lost, insofar as it’s not lost it precisely serves the colonizers. This new dimension that you are craving more, for example in India a new, modern, democratic India, the very programme of decolonization is something engendered by colonization itself as a reaction to it. 

Another example to make this clear, one of my heroes Malcolm X, the great American fighter for black rights, who was a little bit more violent than Martin Luther King jr., chose to replace his family name with just an X, as the unknown, because at an immediate level he wanted to emphasize how the blacks, by being torn out of their African ancestral homes, are deprived of their roots. But the programme of Malcolm X was not, so let’s return to those roots, but X means: what if we grasp this very void into which our enslavement put us, the fact that we don’t have any genuine tradition to rely on, that we have to, as it were, collectively, re-invent our identity as a unique opportunity of freedom. And it’s also clear that he followed this line, in the end he was right, he found a new universalist frame in Islam. He had no dreams about returning to origins.

If you want further proof for what I’m saying, never forget that in South Africa it was the greatness of the African National Congress that they absolutely resisted all the bullshit about returning to some authentic African roots. The one who was preaching to return to African roots was King Bhutelezi, a local king who collaborated with Apartheid forces, he was even directly financed by the Pretoria Apartheid government. To see the truth of what I’m saying you should really read history. For example the white racist justification of the Apartheid system, it was not “we whites are more”, of course it was de facto this, but the justification was something like “what a precious difference of cultures we have here, we have Bushman, Hottentot, this that, and if we give them equality in the modern sense, all these precious spiritual traditions will all get lost in our vulgar, western mechanical, materialist, non-holistic civilization”. This idea was strictly a fake multiculturalism, but nonetheless a multiculturalism. The greatness of Mandela and so on was always to insist that they should beat the white people at their own field, by being more universal than they are. 

Back to India, I think that the solution is not to look for some lost Indian identity, but to see colonization as a welcome chance of getting rid of old rules and to take the fact that India is deprived of their proper tradition as a chance to achieving much more open, egalitarian and democratic society. And believe me or not, western Conservatives are becoming aware of this. For example I read a wonderful complaint by an American conservative linguist who says we shouldn’t be too proud of the primacy of English language, because the English language which is now a lingua franca, is no longer the old English of British people, but an English spoken by Indian merchants in Bombay, Singaporean bankers and so on, the English as a universal language is being stolen from British people themselves. 

So this is what I see as the core of Marx’s insight. I don’t believe in anti-colonial resistance on behalf of any return to some primordial lost roots. If anything we should advocate a newer, further universalization, a further loss of our local roots. 

Next point, what does this mean for us concretely today. There is a certain paradigm which unites many modern and not-so modern philosophers, let’s call it the Hölderlin paradigm, from the great German poet Friedrich Hölderlin whose most well-known line is: “Where the danger is grows also what can save as.”. The idea is that our epoch, is the epoch of extreme danger, extreme alienation for Marx or loss of our roots in global technology for Heidegger, but at this point of extreme loss is also the opportunity for, what Heidegger calls, die Kehre, for the reversal. When things are lost there is a chance of reversal.  For example the whole eschatology of Marx is based on this; capitalism is utter alienation, workers are deprived of all of the substantial, objective conditions of their work, but this very deprivation liberates them from all particular roots, creates them as universal subjects who may re-appropriate the universal substance.

My final thesis is that I think we should resist this paradigm that; we are at the moment of Kairos, dangerous times, the very limit, everything is almost lost, but maybe there is a chance in this total enslavement for total liberation. I think the opposite; our situation is much closer to that experienced by Hegel. Just like Hegel we had revolution. For Hegel it was the French Revolution, for us it were the communist attempts in the 20th century and other attempts. And it is obvious things went terribly wrong. For Hegel in the French revolutionary terror and so , for us in Stalinism and so on. And the whole problem of Hegel, if we read him properly, is how in this condition of failure, where, for example, communism as we experienced it in the 20th century was a fiasco, more or less globally, though not totally. How to save the legacy? How to remain faithful to it? How to do it again? How precisely not to betray what was worth fighting in it. Because the fiasco of communism was used not only by anti-communists, but in a much wider sense by ruling ideology to put in question basically the entire legacy of modernity. First it began with communism is over, it was a dangerous utopia. Then it went on into, because of this lucky or unlucky coincidence, 1789 - 1989, 200 years, that an era that began with the French Revolution was over. Then they went further, claiming that all of modernity was a fiasco. And you can feel this even in TV-series, Game of Thrones, or all this desire for a neo-gothic universe, that there is a big unease with modernity. And you find here strange bedfellows, from the extreme right, which basically claims that all horrors began with Luther or European modernity, up to a person for who I have great admiration, president of Bolivia Evo Morales, who said that capitalism killed Mother Nature, as if the catastrophe started there. No, it didn’t. I think that more than ever today, when we are faced with all the horrors of global capitalism, we should remain faithful to this Marxist insight that modernization is a radically ambiguous process and that every return to pre-modern values and traditions only serve to accelerate and strengthen what is most dangerous in modernization and that the only way out is through bringing modernization to its end.

