Saturday, August 31, 2013

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Two intellectuals to whose work I have devoted many an hour are fighting. Noam Chomsky called Slavoj Zizek an irrational irrelevance. Slavoj Zizek said he admired Chomsky, but that Chomsky is naive about his own ideological biases. Noam Chomsky thinks that Slavoj Zizek is a slave to meaningless linguistic posing, Zizek that Chomsky is a slave to objective rationality.

I should have seen this coming. Zizek once told one of those stories/jokes/parables about a man who lost his keys in a ditch during the night, but was looking for them under a street light yards away from where he lost them. When asked why he was looking there, he said that this was the only place with light. Zizek told this story as a critique of ideology. I heard Chomsky tell the same story, only approvingly. The signs of a struggle were there all along.

Personally, I think the differences can be worked out. These two are not so unlike each other, after all (though perhaps that is part of the problem). This brilliant passage from Zizek's The Desert of the Real is surely one which Chomsky would offer a hearty "Amen!" to if he were a Pentecostal. Indeed, you could be forgiven for thinking that Chomsky himself is its author. It was written in the aftermath of 9-11:

[W]hile the number of victims - 3,000 - is repeated all the time, it is surprising how little of the actual carnage we see - no dismembered bodies, no blood, no desperate faces of dying people . . . in clear contrast to reporting on Third World catastrophes, where the whole point is to produce a scoop of some gruesome detail: Somalis dying of hunger, raped Bosnian women~ men with their throats cut. These shots are always accompanied by an advance warning that 'some of the images you will see are extremely graphic and may upset children'- a warning which we never heard in the reports on the WTC collapse. Is this not yet further proof of how, even in this tragic moment, the distance which separates Us from Them, from their reality, is maintained: the real horror happens there, not here?

For Somalis and Bosnians, read "Syrians" today.

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