“Only a woman could ask such an evil question,” Zizek said as he laughed and answered me during the Q & A at Tilton Gallery last Thursday. And maybe it is true. Had I been a man, perhaps the question wouldn’t have been evil.
Zizek spoke Thursday, in honor of the latest lacanian ink edition, on architecture. Stating upfront that a) all he knows could by now be old hat, and b) all he hopes for may already be done… he took up the question of post-modernism, a la Frederic Jameson. Zizek’s interest in buildings is, not surprisingly, focused on the interstitial functional spaces: the space between the walls filled with electrical wires, plumbing and cockroaches, as well as the hallway space, the bathrooms and the closets/pantries. His dream was to see a space made only of these functionary forms exteriorized. From this brief run through his architectural musings, you can see Zizek was right on both precursory precautionary counts – all he knows of architecture is indeed old hat (his anaylses of Frank Gehry, Liebeskind, etc were standard fare) and his proposal that buildings aetheticize their functionary spaces have already been accomplished in works like the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris. But these comments are no blight – he knew, himself that the content of his talk was not his strongest suit.
What he is keenest at, what he is known for, is the way he can take the commonplace and find the implicit ideological function within, and he was no less brilliant at this last Thursday than he usually is. His primary point, if there is every just one point to his work, was that post-modern consumerism and capitalism have shifted through the following three stages, landing for the moment, on the last: 1) initially, consumer goods functioned toward desire fulfillment; think early capitalism as Marx saw it, this then shifted to 2) a period where goods functioned as status symbols; think the Baby Boomer era, to finally 3) today, when goods function as experience creators; think Starbuck’s Ethos Water. As Zizek explained, Ethos, including the name and its pseudoethical overtones, is intended not primarily to feed your thirst or to make you look savvy for shopping at Starbucks, but its point is to say: by ‘bringing water to third world peoples with each purchase’ you are buying that warm fuzzy feeling you get when ‘helping others’ while also buying, for $2.50, exoneration and forgetfulness. Essentially you could call it an aestheticizing of goods/forms, and Zizek claims, this is precisely what you can call post-modernism.
in my last post on Zizek and Badiou, prior to last thursday’s talk but after syracuse, i wandered around in what I thought to be Zizek and Badiou’s shared aestheticization of the form of Christianity. And here, so blatantly praising and decrying the aestheticization of form in architecture and post-modernism, respectively, Zizek of course drew my breath and made my heart almost stop: sitting 10 feet from him I knew I would need to ask if he would indeed acknowledge his own aestheticizing work as part of this P-word.
Thus the question so evil only a woman could ask it…
“Tonight you have called the aesthticization of form in architecture post-modern, and I am wondering if, by this, you would also agree that your work formalizing Christianity, thinking specifically of the Puppet and the Dwarf, and Alain Badiou’s work, in his book on St. Paul, are post-modern in that they are aiming toward form rather than content?”
To which Zizek replied, “No, you see this as an aestheticization? My claim is that I am in fact more Christian than the christians. I was just at a conference in Syracuse…” And instantly I knew he was right. I had been to the talk at Syracuse and I had sloppily lumped Zizek’s work with Badiou’s in the formalism outcry. In fact, Zizek said something, many things, both profound and radical about Christianity in that talk. And while I will work up the notes for another post, today I must simply re-cant, my previous post. I stand corrected and happily so: Zizek is not after the form of Christianity but what he would call the dirty little secret that lies within: when Jesus cried out, ‘Father, Father why have you forsaken me?’ God himself became an atheist. The (Kantian) ramifications are such that we must and do operate in a moral/ethical sphere that inverts Dostoevsky’s famous saying that ‘Without God everything is permissible,’ to say instead, something like only without God is nothing permissible – as morality must take the place of the unknowable and inaccessible absolute.
There is much more to say here. For now, I am simply issuing a happy re-Kant and hoping I haven’t lead too many astray.