Following the previous two editions of the Pocko Times, a large format art journal, this latest edition chronicles the work of arguably the world’s most important photographers in the fields of documentary, staged and fine-art photography. In addition, Light Works will feature extracts from “Living in the End Times” by Slavoj Žižek, the controversial and eccentric political philosopher, considered 'the most dangerous philosopher in the West'. In his book Žižek discusses the end of Western capitalism and asks what the West must do to adapt to the society of the future. Such issues are raised within the work of Light Works, where photographers capture the very essence and importance of the photographic image in modern-day society, and explore how the medium communicates to the world. Through a selection of iconic photographic works, some unseen and some classics, this edition of Pocko Times encapsulates a reflection of our age through photography, exhibiting the aesthetics of celebrity culture, pornography, media, conflict, poverty and wealth.
See below for a sneak peak into the upcoming issue, with full text by Slavoj Žižek !
In China, so they say, if you really hate someone, the curse to fling at them is: “May you live in interesting times!” Historically, the “interesting times” have been periods of unrest, war and struggles for power in which millions of innocents suffered the consequences. Today, we are clearly approaching a new epoch of interesting times. After decades of the Welfare State, when financial cuts were limited to short periods and sustained by a promise that things would soon return to normal, we are entering a new period in which the economic crisis has become permanent, simply a way of life. Furthermore, today, the crises occur at both extremes of economic life—ecology (natural externality) and pure financial speculation—not at the core of the productive process. This is why it is crucial to avoid the simple commonsense solution: “we have to get rid of the speculators, introduce order there, and real production will go on”—the lesson of capitalism is that these “unreal” speculations are the real here; if we remove them, the reality of production suffers.
Undergoing psychoanalytic treatment, one learns to clarify one’s desires: do I really want what I think I want? Take the proverbial case of a husband engaged in a passionate extra-marital affair, dreaming of the moment when his wife will disappear (die, divorce him, or whatever) so that he will be free to live with his mistress—when it finally happens, his whole world breaks down, and he discovers that he no longer wants his mistress after all. As the old proverb says: there is only one thing worse than not getting what one wants—namely, actually getting it. Leftist academics are now approaching such a moment of truth: you wanted real change—now you can have it! Back in 1937, in The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell perfectly characterized this attitude when he pointed out that “every revolutionary opinion draws part of its strength from a secret conviction that nothing can be changed”: radicals invoke the need for revolutionary change as a kind of superstitious token that will achieve its opposite—that will prevent the change from really occurring. If a revolution is taking place, it should occur at a safe distance: in Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela ... so that, while my heart is warmed when I think about the events far away, I can go on promoting my academic career.
In authentic Marxism, the totality is not an ideal, but a critical notion—to locate a phenomenon in its totality does not mean to see the hidden harmony of the Whole, but to include in a system all its “symptoms,” its antagonisms and inconsistencies, as its integral parts. Let me take a contemporary example. In this sense, liberalism and fundamentalism form a “totality”: the opposition of liberalism and fundamentalism is structured in exactly the same way as that between Law and sin in St. Paul, that is, liberalism itself generates its opposite. So what about the core values of liberalism: freedom, equality, and so forth? The paradox is that liberalism itself is not strong enough to save them—its own core values—against the fundamentalist onslaught. The problem with liberalism is that it cannot stand on its own: there is something missing in the liberal edifice, and liberalism is in its very notion “parasitic,” relying on a presupposed network of communal values that it itself undermines with its own development. Fundamentalism is a reaction—a false, mystifying, reaction, of course—against a real fl aw in liberalism, and this is why it is again and again generated by liberalism. Left to its own devices, liberalism will slowly undermine itself—the only thing capable of saving its core values is a renewed Left. Or, to put it in well-known terms from 1968, in order for its key legacy to survive, liberalism needs the fraternal aid of the radical Left.
After the collapse of Communism, Russia embraced “shock therapy” and threw itself headlong into democracy and the fast track to capitalism—with economic bankruptcy as the result. China, on the contrary, followed the path of Chile and South Korea, using unencumbered authoritarian state power to control the social costs of the passage to capitalism, thus avoiding chaos. In short, the weird combination of capitalism and Communist rule, far from being a ridiculous anomaly, proved a blessing (not even) in disguise; China developed so fast not in spite of authoritarian Communist rule, but because of it. So, to conclude with a Stalinist-sounding note of suspicion: what if those who worry about the lack of democracy in China are really worrying about China becoming the next global superpower, threatening Western primacy?
