Slavoj Zizek is of course a fascinating narrator, and I personally came away with the feeling that his statements about the nature of ideology and its relationship to the human social and psychological condition to be absolutely true. I also found the arc of his discussion during this film to be very coherent and that it built upon itself in a logical, reasonable, and quite acceptable way. Also, Sophie Fiennes recreation of the sets of the movies that were referenced made a very nice connection to the clips which Zizek used as examples and illustrations of the points of his discussion and elaboration.
However, having said all that, I asked myself why I felt Zizek's description to be so believable and appealing. The problem I had was that it, being rooted in "soft science" lacked the features which one demands of rigorous "hard science", that is, the twin features of falsifiability and extensibility. Soft sciences, by contrast, employ the comparative method, that is, making believable analogies between apparently similar historical events, such as the fall of the Roman Empire, the end of The Crusades, the end of World War II in the United States, and finally Heinlein's background discussion of the fictional historical events that led to the citizen system based upon military service in his novel Starship Troopers. One could make a number of arguments based on comparing these historical events, and what is known (and unknown) about them, to draw conclusions about the impact on a society, particularly the society of a large empire, of the return of large number of veterans from a large and protracted war, particularly from the standpoint of economics, culture, the role of women, and gender relationships.
But none of these conclusions may be validated in the sense of a theory in hard science. It's impossible to "run an experiment" in which a society is placed in a "comparable" historical situation (whatever that means), and run the clock forward to see if the same thing happens. Hence, such comparative, soft science "pseudo-theories" are not falsifiable. They may not be disproven by experiment. Furthermore, even if you accept that based on some comparatively established analysis of historical data, you cannot make specific conclusions about a different situation. For example, if you make a convincing argument that, reprising the earlier example, that a "Burden of Empire" or "Problem of the Legions" situation has arisen in a society, that women will necessarily be subjugated and marginalized, even persecuted, in order to displace them and make room for the returning men, giving them jobs, education, places to live [Eastern European Accent] and so on and so on. You may have to shoehorn the Roman data into this explanation, or posit exceptions to the general theory to somehow make it fit, since it has returning legions (the "Problem of the Legions") but perhaps has no identifiable concommitant subjugation of women. Further, it is impossible to say that Heinlein's complete lack of the subjugation of women makes his story implausible, certainly not in the same way as violating Einstein's theories would. Indeed, Heinlein does explain, he recognizes the need to explain, how his ships travel around faster than the speed of light, and he also describes in great detail how his soldiers get from orbit to landing, precisely because any reader with a basic knowledge of physics would not be able to suspend disbelief, or would "falsify" his narrative.
One might like to classify Linguistics as a "soft science" but in many ways it is not true. For example, if you discover a language that relativizes the genitive case, then you can conclude, even absent data or evidence, that it must also relativize the indirect object case. If you find a language that does not do this, that is, where it is possible to have a sentence in which the genetive is relativized, such as, "Oh, that's the dentist whose daughter I went out with last week" but no sentence where the indirect object is relativised, such as, "Oh, that's the dentist's daughter to whom I gave a box of chocolates and a bouquet of flowers last week," then it would be a violation of the Theory of Relativization Hierarchy. In other words, the theory would be falsified, and until such a (natural) language is discovered, the theory can be held as being true. Further, the theory allows you to predict that if you know that a language relativizes the genitive, then it will also relativize the indirect object, that is, the theory is extensible.
Another linguistic example of a theory that was falsified is the notion that OVS languages did not exist. None had been discovered, so it was assumed that for some reason, logic, the way the human brain is structured, they could not exist. This is, by the way, the reason that the artificial K'Lingon language, invented for the Star Trek movies and TV shows, was devised with precisely this structure because it sounded more "alien". However, once the Amazon basin was penetrated far enough, tribes using this very language structure were encountered and the "no-OVS" theory was falsified and tossed out.
So my point is that while Zizek lays out a very appealing narrative, effectively the only takeaway may be a kind of "gee-whiz" feeling and perhaps the ability to parrot his ideas, poorly, no doubt, while holding forth at cocktail parties [Balkan Accent again] and so on and so on.
Having said that, I did not feel this so strongly about his example of [Accent] the German hard-rock band Rammstein and his analysis of how they were engaged in liberating the minimal libidinal elements of Nazi iconography by enjoying them, ridiculous though they seem, in their pre-ideological state, beyond the horizon of their Nazi meaning. This is one of the glimpses where I felt like there was some, if not the possibility for extension or falsification in the hard science sense, but some kind of "engineering approach". In fact, since engineers apply the fruits of hard science, and are therefore active agents of extension and falsification of scientific theory, this is one and the same thing.
It is said, by the way, that if there were no engineers, then all scientists would effectively be "mere philosophers". This insight may apply especially and ironically well in this case.
Hence, theoretically, it should be possible to, in the same fashion, to first identify, and then liberate minimal elements that, through their attached ideological components, form the underpinning of phenomena such as racism and sexism.
But what are these "ideological components", so to speak? This is where Zizek hits the end of the road, as I see it. At this point his ideological elaboration shows its lack of "granularity" and this is also where I see memetic theory as stepping in and providing the scientific basic for identifying and even measuring the elements of racism and sexism.
