Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Acheronta Movebo

Habits are thus the very stuff our identities are made of: in them, we enact and thus define what we effectively are as social beings, often in contrast with our perception of what we are - in their very transparency, they are the medium of social violence. Back in 1937, George Orwell deployed the ambiguity of the predominant Leftist attitude towards the class difference:
We all rail against class-distinctions, but very few people seriously want to abolish them. Here you come upon the important fact that every revolutionary opinion draws part of its strength from a secret conviction that nothing can be changed. /.../ So long as it is merely a question of ameliorating the worker's lot, every decent person is agreed. /.../ But unfortunately you get no further by merely wishing class-distinctions away. More exactly, it is necessary to wish them away, but your wish has no efficacy unless you grasp what it involves. The fact that has got to be faced is that to abolish class-distinctions means abolishing a part of yourself. Here am I, a typical member of the middle class. It is easy for me to say that I want to get rid of class-distinctions, but nearly everything I think and do is a result of class-distinctions. /.../ I have got to alter myself so completely that at the end I should hardly be recognizable as the same person.
Orwell's point is that radicals invoke the need for revolutionary change as a kind of superstitious token that should achieve the opposite, i.e., PREVENT the change from really occurring - a today's academic Leftist who criticizes the capitalist cultural imperialism is in reality horrified at the idea that his field of study would really break down. There is, however, a limit to this strategy: Orwell's insight holds only for a certain kind of "bourgeois" Leftists; there are Leftists who DO HAVE the courage of their convictions, who do not only want "revolution without revolution," as Robespierre put it - Jacobins and Bolsheviks, among others... The starting point of these true revolutionaries can be the very position of the "bourgeois" Leftists; what happens is that, in the middle of their pseudo-radical posturing, they get caught into their own game and are ready to put in question their subjective position. It is difficult to imagine a more trenchant political example of the weight of Lacan's distinction between the "subject of the enunciated" and the "subject of the enunciation": first, in a direct negation, you start by wanting to "change the world" without endangering the subjective position from which you are ready to enforce the change; then, in the "negation of negation," the subject enacting the change is ready to pay the subjective price for it, to change himself, or, to quote Gandhi's nice formula, to BE himself the change he wants to see in the world. - It is thus clear to Orwell that, in our ideological everyday, our predominant attitude is that of an ironic distance towards our true beliefs:
the left-wing opinions of the average 'intellectual' are mainly spurious. From pure imitativeness he jeers at things which in fact he believes in. As one example out of many, take the public-school code of honor, with its 'team spirit' and 'Don't hit a man when he's down', and all the rest of that familiar bunkum. Who has not laughed at it? Who, calling himself an 'intellectual', would dare not to laugh at it? But it is a bit different when you meet somebody who laughs at it from the outside; just as we spend our lives in abusing England but grow very angry when we hear a foreigner saying exactly the same things. /.../ It is only when you meet someone of a different culture from yourself that you begin to realize what your own beliefs really are.
There is nothing "inner" in this true ideological identity of mine - my innermost beliefs are all "out there," embodied in practices which reach up to the immediate materiality of my body - "my notions-notions of good and evil, of pleasant and unpleasant, of funny and serious, of ugly and beautiful - are essentially middle-class notions; my taste in books and food and clothes, my sense of honor, my table manners, my turns of speech, my accent, even the characteristic movements of my body"... One should definitely add to this series smell: perhaps the key difference between lower popular class and middle class concerns the way they relate to smell. For the middle class, lower classes smell, their members do not wash regularly - or, to quote the proverbial answer of a middle-class Parisian to why he prefers to ride the first class cars in the metro: "I wouldn't mind riding with workers in the second class - it is only that they smell!" This brings us to one of the possible definitions of what a Neighbor means today: a Neighbor is the one who by definition smells. This is why today deodorants and soaps are crucial - they make neighbors at least minimally tolerable: I am ready to love my neighbors... provided they don't smell too bad. According to a recent report, scientists in a laboratory in Venezuela added a further element to these series: through genetic manipulations, they succeeded in growing beans which, upon consumption, do not generate the bad-smelling and socially embarrassing winds! So, after decaf coffee, fat-free cakes, diet cola and alcohol-free beer, we now get wind-free beans... Lacan supplemented Freud's list of partial objects (breast, faeces, penis) with two further objects: voice and gaze. Perhaps, we should add another object to this series: smell.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Tolerance as an Ideological Category"

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