Doubt & dialogism / Tolokonnikova & Žižek

December 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

The dialogue has an important history in philosophy. Tradition treasures it as the preferred form for expressing & testing notions. In a dialogue of Hume’s, Concerning Natural Religion, Pamphilus says to Hermippus: “Reasonable men may be allowed to differ, where no one can reasonably be positive: […] & if the subject be curious & interesting, the book carries us, in a manner, into company; & unites the two greatest pleasures of human life, study & society” (128).

More recently, we have seen dialogue being employed no longer as form but as a manner of thinking in itself. One ought to herald Adorno at this point: “the thinker uses the dialectic instead of giving himself up to it… Perspectives must be fashioned that displace & estrange the world, reveal it to be, with its rifts & crevices, as indignant & distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light [on judgement day]” (Minima Moralia 247). Proponents of dialectics consider themselves empathic readers — trying to understand the truths of multiple positions, where they stand — & oppose deaf harangues found in monological argumentation. Dialogical reading tries to jump-start the Foucault in all of us.

Nevertheless, dialogism cannot enter the extra-theoretical world quite yet. Two factors have been holding it back: that a dialectic approach is at odds with scientific method’s presupposition of a universal truth — making it incompatible with a world ruled by it — that the doubt brought on by persistent dialogue develops a negative relationship to life [sometimes so much so that doubt can cause complete inertia].

Like Slavoj Žižek, I must question the value of “narcissistic theoretical outbursts” when many suffer in the real world for the same ideals I hold. The quote is taken from Žižek’s correspondence with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot. Selections from their letters are collected below. Their dialogue works towards finding a reconciliatory space between practical & theoretical dialectics. It is a symbol of this difficult work. Dialogue is at the heart of it — dialogue not to be called “conflict” or “confusion”. We must hold tightly to what we know is ethical; we must think above received notions & solutionism.

Anywhere where ideology is denied or neglected is a point of disempowerment.


January 2, 2013

Žižek —> Tolokonnikova

John Jay Chapman, an American political essayist, wrote this about radicals in 1900: “They are really always saying the same thing. They don’t change; everybody else changes. They are accused of the most incompatible crimes, of egoism and a mania for power, indifference to the fate of their cause, fanaticism, triviality, lack of humour, buffoonery and irreverence. But they sound a certain note. Hence the great practical power of persistent radicals. To all appearance, nobody follows them, yet everyone believes them. They hold a tuning-fork and sound A, and everybody knows it really is A, though the time-honoured pitch is G flat.” Isn’t this a good description of the effect of Pussy Riot performances? In spite of all accusations, you sound a certain note. It may appear that people do not follow you, but secretly, they believe you, they know you are telling the truth, or, even more, you are standing for truth.

February 23, 2013

 Tolokonnikova —> Žižek

I see your argument about horses, the World Spirit, and about tomfoolery and disrespect, as well as why and how all these elements are so connected to each other.

Pussy Riot did turn out be a part of this force, the purpose of which is criticism, creativity and co-creation, experimentation and constantly provocative events. Borrowing Nietzsche’s definition, we are the children of Dionysus, sailing in a barrel and not recognising any authority.

We are a part of this force that has no final answers or absolute truths, for our mission is to question. There are architects of apollonian statics and there are (punk) singers of dynamics and transformation. One is not better than the other. But it is only together that we can ensure the world functions in the way Heraclitus defined it: “This world has been and will eternally be living on the rhythm of fire, inflaming according to the measure, and dying away according to the measure. This is the functioning of the eternal world breath.”

We are the rebels asking for the storm, and believing that truth is only to be found in an endless search. If the “World Spirit” touches you, do not expect that it will be painless.

April 4, 2013

Žižek —> Tolokonnikova

You are right to question the idea that the “experts” close to power are competent to make decisions. Experts are, by definition, servants of those in power: they don’t really think, they just apply their knowledge to the problems defined by those in power (how to bring back stability? how to squash protests?). So are today’s capitalists, the so-called financial wizards, really experts? Are they not just stupid babies playing with our money and our fate? […]

For me, the true task of radical emancipatory movements is not just to shake things out of their complacent inertia, but to change the very co-ordinates of social reality so that, when things return to normal, there will be a new, more satisfying, “apollonian statics”.

April 16, 2013

 Tolokonnikova —> Žižek

Modern capitalism seeks to assure us that it operates according to the principles of free creativity, endless development and diversity. It glosses over its other side in order to hide the reality that millions of people are enslaved by an all-powerful and fantastically stable norm of production. We want to reveal this lie.

June 10, 2013

Žižek —> Tolokonnikova

The Pussy Riot performances cannot be reduced just to subversive provocations. Beneath the dynamics of their acts, there is the inner stability of a firm ethico-political attitude. In some deeper sense, it is today’s society that is caught in a crazy capitalist dynamic with no inner sense and measure, and it is Pussy Riot that de facto provides a stable ethico-political point. The very existence of Pussy Riot tells thousands that opportunist cynicism is not the only option, that we are not totally disoriented, that there still is a common cause worth fighting for.

July 13, 2013

 Tolokonnikova —> Žižek

In my humble opinion, “developed” countries display an exaggerated loyalty towards governments that oppress their citizens and violate their rights. The European and US governments freely collaborate with Russia as it imposes laws from the middle ages and throws opposition politicians in jail. They collaborate with China, where oppression is so bad that my hair stands on end just to think about it. What are the limits of tolerance? And when does tolerance become collaboration, conformism and complicity?

To think, cynically, “let them do what they want in their own country”, doesn’t work any longer, because Russia and China and countries like them are now part of the global capitalist system.


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