This brings me back to the beginning, we encounter here the very dilemma with which I began. The two ways, either this holistic, pseudo-oriental (because with Buddhism things are much more complex) idea of global harmony, universal compassion which will close the wound of modernity. Or to accept that the wound itself, this cut of modernity, violent interruption of traditional order by modern universalism, beginning with Christianity and so on, that this is our only salvation. 

Since there were no dirty jokes, I would nonetheless like to end with a very dirty joke, that I heard in Ramallah, from a Palestinian Christian. He told me this joke about Jesus Christ:

“The night before Jesus was arrested and crucified, he was praying alone in the tent. His Apostles gathered around the tent and started to worry. Christ was still a virgin, he didn’t have sex. And they said, my God, our lord did so much for us, so many great things, and he will die tomorrow, being crucified without any joy and happiness, so why don’t we at least bring him on the last evening some joy. So they call Mary Magdalene and ask her to go to the tent where Christ was resting to seduce him. Of course being who she was she said with pleasure and went there. Now after 5 minutes Mary Magdalene came out running with a totally horrified cry, and the Apostles were wondering what happened there. Is Christ secretly a pervert, did he torture her or something? ‘No, no’, she explains, ‘everything went well in the beginning, I slowly undressed, I spread my legs, I showed to Christ my pussy, but then catastrophe started, he said what a terrible wound is there, he put his hand on it and “healed” it and made it whole’.”

So beware of the people who are too intent on healing other people’s wounds. I claim in exactly the same way, if today’s advocates of anti-Eurocentrism were to find themselves in actual pre-colonial reality, they would have undoubtedly uttered the same terrifying scream as Mary Magdalene did. There is no way back, we have to play the game of the modernist project until the end. This is the greatest temptation today, even if it’s called anti-imperialism. I am totally against imperialism, I just think we should never, never forget that anti-imperialism is also a very much misused word. Remember that when they started to fight the British and so on, German and Japanese fascists were regularly using the term anti-imperialism. I’m against imperialism, but I’m not ready to sacrifice the legacy of European modernity. Precisely that passionate model of love, Agape as universal love, love which is not the wisdom of keeping a distance, but fully falling into it, full engagement, losing oneself without reserve. For me wisdom is not all that Star Wars, pseudo-oriental bullshit; don’t attach yourself too much to a worldly object. No! Attach yourself to the end to a worldly object. That’s the only way out for me, with all the risks this involves.

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A relevant, abridged quote from the Q&A
"As to universal love, I would say that for me, an authentic communist perspective, would not be love for humanity. Here I admire Marx, when he was writing the Communist Manifesto with Engels, and they were debating what should be their slogan with their fellows. And some of them proposed things like "all men are brothers", "love of mankind",  and Marx just acidly answered: no thanks, there are quite many people whom I don’t want to be my brothers, quite many people I don’t want to love. I think that there is always something wrong in proclaiming directly, universal love in this simple all-encompassing sense, because I think that this type of love is always founded on an exception. "I love you all", always, when you scratch deep enough, means something "I love you all and I love you all so much that I am ready to kill all those who destroy/undermine your universal welfare".


I think that authentic love is always; the majority of people are stupid idiots and ignorant, but maybe I love you and you and you and just you. I much more believe in this particular exclusive love. Now you will say, what about Agape? This is for me strictly love as a category of struggle. It’s not love in the sense of I love you all. It’s in the sense of let’s establish solidarity. The only universality that I admit today is the universality of struggle. The only universality is that [everywhere] we [all] have our problems and there is a common front of each of us fighting in our country against a [common] enemy. That is love as a category of struggle.”

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