April 12, 2009

FROM THE ARCHIVES: FIGHT THE BLOOD-DIMMED TIDE:

Passion: Regular or Decaf? (Slavoj Zizek, 2.27.04, In These Times)

[I]s The Passion not a manifesto of our own (Western, Christian) fundamentalists? Is it then not the duty of every Western secularist to reject it, to make it clear that we are not covert racists attacking only the fundamentalism of other (Muslim) cultures?

The Pope's ambiguous reaction to the film is well known: Upon seeing it, deeply moved, he muttered "It is as it was"--a statement quickly withdrawn by the official Vatican speakers. The Pope's spontaneous reaction was thus replaced by an "official" neutrality, corrected so as not to hurt anyone. This shift, with its politically correct fear that anyone's specific religious sensibility may be hurt, exemplifies what is wrong with liberal tolerance: Even if the Bible says that the Jewish mob demanded the death of Christ, one should not stage this scene directly but play it down and contextualize it to make it clear that Jews are collectively not to be blamed for the Crucifixion. The problem of such a stance is that it merely represses aggressive religious passion, which remains smoldering beneath the surface and, finding no release, gets stronger and stronger.

This prohibition against embracing a belief with full passion may explain why, today, religion is only permitted as a particular "culture," or lifestyle phenomenon, not as a substantial way of life. We no longer "really believe," we just follow (some of) the religious rituals and mores out of respect for the "lifestyle" of the community to which we belong. Indeed, what is a "cultural lifestyle" if not that every December in every house there is a Christmas tree--although none of us believes in Santa Claus? Perhaps, then, "culture" is the name for all those things we practice without really believing in them, without "taking them seriously." Isn't this why we dismiss fundamentalist believers as "barbarians," as a threat to culture--they dare to take seriously their beliefs? Today, ultimately, we perceive as a threat to culture those who immediately live their culture, those who lack a distance toward it.

Jacques Lacan's definition of love is "giving something one doesn't have." What one often forgets is to add the other half: "... to someone who doesn't want it." This is confirmed by our most elementary experience when somebody unexpectedly declares passionate love to us: Isn't the reaction, preceding the possible affirmative reply, that something obscene and intrusive is being forced upon us? This is why, ultimately, passion is politically incorrect; although everything seems permitted in our culture, one kind of prohibition is merely displaced by another.

Consider the deadlock that is sexuality or art today. Is there anything more dull and sterile than the incessant invention of new artistic transgressions--the performance artist masturbating on stage, the sculptor displaying human excrement? Some radical circles in the United States recently proposed that we rethink the rights of necrophiliacs. In the same way that people sign permission for their organs to be used for medical purposes, shouldn't they also be allowed to permit their bodies to be enjoyed by necrophiliacs? This proposal is the perfect example of how the PC stance realizes Kierkegaard's insight that the only good neighbor is a dead neighbor. A corpse is the ideal sexual partner of a tolerant subject trying to avoid any passionate interaction.


Assuming it ever had any, liberal tolerance long ago outlived its usefulness. About time the best got back their passionate intensity.

[Originally posted: February 28, 2004]

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 12, 2009 12:59 AM
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