Academic journal article ARIEL

Anti-Capitalist Objections to the Postcolonial: Some Conciliatory Remarks on Zizek and Context

Academic journal article ARIEL

Anti-Capitalist Objections to the Postcolonial: Some Conciliatory Remarks on Zizek and Context

Article excerpt

This article has three parts. First, it considers a series of overlaps between the postcolonial and Slavoj Zizek's work. Then, it examines Zizek's three main objections to the postcolonial: it reduces issues of political-economic struggle to cultural/psychological analysis; it involves a "prettification" or detraumatization of the Other; and its notion of "alternative modernities" ultimately embodies a collusion with global capital to provide a facade of diversity. The article also considers some of the problems these create for both the postcolonial theorist and Zizek's own project. In particular, it argues that Zizek's frequent grouping of postcolonialism and political correctness overlooks what really drives the postcolonial critique of Western-centered discourse--a desire to restore, as fully as possible, the dimensions of the Real to both sympathetic and hostile versions of the non-Western Other, a re-introduction of ontological complexity to idealisations/demonizations which, whilst not synonymous with Zizek's own notion of an "ethical stance," certainly come much closer than he is willing to admit.

Finally, the article examines the possibility that Zizek's selective in-difference to historical context, particularly in his treatment of the non-Western world, ironically reflects the late capitalist evaporation of history he critiques elsewhere. Ending with Karl Marx's turn to ethnography, the essay argues that Zizek and the postcolonial have things to learn from one another, and that a more historically-inflected critique of hegemony on Zizek's part would supply a much-needed concretization of the universal in his work.

Keywords: Theory, 29 Zizek, the Universal, the Other, Postcolonialism

The ambiguous place of the postcolonial in any critique of contemporary global capital is a book-length topic in itself, and an attempt to clarify some of its parameters risks a number of pitfalls. There is, first of all, the vagueness of the term postcolonial, not so much a theory as a multiply-centred field from which different structures of analysis have emerged. Disagreement in the field over central issues such as agency, national identity, and the role of capital in cultural influence, which stem from the tension between poststructuralism and Marxism, the two major influences on postcolonial thought, has internally fractured the discipline in a number of interesting ways. (1) A second danger lies in the specific response to Marxist/post-Marxist criticisms of the post-colonial--namely, the risk of a possible complicity in late capitalist/neo-imperialist ideology through such gestures as an uncritical re-affirmation of the value of difference, an ontological sense of charity towards the semantic self-determination of other cultures that bully other nations, or, most pertinent to Slavoj Zizek's case, a demand for the ethical which would wholly ignore the proximity to self-violence and prohibition a phrase such as "the ethical" has for a Freudian/Lacanian vocabulary. (2) In other words, a careful defense of certain postcolonial gestures in the face of charges of complicity with structures of oppression--the postcolonial as a lubricant of late capitalism or a pressure valve used to prevent the whole system from exploding--must avoid appealing to the very concepts so central to its alleged collusion.

To some degree, this defense will fail at the outset, for one of the definitions presupposed in this essay will be that of the postcolonial as an historically global analysis of modern capitalism that gives equal weight to the semantic, economic, psychological, and military oppression of subjects. The notion of the postcolonial as an historically inflected critique of hegemony will be unpalatable to Zizek in part because its siding with the victim of European/European settler imperialism involves a de-traumatizing "prettification" of the Other (In Defence 165), and mainly because, for Zizek, such side-taking misses the point of examining the colonizer/colonized conflict. …

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