Saturday, March 28, 2015

Why the Kremlin Reads Zizek

from Read Russia
Slovenia’s celebrity Marxist theoretician Slavoj Zizek gained a new and unexpected endorsement on Saturday. A leading expert on interpreting philosophers from Marx to Lacan to Hegel, Zizek is not a newcomer to Russian politics. He has written on the war in Ukraine, calling “Putin’s foreign policy…a clear continuation of the tsarist-Stalinist line,” but also questioning Europe’s capacity to support “emancipatory politics” in Ukraine. Zizek also conducted a public correspondence with Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova while she was in prison. These prison letters, which traded views on activism and subversion, were recently published under the title Comradely Greetings.

Zizek’s status as a leading light of the radical left and his relationship with Pussy Riot made it all the more unexpected when Alexey Pushkov, chair of the Duma’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, tweeted a quote from Zizek along with a short commentary. “Fundamentalism is a reaction…to the flaw of liberalism, and this is why it is again and again generated by liberalism,” Pushkov tweeted, quoting Zizek. What did one of the most prominent backers of Vladimir Putin’s adventurist foreign policy and conservative domestic politics find so interesting in a radical theoretician? And what does this tell us about the state of political ideas in Russia more generally?

The context of Zizek’s quote about liberalism and fundamentalism was the killing of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, who Pushkov has criticized for their willingness to criticize and insult religious believers. Zizek’s article on Charlie Hebdo, published early January in the New Statesman, argued that liberalism was in part to blame for the type of religious fundamentalism that leads to terrorism. Zizek’s rationale was that fundamentalism emerges from liberalism’s refusal to embrace revolutionary demands. “Is the rise of radical Islamism not exactly correlative to the disappearance of the secular Left in Muslim countries,” Zizek asked, implying that if radical leftist movements had succeeded, fundamentalism would not have taken off. As an example, Zizek cited Pakistan’s Swat valley, arguing that the Taliban has taken advantage of divides between landless tenants and feudal overlords. Because Western liberals have backed the feudal forces in their fight against extremism, Zizek argues, the conflict between landowners and landless workers continues to breed extremism. By backing reactionary forces, liberalism has only itself to blame.

What exactly did Pushkov find appealing in this argument? It is unlikely that the expropriation of Pakistan’s feudal barons was at the top of his list, nor the embrace of revolutionary politics more generally. Indeed, Pushkov and Zizek take a very different attitude toward speech and obscenity more generally. Where Pushkov has embraced ‘traditional’ values and crusaded against gay rights, Zizek regularly uses obscenity to provoke his readers. The copy of Zizek’s The Puppet and the Dwarf sitting on my bookshelf has, on its back cover, an image of Zizek lying on a couch with a tasteless portrait of a naked woman prominently displayed above him. Zizek is hardly a natural ally for conservative politics in Russia.

On the one hand, one could interpret Pushkov’s citation of Zizek as purely cynical. The enemy of my enemy is my friend—and both Pushkov and Zizek are outspoken enemies of Western liberalism. After quoting Zizek on twitter, Pushkov followed up by arguing that “modern liberalism has turned itself into a fundamentalist and authoritarian ideology, seeking to fully exclude any alternatives.” Zizek would no doubt agree.

On the level of practical politics, many have noted Russia’s backing of both far-right and far-left parties in Europe. The Kremlin wants to undermine the European Union, and so do the far-right and far-left. Most analysts have concluded that this is simply a marriage of convenience.

Yet the ties between Russia’s elite and the extremes of Europe’s political spectrum are best understood a symptom not only of the Kremlin’s political isolation in Europe, but also its struggle to articulate a coherent governing ideology. Putin’s Russia is against liberalism, but it does not know what it is for. The Kremlin’s PR chiefs know how to mobilize the population only by articulating what Russia is against: gay propaganda, colored revolutions, criticism of Russia’s role in World War II. When the government has tried to put forth positive visions, they have fallen flat. For example, Vladislav Surkov’s concept of ‘sovereign democracy,’ often celebrated as the defining ideology of Putin’s government, was abandoned because it lacked practical substance.

Similarly, the ‘Russian world’ that Putin promised to defend after the annexation of Crimea has been downplayed since. Perhaps the Kremlin realizes that whipping up ethnic Russian nationalism threatens the stability of Russia’s multi-ethnic society. Other conservative intellectuals have argued that Russia should seek to defend and support the Orthodox faith, but such a position is unlikely to be sustainable in a country where much of the population is agnostic and where many other religions, notably Islam, play a significant role.

So Russia’s government remains ideologically rudderless, with little agreement about what it stands for, and little clarity even about the terms of the debate. Given the country’s tumultuous last century, it makes sense that Russians are skeptical of grand ideological visions, and the rapid economic growth of Putin’s first decade it power made it look wise to set aside discussion of ideas. It was only after the Bolotnaya protests in 2012 called for Putin’s resignation and articulated a liberal vision of Russia’s future, that the Kremlin decided it was resolutely against liberalism. It is still searching for an alternative ideology: trying out nationalism, testing traditionalism, experimenting with imperialism and—most recently—dabbling in Zizek.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Itchy Photographs

Good night, sleep tight,
Don't let the bedbugs bite,
Wake up bright
In the morning light
To do what's right
With all your might!
- Unknown

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


A common Roman Catholic prayer to St Jude is:

"O most holy apostle, Saint Jude, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, the Church honoureth and invoketh thee universally, as the patron of hopeless cases, and of things almost despaired of. Pray for me, who am so miserable. Make use, I implore thee, of that particular privilege accorded to thee, to bring visible and speedy help where help was almost despaired of. Come to mine assistance in this great need, that I may receive the consolation and succor of Heaven in all my necessities, tribulations, and sufferings, particularly (here make your request) and that I may praise God with thee and all the elect throughout eternity. I promise thee, O blessed Jude, to be ever mindful of this great favour, to always honour thee as my special and powerful patron, and to gratefully encourage devotion to thee. Amen."
An alternative prayer:
"May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be adored, glorified, loved and preserved now and forever. Sacred Heart of Jesus have mercy on us, Saint Jude worker of Miracles, pray for us, Saint Jude helper and keeper of the hopeless, pray for us, Thank you Saint Jude."
Novena to Saint Jude (Novenas are a prayer said for nine consecutive days):
"O Holy St Jude!

