Tuesday, 5 January 2010

passages a l'acte

i got excited and ordered Violence by Slavoj Zizek. yeah! i tried to read another book by him once before that made absolutely no sense to me but this is much more accessible and compelling. fascinating, fascinating. i really should be taking it slowly and digesting but i'm itching to blog again while i still have a brain (post xmas break), before work sucks it out of me again. it was published in 2008 and it's really good to read analysis of events as recent as 2005, including hurricane katrina and the riots in france, which is the subject of the chapter i've found myself skipping to.
"If May '68 was a revolt with a utopian vision, the 2005 revolt was just an outburst with no pretence to vision. If the oft-repeated commonplace that we live in a post-ideological era has any sense, it is here... What kind of universe is it that we inhabit, which can celebrate itself as a society of choice, but in which the only option available to enforced democratic consensus is a blind acting out? ... The protesters' violence was almost exclusively directed against their own ... More than a form of protest, [the riots] are what Lacan called a passage a l'acte - an impulsive moment into action which can't be translated into speech or thought and carries with it an intolerable weight of frustration. This bears witness not only to the impotence of the perpetrators, but, even more, to the lack of what cultural analyst Frederick Jameson has called 'cognitive mapping,' an inability to locate their experience of their situation within a meaningful whole... Perhaps it is here that one of the main dangers of capitalism should be located: although it... encompasses the whole world, it ...depriv[es] the large majority of people of any meaningful cognitive mapping."
This passage by Zizek articulates so much that i've been struggling to say. passages a l'acte. in the groups sometimes we talk about what women have done to cope, to resist and to survive "an intolerable weight of frustration". i wrote before about the woman who momentarily drowned her partner, knowing his retaliation would be worse, fueled by the self-justification he'd gain from having been 'wronged'. and women drink, scream, cut, talk back, fight back, 'provoke' inevitable violence to get it over with, whatever, some of these things are self-destructive, and often come from the impossibility, at that time, "to locate their experience of their situation within a meaningful whole". if in that moment a woman living with abuse could see the whole pattern of control, and had a realistic escape route and some uncrushed self-belief, she'd be out of there.

So what is happening to our culture that we can't understand what's happening, can't see the patterns that control us? Judith Herman says: "Like traumatized people, we have been cut off from the knowledge of our past." We only feel this confusion and hopelessness and have some folk memory of resistance that involves smashing, breaking, hurting, a plea for some acknowledgement, to be seen, or to feel something. any knowledge of how and why, of coherent political action has been erased as the papers describe anarchists as unhinged people who would break shop windows for no reason. how has popular political analysis been suppressed and eradicated, reducing us to people who blindly act out? i'd like to know whether Mai '68 is taught in french schools and if so, how. in the uk it's easy to avoid history lessons, and even if you sign up, you are taught that facism and totalitarianism in europe are History, all defeated by the greater good by 1945 and 1990 respectively (so 20th century!). how impotent do we feel, with no popular language to articulate that impotence. and we turn that rage in on ourselves, hurt ourselves, and 'provoke' further 'justified' retaliation, repression against ourselves.

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