the poet as positional good

The ideology of dissent as dominant motif for post-modernism…An excerpt from a piece by Slavoj Zizek on the John Keane biography of Vaclav Havel. A kind or ironic situation which seems to be of recurring consistency in that the inherent hypocrisy and ambiguity of ideology seems intrinsic to the project. The concept of emancipation and liberation of the victim always  seems to ensure they will remain victims, dependent; a determined search to find and locate ideal subjects, mostly non-political who just ant an end to suffering, where the real ideologues are discarded in favor of those who can negotiate the pitfalls of secular, normative moralizing to advantage. What the Havel case implies is that there is no real alternative to liberal democracy and market economics except perhaps putting a human face on what increasingly appears, at least with regard to the financial structure, as a series of Zombie institutions supporting each other like drunks veering toward a cliff…

---Milos Forman’s Horí, má panenko (The Firemen’s Ball) is a product of – actually, a reaction to – the Czechoslovakian communist regime during the months leading up to the “Prague Spring”. What made Forman’s task such a daunting one was that he created a film critical of communism right under the noses of the arm-twisting Communist Party censors. This took some conviction and spine on his part. His approach was partly enabled by the fact that The Firemen’s Ball is a satire. This was its saving grace, a fact that allowed Forman’s hilarious film to wriggle under the communist bureaucratic radar. But it is precisely the bumbling inefficiency of that communist bureaucracy that Forman’s film aptly targeted.--- Read More:

Zizek: A ‘sincere’ believer in official Late Socialist ideology was, therefore, potentially much more dangerous to the regime than a cynic. Consider two examples from countries other than Czechoslovakia. First, the emblematic figures of Evald Iljenkov (1924-79) and Aleksei Losev (1893-1988), the two prototypes of Russian philosophy under socialism. Losev was the author of the last book published in the USSR (in 1929) which openly rejected Marxism (he called dialectical materialism ‘obvious nonsense’). After a short prison term, he was allowed to pursue his academic career and, during World War Two, even started lecturing again – his formula for survival was to withdraw into the history of aesthetics. Under the guise of interpreting past thinkers, especially Plotinus and other Neoplatonists, he was able to smuggle in his own spiritualist beliefs, while, in the introductions to his books, paying lip service to the official ideology with a quote or two from Khrushchev or Brezhnev. In this way, he survived all the vicissitudes of Communism and was hailed after 1989 as the representative of an authentic Russian spiritual heritage. Iljenkov, a superb dialectician and expert on Hegel, was, on the other hand, a sincere Marxist-Leninist. He wrote lively, individual prose and endeavoured to engage with Marxism as a serious philosophy rather than as a set of official maxims. This didn’t go down well: he was excommunicated and committed suicide. Read More:

Image: Read More: --- ...countercultural rebellion in many cases collapses the distinction between dissent and deviance, saying that "dissent is like civil disobedience. It occurs when people… have a genuine… objection to the specific content of the prevailing set of rules. They disobey despite the consequences that these actions may incur. Deviance, on the other hand, occurs when people disobey the rules for self-interested reasons". Counterculture is accused of rejecting a whole number of practical solutions to real problems because these solutions would entail new rules, and rules are bad in and of themselves. Even more amusing is the attack on the anti-consumerism of counterculture and the rejection of ‘mainstream’ styles, music, food, etc. The authors point out that "the counterculture was, from its very inception, intensely entrepreneurial. It reflected… the most authentic spirit of capitalism". In other words, if you reject Nike footwear you create a market for ‘alternative footwear’. Brands such as Vans and Airwalk are mentioned as multimillion-dollar examples. The authors point out that it is the quest for distinction not conformity that drives consumer capitalism, with new desires constantly emerging and the need for a rapid turnover of styles and fads. What is counterculture about if not seeking such distinction? It turns out that it is specific consumer tastes rather than consumerism per se that countercultural rebels object to....

The above example is a reflection on our own system. And Havel’s life corroborates it: Dissent is the system. The smooth entry of post-modern capitalism into the former Eastern Bloc shows that market economics, does not require hierarchy or cultural hegemony to operate at its full potential. Havel’s notion of “truth” is baseless tripe: he himself was a politician, the rebel, the individualist, the writer-poet  as an intrinsically positional good. After all, the consumerism we decry can be explained as a behavior pattern, one rooted in comparative preferences and not a set of values. Havel was a chump. within the context of a highly individualistic society, there is not much that can be achieved. Consumerism is not going to be slaughtered by a few epistles against consumption from the church. If we continue to value and esteem  individuality and non-conformity, then we also have to stop complaining about the results of these decisions as well; stop blaming the Havel’s of this world. That key realization is that we live in a consumerist society that will continue to be governed by issues of status and identity.

Read More: ---Miloš Forman’s second feature, from 1965, catches the absurd atmosphere of the director’s native Czechoslovakia with both quiet desperation and raw tenderness. Heroine Andula (Hana Brejchová) works in a shoe factory in a town where women outnumber men by 16 times – until it is announced that an army division is to be relocated there, to the excitement of the local girls. But it turns out they are reservists and considerably older and plumper than expected. Forman excels himself in the dance-party sequence which shows the clumsiness and vulnerability of both the would-be seducers and their targets.---


Zizek:This, then, is Havel’s tragedy: his authentic ethical stance has become a moralising idiom cynically appropriated by the knaves of capitalism. His heroic insistence on doing the impossible (opposing the seemingly invincible Communist regime) has ended up serving those who ‘realistically’ argue that any real change in today’s world is impossible. This reversal is not a betrayal of his original ethical stance, but is inherent in it. The ultimate lesson of Havel’s tragedy is thus a cruel, but inexorable one: the direct ethical foundation of politics sooner or later turns into its own comic caricature, adopting the very cynicism it originally opposed. ( ibid. )

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