Apostle and Martyr, great in virtue and rich in miracles, near kinsman of Jesus Christ, faithful intercessor for all who invoke thee, special patron in time of need; to thee I have recourse from the depth of my heart, and humbly beg thee, to whom God hath given such great power, to come to my assistance; help me now in my urgent need and grant my earnest petition. I will never forget thy graces and the favors thou dost obtain for me and I will do my utmost to spread devotion to thee. Amen."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Mnemosyne's Recurrence

We shall have our little day.
Take my hand and travel still
Round and round the little way,
Up and down the little hill.

It is good to love again;
Scan the renovated skies,
Dip and drive the idling pen,
Sweetly tint the paling lies.

Trace the dripping, pierced heart,
Speak the fair, insistent verse,
Vow to God, and slip apart,
Little better, Little worse.

Would we need not know before
How shall end this prettiness;
One of us must love the more,
One of us shall love the less.

Thus it is, and so it goes;
We shall have our day, my dear.
Where, unwilling, dies the rose
Buds the new, another year.
Dorothy Parker, "Recurrence"

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Inside my Crane-ium

Contrary to popular belief,
in fact Sadako finished folding
a thousand paper cranes,
and when that wish
did not come true,
she kept on going...

And despite our best wishes,
peace on earth may never be achieved
except by self-incineration as a species.

We can only hope
to keep on folding
a thousand paper cranes.
- J. Max, "A thousand paper cranes"

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What happens when life breaks down
When there is systemic contradiction?
My name symbolized all that was corrupt to society
His name symbolized all that was pure
And I was being held in the embrace of a man who was pure
And these inviolable sanctities were preserved in those ten words
And it is the de-sacralization of all of these
That has put us in the mess that we find ourselves
Isn't it true, alas it is much worse
A person may end up believing in anything

Think of what it is when God himself puts his arms around you and says "Welcome home"

What happens when life breaks down
When there is systemic contradiction?
My name symbolized all that was corrupt to society
His name symbolized all that was pure
And I was being held in the embrace of a man who was pure

Think of what it is when God himself puts his arms around you and says "Welcome home"

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Bell Ringers

We live with death we live with fear
With Satan’s droves of hell
But who would rid them whilst they’re here?
Who lives to ring the bell?

The bell to sound the world alarm
To ring both night and day
To warn the world of Satan’s charm
And save who’ve gone astray

There is a few The Truth Have seen
A few who’ve seen The Light
A few with love who intervene
Who’ll stand and win the fight

They live and love The Truth to tell
Their Light is here to stay
And so they ring the freedom bell
Along Salvation’s way

The way to rest The Way to peace
The Way to joy and love
The way where life will never cease
When reaching God above

But who can hear The Truth they speak?
Who’ll search for Light to see?
Who’s prepared The Cure to seek?
And be completely free

Throughout the world though countless ring
Each bell yet sounds the same
In unison we hear them sing
The song of just one name

The name of Jesus Christ The Lord
Of righteous power divine
So who’ll ring next, who’ll take Life’s sword?
And say The Truth is mine!
Michael P. Johnson, "The Bell Ringers"

Living in the Dasein of Kairos...

I have a confession to make: I know very little Greek.

But I do have a handful of Greek words that I find to be extremely significant words. In my humble opinion, the most significant Greek word is the word kairos. Kairos is the one Greek word everyone ought to know.

There are two words for time in Greek: chronos and kairos.

Chronos (where we get our English word ‘chronology’) means a literal minutes-and-seconds time (i.e. Tuesday at 3:45pm). The clearest image is that of a clock or a wristwatch. Kairos, however, implies a different type of time – a less literal, but more significant time.

Chronos is quantitative minutes. Kairos is qualitative moments.

Kairos is pregnant time, the time of possibility – moments in our day, our week, our month, our year or our lifetime that define us. It is a crossroads. It has the ripe opportunity to make you bitter or better. It is a teachable moment. It is the right or opportune moment. They are rarely neutral and always leave an impact on us.
J.R. Briggs

Friday, March 6, 2015

It's Friday...

The gayest songs of the morning
As the mist hangs over the hills,
For they dance, and they dance, in the Eastern world
While humanity pays its bills.
For the song of the Moonlight Sonata,
And the frost on the snow-white fields,
Oh! they dance, and they dance in the Eastern world,
While the yellow harvest yields.
The gayest songs of the morning
Forever the world goes round,
While the clock ticks by on the mantelpiece.
And the birds in the trees make a sound,
For ever and ever all nature sings,
While the lark up above doth soar on its wings,

And they dance, and they dance in the Eastern world
The gayest songs of the morning.
-Peter Buss, "Gaiety"

Monday, March 2, 2015

Tick Tock

A CLOCK stopped—not the mantel’s;
Geneva’s farthest skill
Can’t put the puppet bowing
That just now dangled still.

An awe came on the trinket!
The figures hunched with pain,
Then quivered out of decimals
Into degreeless noon.

It will not stir for doctors,
This pendulum of snow;
The shopman importunes it,
While cool, concernless No

Nods from the gilded pointers,
Nods from the seconds slim,
Decades of arrogance between
The dial life and him.
- Emily Dickinson