For example, when Lupita Nyong'o won the Oscar for12 Years a Slave, people started talking about how "black people can be beautiful" and how "African hair is beautiful/just as good as white hair" and so on. This is precisely not the way to combat racism (or sexism). The fact that black people (or African people -- since "black" is a very racist term in some countries) have dark skin and certain facial and hair characteristics, and the fact that women have breasts, lack facial hair, are unable to urinate standing up, and bleed during menstruation are NOT why African people and women are deprecated and oppressed. No more than black leather trenchcoats or even swastikas are inherently fascist. In fact, prior to World War II, the swastika was simply a crucifix, a Hakenkreutze, often worn as a good-luck charm, and which was no doubt why the Nazis appropriated it -- more on this later, perhaps.
A MIAO (Memetic Iconic Anchoring Object) is similar to a sign in the semiotic sense, that is, its absence or presence brings in automatically a given set of memes attached to the sign or MIAO. Zizek hints at this idea, but doesn't really give it a name. He describes an ideology as an "empty vessel" but this is not really the same idea, I thought (perhaps a topic for discussion), so I thought this was a bit of a fuzzy point.
The swastika could be described as an example of co-option, while the iconography or memetic loading around (the MIAO of) menstruation could be seen as an example of trans-pairing. The swastika was once attached to all sorts of positive iconography, or memes, such as Christianity, purity, good luck, [Accent] and so on and so on, and in its Nazi articulation all of these qualities are attached to Nazism, effectively. In trans-pairing, there are MIAOs with memes attached that are originally neutral or positive, and then a new, negative set of memes are paired one-by-one to the old ones to deprecate the MIAO in question, in this case, African skin and hair, and women's menstruation and inability to pee standing up. Women are good, women's ability to have children and menstruate is powerful and good, but in the new ideology this power for good means that they must be married and subjugated to a husband and are the cause of original sin and so all of the good stuff is trans-paired with bad memes in the invading negative, oppressive ideology/memetic system, for instance, that women's menstruation is good, yes, but it is also a sign of their inequity and being cursed by God. Another, kinder and gentler memeplex might hold that women's reproductive powers and menstruation [accent] and so on and so on attaches to them a greater personal responsibility to control said powers, rather than making them subjugated to spouses or the state for the sake of the same control.
To add to this, talking about whether "black hair" is good or bad elevates it to the status of a MIAO. This is really a discussion of whether African people are "good" or "bad". "White hair" is not so much a MIAO, a semiotic sign, except perhaps for truly blond hair. [accent] Blonds are stereotyped sometimes as "stupid", or "super-sexy" and "extraordinarily attractive". Some of this could be put off to blond hair being a sign of neoteny and thereby triggers the natural human reaction to be attracted to and altruistic toward youth generally, but this might be a stretch. Hence the blond hair is a MIAO to which these and other memes may be attached. In fact, the positives aspects of blondness may be trans-paired with these negative memes. But I digress, perhaps. When I lived in Japan, my hair was a MIAO, and sometimes all of the stylists in the salon would come over to touch my "gaijin hair", a MIAO and a sign of my "otherness".
Another thing that seemed contradictory was that during his Coke is the Real Thing discourse, Zizek said that the "surplus meaning" associated with commodities was "with us forever", that is, we could not go back to a state where Coke or other such could be relieved of its ideological meaning, or as I would say in memetic theory, deprived of its MIAO status by liberating it from attached positive and negative memes. However, that is precisely what he claimed that Rammstein WERE doing, as I understood things. Perhaps a topic for discussion.
My position is that whatever historical "need", such as the Problem of the Legions, or pure greedy economics and lust for profit, motivated the deprecation of Africans and women, their MIAOs, e.g., dark skin and curly hair, breasts, menstrual blood, squatting to urinate, etc., are as Zizek termed it "empty containers" which were filled up with ideology, or memetic systems, as I would term it as being the same thing, and negative memes were used as a way to accomplish this subjugation. Again a fuzzy point. What is the ideological system, and what is the physical object, the minimal element? Memes and MIAOs (semiotic signs) make this distinction clear in a useful, extensible way, and a MIAO does not have to be "minimal", or at least "how minimal" it is may be clearly stated.
So attacking the MIAO itself is a fool's errand. An example that comes up again and again, seemingly in every other issue of so-called "feminist magazines" such as BUST, is how somebody has discovered how women can pee standing up with some special posture or device. It is not the MIAO itself which one should attack or focus upon, but the ideology, or memes, attached to it, which according to Zizek's Rammstein example, could be removed, that is, the MIAO could be liberated. Trying to find a way for women to pee standing up or to bleach African skin or straighten hair in fact re-enforces the stereotypes and anchors the memes and ideology more firmly to the MIAOs.
By the way, another thing I found interesting was Zizek's assertion that all acts of violence are the result of an inability to engage the prevailing ideology, and again, I feel that memetic theory could actually provide a basis for looking at this closely, even pointing to preventative measures and showing how to measure when such dangerous situations exist. Zizek says interesting stuff, again, but it's unclear what, if anything, we can do with it.
So, Slavoj Zizek is a fascinating and engaging lecturer, and I felt that most everything he said was somehow "true" and yet, lacking the hard science, ended up almost being a story of sound and fury but ultimately signifying if not nothing, but little in terms of take-away. His initial statement, that even when we think we escape into our dreams, we are still within ideology, is great, seems true, but it also seems to be a "just so story" and I was made to think of Susan Blackmore, who said effectively the same thing, that is, that we are trapped in our world of memes, but, unlike Zizek, she provides the inklings of a beginning of a way to escape, of a theory it might be possible to build with, and to expand with and learn more on our own, even after the fascinating lecture is over.
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