Sep 2007

Gorgias, Not Plato Was the Archi-Stalinist

by SLAVOJ ZIZEK

There are, roughly speaking, two philosophical approaches to an antagonistic constellation of either/or: either one opts for one pole against the other (Good against Evil, freedom against oppression, morality against hedonism, etc.), or one adopts a "deeper" attitude of emphasizing the complicity of the opposites, and of advocating a proper measure or the unity. Although Hegel's dialectic seems a version of the second approach (the "synthesis" of opposites), he opts for an unheard-of THIRD version: the way to resolve the deadlock is neither to engage oneself in fighting for the "good" side against the "bad" one, nor in trying to bring them together in a balanced "synthesis," but in opting for the BAD side of the initial either/or. Of course, this "choice of the worst" fails, but in this failure, it undermines the entire field of the alternative and thus enables us to overcome its terms. (Say, in politics, in the choice between organic unity and destructive terror, the only way to arrive at the truth is to begin with the "wrong" choice.) Therein resides the insurmountable difference between Hegel and the New Age notion of balancing the opposites.

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A Letter Which Did Not Reach its Destination
(and thereby saved the world)

by SLAVOJ ZIZEK

Kennedy's stroke of genius which was crucial for the resolution of the Cuban missile crisis, was to pretend that a key letter did NOT arrive at its destination, to act as if this letter didn't exist - a stratagem which, of course, only worked because the sender (Khrushchev) participated in it. On Friday, October 26 1962, a letter from Khrushchev to Kennedy confirms the offer previously made through intermediaries: the missiles will be removed if the US issues a pledge not to invade Cuba. On Saturday, October 27, before a US answer, another, harsher and more demanding, letter from Khrushchev arrives, adding the removal of missiles from Turkey as a condition, and signalling a possible political coup in the Soviet Union. At 8:05 PM the same day, Kennedy sends a response to Khrushchev, informing him that he is accepting his October 26 proposal, i.e., acting as if the October 27 letter doesn't exist. On Sunday, October 28, Kennedy receives a letter from Khrushchev in which he agrees to the deal... The lesson of this is that in such moments of crisis where the fate of everything hangs in the air, saving the appearances, politeness, the awareness of "playing a game," matters more than ever.

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Shostakovich in Casablanca

by SLAVOJ ZIZEK

So what if we read Shostakovich's popular symphonies along the lines of how one is to read great Hollywood classics? In the well-known brief scene three quarters into Casablanca, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) comes to Rick Blaine's (Humphrey Bogart's) room to try to obtain the letters of transit that will allow her and her Resistance leader husband Victor Laszlo to escape Casablanca to Portugal and then to America. After Rick refuses to hand them over, she pulls a gun and threatens him. He tells her, "Go ahead and shoot, you'll be doing me a favor." She breaks down and tearfully starts to tell him the story of why she left him in Paris. By the time she says, "If you knew how much I loved you, how much I still love you," they are embracing in close-up. The movie dissolves to 3 1/2 second shot of the airport tower at night, its searchlight circling, and then dissolves back to a shot from outside the window of Rick's room, where he is standing, looking out, and smoking a cigarette. He turns into the room, and says, "And then?"

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