Žižek on Deleuze (part 2)… finally

It’ s a good thing I gave Slavoj a second chance to prove how much smarter he is (than me, than I thought?). After yet another period of thoughts of renunciation, reading minute details and syllogism meant to argue for Deleuze’s Hegelianism, Lacanianism, and Žižekianism, I stumbled over the final section of the book. Lucky me: it does away with the pretentious philosophizing – and I only use such derogatory words because I don’t understand it, not because it is not a meritorious enterprise – and instead spells out Žižek’s feud with Deleuze, and especially with Deleuze and Guattari. Namely, this third section of the book, “Politics: A Plea for Cultural Revolution,” returns to the main argument, which Žižek announced in the intro, i.e., about “the Guattarized” Deleuze being the ideologist of late capitalism.

Žižek opens the chapter by quoting an anecdote recounted by Jean-Jacques Lecercle in “The Pedagogy of Philosophy,” in which the latter encountered a yuppie reading D&G’s What is Philosophy? while traveling on the Paris subway, suggesting that the yuppie might be in for a big surprise when he finds himself reading a complex theoretical tract rather than an introduction. Žižek counters:

“What, however, if there is no puzzled look, but enthusiasm, when the yuppie reads about impersonal imitation of affects, about the communication of affective intensities beneath the level of meaning (‘Yes, this is how I design my publicities!”), or when he reads about the limits of self-contained subjectivity and directly coupling man to a machine (‘This reminds me of my son’s favorite toy, the action man that can turn into a car!’) or about the need to reinvent oneself permanently, opening oneself to a multitude of desires that push us to the limit (‘Is this not the aim of the virtual sex video game I am working on now? It is no longer a question of reproducing sexual bodily contact but of exploding the confines of established reality and imagining new, unheard-of intensive modes of sexual pleasures!’). There are, effectively, features that justify calling Deleuze the ideologist of late capitalism. Is the much celebrated Spinozan imitatio afecti, the impersonal circulation of affects bypassing persons, not the very logic of publicity, of video clips, and so forth in which what matters is not the message about the product but the intensity of transmitted affects and perceptions?” (183-84).

I think we have a case of the chicken and the egg here, Mr. Žižek. I think that sometimes when we theorize we tend to forget that some of the most effective theory, the one that actually captures the traits of late capitalism, for instance, stems directly from that mode of production, constitutes an analysis of its manifestations, and can therefore be exemplified in a variety of ways. Would you call Marx an ideologist of industrial capitalism, just because JP Morgan might have read him and smiled to himself thinking about how his use of capital conforms to Marx’s theories? What I’m trying to say is not “Don’t touch my Deleuze!” but rather there is a reason why so many people respond affirmatively to Ian Buchanan’s rhetorical question in the title of his edited collection, A Deleuzian Century? (1999). The reason is that he, together with Guattari for the duration of their collaboration, have managed both to capture what late capitalism is all about, and point to a possible alternative that diverges from the traditional marxist-influenced leftist revolution. If that particular person on the Paris underground reading What is Philosophy? was asking those questions that Žižek suggests, it only proves that Deleuze (and Guattari)’s work has gone beyond the realm of mere applicable theory into an accurate generalizable description of our present moment. Now, is that what we call an ideologist?

Ideology is a crucial concept for Žižek’s body of work: he has written a whole book on it and edited a collection of influential theories of ideology. However, much as he critiques Deleuze for being the ideologist of late capitalism, and throws ideology around right, left, and centre in this book, he does not take the time (one paragraph?) to explicate his take on it. This may sound like the usual nitpicking of a critic who has nothing else to say. When one thinks of how D&G dismiss ideology as a valid category of analysis, one has to pause and ask why Žižek doesn’t take issue with this crucial point in their theory. D&G assert that since the operations of ideology are actually contained and transmitted through language, using a separate concept for these operations does nothing but confuse things unnecessarily, obscuring the actual effects of linguistic communication by relegating them to a different notion (or something like that). While it’s clear that nobody can touch all of the crucial concepts developed by Deleuze (and Guattari) in one book and still keep it sane and readable, I just thought is was suspect that Žižek wouldn’t contend with it, especially when, if taken into account, D&G’s view of ideology supports an affirmative answer to the question that concludes the previous paragraph: using language makes us all ideologists.

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