Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Why does the world take the form it takes at this particular point in history?

I had a fruitful though short exchange with N Pepperell over at Rough Theory late yesterday about some issues raised at Larval Subjects. Distilled like a fine Whiskey, Pepperell concentrates on some questions about change, raised as elaborations of a kind of return to Marx’s “aim of philosophy,” put forth by Sinthome. They are:
1. What is to be changed?
2. How is it to be changed?
3. Why does the world take the form it takes at this particular point in history?
In my comments on Pepperell, I jump at what I saw. These are three questions that seem quite old actually, almost worn out and deceptively practical. I would like to suggest that these questions and their ilk are worth raising only if they point us back– and I think they can– to a more core issue for the cause of revolution and freedom: if the aim of philosophy for Marx is not merely to explain the world, but to change it, than our pre-occupation should not be with the world as much as with change itself. In other words, the appropriate question is:what is change?.
This is what I feel Zizek is up to in his jesterly Leninist moments. As I explained somewhat in my entry last week on Repeating Lenin, and re-iterated in my comments with Pepperell, the concern with change must be dead-serious at its core. This means avoiding the cynical gesture that, as soon as we begin to engage the question of what change is really about, change is impossible and necessarily to be avoided. We should adopt an ironic gesture of confronting this apparent impossibility for change, which confronts us with an almost humorous absurdity, with the intent of taking it as seriously as can be. The point is, of course, that change conceived as a co-ordinate in the present hegemonic-ideological field is by definition an impossibility, as it is (at this point anyway, after the great revolutionary attempts of the 19th and 20th Centuries) the repressed kernel effectively making the reproduction of the ideological field possible. This is what Zizek is getting at when he tells us that
The point is that there is a certain something not going on when all we feel compelled to ask are questions like those I quote from Sinthome above. Masked in such seriousness, this is an activity “of doing things not to achieve something, but to PREVENT from something really happening, really changing” (ibid). The most radical question we should be asking, if we are to return to Marx’s aim of philosophy, is that which confronts change head-on and takes it seriously and not its impossibility. That is why I think there is something important to this repetition of Lenin. It takes us back to “the Lenin-in-becoming, the Lenin whose fundamental experience was that of being thrown into a catastrophic new constellation in which old coordinates proved useless, and who was thus compelled to REINVENT Marxism” (ibid)– the Lenin who had the depth and courage to ask in all seriousness: what is change?