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

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) 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. His objective is not simply to take one side or the other but rather to see how their asymmetrical relationship to one another reveals an antagonism within their own identities.

The aim of this essay, therefore, is not to propose some ridiculous synonymy between the postcolonial and Zizekan critiques of capitalism but rather to suggest how both discourses might usefully interrupt one another. (3) I will attempt this in three sections: an examination of a series of postcolonial moments in Zizek's work; a consideration of some of Zizek's objections to the "benign universe" of postcolonial studies (Zizek, "A Plea" 548); and a reflection on Zizek's use and abuse of history, as well as a proposal for where a more nuanced reading of the postcolonial canon may be of use to him.

I. Zizek's Postcolonial Moments: Superficial Resemblances?

If we were to pretend that Zizek is a postcolonial theorist and then go on to find moments in his vast oeuvre where this claim might be corroborated, where would we look? A number of possible locations stand out, but the first is the nature of Zizek's exegesis itself. How analogous to Zizek's Lacanian habits of interpretation is the postcolonial strategy of teasing out marginal references to the Orient in Western canonical texts in order to relocate them to the centre as the tacit ground of the work? Zizek often discovers significance in supposedly unimportant scenes in films or texts. How closely does his hermeneutical re-orientation of these works' co-ordinates mirror, say, Edward Said's re-designation of an Austen novel's central significance in a side reference to a Caribbean slave plantation? (Said 59)

The Zizekan diagnosis of what he often refers to as the "hole" in the official narrative superficially resembles the postcolonialist's identification of hegemonic gaps where the colonizer's narrative encounters moments of unintelligibility that only the subaltern's narrative can make intelligible (Zizek, "The Counterbook" 149). …

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