Angela Davis

Jameson, it seems, was partially right. Not only is Adorno’s relevant now, (or perhaps his relevance is relevant again, according to the new canonization of Late Marxism in the new Verso series of Radical Thinkers) but the proof of this valiance is actualized in Zizek and Davis’s current work. Both of them, and countless others, prove Jameson’s thesis.

This is evident in the newest manifestation of Zizek’s critique of multiculturalism/tolerance/pluralism in his recent articles and talks such as The Liberal Utopia. Here Zizek combines his earlier critique of mulitculturalism/tolerance/pluralism with what I suspect is the argument in his new work, In Defense of Lost Causes.

In these recent articles and talks, Zizek critiques multiculturalism/tolerance/pluralism from the perspective of the lost cause of the universal critique of capitalism. He argues that calls for pluralism and tolerance alleviate the symptoms of racism, sexism etc. without addressing the structure that creates these symptoms. In The Liberal Utopia he identifies this structure as the neo-liberal capitalist totality. He further argues that this totality functions as a negative universality. This makes heterogeneous individuals- interpreted as epiphenomenal by the liberal politics of difference- a fragment or particular aspect of this universality; it makes the politics of difference an expression of capitalism’s antagonisms.

It in this critique of liberal ideology that Zizek meets Adorno. For Adorno’s parenthetical critique of pluralism- in his lectures on History and Freedom- is astonishingly like a synopsis of Zizek’s critique;

“The term ‘pluralism’ is acquiring increasing currency in our own time. It is presumably the ideology describing the centrifugal tendencies of a society that threatens to disintegrate into unreconiled groups under the pressure of its own principles. This is then represented as if it were a state of reconiliation in which people lived together in a harmony while in reality society is full of power struggles. As a minor by-product of these lectures I would like to recommend that you adopt an extremely wary attitude towards the concept of pluralism which, like the similar concept of ‘social partners,’ is preached at us on every street corner. To transfigure and ideologize the elements of discontinuity or of social antagonisms in this way is a part of the general ideological trend. In the same way, it is very characteristic of our age that the very factors that threaten to blow up the entire world are represented as the peaceful coexistence of human beings who have become reconciled and have outgrown their conflicts. This is a tendency which barely conceals the fact that mankind is beginning to despair of finding a solution to its disagreements.” (93)

Parallels can also be drawn between this quote and the Angela Davis interview I just linked to. This should not be too surprising considering Davis was in the class the lectures come from. But, I couldn’t help but notice the influence of Adorno in the historical constellation she created to explain institutional racism, sexism, heteroism etc. A constellation which, like Zizek and Adorno, bypasses the liberal reconciliation of tolerance to pierce the negative, universal, heart of the matter.

Those interested in this issue may also be interested in my contribution. There is no way it will compare with Adorno, Zizek or Davis. But, I am set to deliver a paper that applies Adorno’s critique to the work of Kymlycka and Young. I will argue that their models of pluralist democratic theory absorbs previously oppressed groups into the framework that creates these oppressed groups. Thus, rather then addressing the capitalist antagonism that creates these groups, they reconcile these groups with their conditions. Exchange-value is substituted for use-value further perpetuating negative universality. I will close with some thoughts on how to bring about positive universality- i.e. non-capitalist, actual pluralist democracy- by using Zizek, Davis, Badiou, Said and CLR James. Where I will argue that it is not that tolerance/ multiculturalism/ pluralism is not an issue. It obviously is. But, following Cesaire/James and Said, it is imperative to realize that you can’t have a rendezvous without the victory.

“the work of man is only just beginning and it remains to conquer all the violence entrenched in the recess of our passion and no race possesses the monopoly of beauty, of intelligence, of force, and theres a place for all at the rendezvous of victory.”

the work of man is only just beginning
and it remains to conquer all the violence entrenched in the recesses of our passion and
no race possess the monopoly of beauty, of intelligence, of force, and there’s a place for
all at the rendezvous of victory
no race possess the monopoly of beauty, of intelligence, of force, and there’s a place for
all at the rendezvous of victory

listen here, mate.

Herbert Marcuse is best known as a philosopher of the Frankfurt School and leading theorist of the New Left. Those interested in a biography or his works- like the classic One-Dimensional Man- should go to his official website.

The documentary “Herbert’s Hippopotamus” covers the short but controversial period when Marcuse was professor at UC San Diego and was attacked by governor Reagan and other nut jobs who depicted him as a radical communist threat to the American way.

The film is worth watching for several reasons;

A) it shows that even as governor Reagan mobilized support, and in fact won his reelection, by mobilizing support against constructed radical threats. This rhetoric of course continued when he was in office on the domestic front in his demonization of liberals, his racism against “welfare mothers” ( a code for black people), and on the international front with the constructed threat of the evil empire of the USSR, which in reality was disintegrating faster then the subprime mortage market.

Recently, this tactic was especially operative in those heady days of hubris in the Bush administration, when french fries were freedom fries and leftists were in league with the terrorists in hating America. So, you could say it is a good case study of one of the main narratives of American politics in a time when we are still fighting the war on terror against what Mccain mysteriously calls the “transcendental threat” of Islamo-Fascism.

B) In the figure of Marcuse, interviews with his students like Angela Davis and footage from the time, it shows what political activity looks like. Whether it is protesting, communicating, thinking, writing or simply standing up for what you believe in these examples are a reminder that widespread apathy is not the natural reaction to an unpopular war and a country going down the toilet. We can fight for what is right.

C) The archival footage of Marcuse and the interviews with the German professor are simply remarkable in their combination of moral intergrity and hilarity.

Watch it here