If the most dynamic of today’s capitalists are the Communists in power in China, is this not the ultimate sign of the global triumph of capitalism? Another sign of that triumph is the fact that the ruling ideology can afford to tolerate what appears to be the most ruthless criticism: books, newspaper investigations and TV reports abound on the companies ruthlessly polluting our environment, on the bankers who continue to receive fat bonuses while their institutions are saved by public money, on sweatshops where children are forced to work long hours, and so on. Ruthless as these denunciations may appear, what is as a rule not questioned is the liberal-democratic framework itself. The goal—explicitly stated or otherwise—is to democratize capitalism, to extend democratic control into the economy, through media pressure, parliamentary inquiries, tougher regulations, police investigations, etc. But the democratic institutional framework of the (bourgeois) state remains the sacred cow that even the most radical forms of “ethical anti-capitalism” do not dare challenge.
Perhaps the most succinct characterization of the epoch which began with the First World War is the well-known phrase attributed to Gramsci: “The old world is dying away, and the new world struggles to come forth: now is the time of monsters.” Were Fascism and Stalinism not the twin monsters of the twentieth century, the one emerging out of the old world’s desperate attempts to survive, the other out of a misbegotten endeavor to build a new one? And what about the monsters we are engendering now, propelled by techno-gnostic dreams of a biogenetically controlled society? All the consequences should be drawn from this paradox: perhaps there is no direct passage to the New, at least not in the way we imagined it, and monsters necessarily emerge in any attempt to force that passage.
One sign of a new rise of this monstrosity is that the ruling classes seem less and less able to rule, even in their own interests. Take the fate of Christians in the Middle East. Over the last two millennia, they have survived a series of calamities, from the end of the Roman Empire through defeat in crusades, the decolonization of the Arab countries, the Khomeini revolution in Iran, etc.—with the notable exception of Saudi Arabia, the main US ally in this region, where there are no autochthonous Christians. In Iraq, there were approximately one million of them under Saddam, leading exactly the same lives as other Iraqi subjects, with one of them, Tariq Aziz, even occupying the high post of foreign minister and becoming Saddam’s confi dante. But then, something weird happened to Iraqi Christians, a true catastrophe—a Christian army occupied (or liberated, if you want) Iraq.
The Christian occupation army dissolved the secular Iraqi army and thus left the streets open to Muslim fundamentalist militias to terrorize both each other and the Christians. No wonder roughly half of Iraq’s Christians soon left the country, preferring even the terrorist-supporting Syria to a liberated Iraq under Christian military control. In 2010, things took a turn for the worse. Tariq Aziz, who had survived the previous trials, was condemned by a Shia court to death by hanging for his “persecution of Muslim parties” (i.e., his fi ght against Muslim fundamentalism) under Saddam. Bomb attacks on Christians and their churches followed one after the other, leaving dozens dead, so that finally, in early November 2010, the Baghdad archbishop Atanasios Davud appealed to his flock to leave Iraq: “Christians have to leave the beloved country of our ancestors and escape the intended ethnic cleansing. This is still better than getting killed one after the other.” And to dot the i, as it were, that same month it was reported that al Maliki had been confirmed as Iraqi prime minister thanks to Iranian support. So the result of the US intervention is that Iran, the prime agent of the axis of Evil, is edging closer to dominating Iraq politically.
US policy is thus definitively approaching a stage of madness, and not only in terms of domestic policy (as the Tea Party proposes to fight the national debt by lowering taxes, i.e., by raising the debt—one cannot but recall here Stalin’s well-known thesis that, in the Soviet Union, the state was withering away through the strengthening of its organs, especially its organs of police repression). In foreign policy also, the spread of Western Judeo-Christian values is organized by creating conditions which lead to the expulsion of Christians (who, maybe, could move to Iran ...). This is definitely not a clash of civilizations, but a true dialogue and cooperation between the US and the Muslim fundamentalists.
Our situation is thus the very opposite of the classical twentieth-century predicament in which the Left knew what it had to do (establish the dictatorship of the proletariat, etc.), but simply had to wait patiently for the opportunity to offer itself. Today, we do not know what we have to do, but we have to act now, because the consequences of inaction could be catastrophic. We will have to risk taking steps into the abyss of the New in totally inappropriate situations; we will have to reinvent aspects of the New just in order to maintain what was good in the Old (education, healthcare, etc.). The journal in which Gramsci published his writings in the early 1920s was called L’Ordine nuovo (The New Order)—a title which was later appropriated by the extreme Right. Rather than seeing this later appropriation as revealing the “truth” of Gramsci’s use of the title—abandoning it as running counter to the rebellious freedom of an authentic Left—we should return to it as an index of the hard problem of defining the new order any revolution will have to establish after its success. In short, our times can be characterized as none other than Stalin characterized the atom bomb: not for those with weak nerves.
Communism is today not the name of a solution but the name of a problem: the problem of the commons in all its dimensions—the commons of nature as the substance of our life, the problem of our biogenetic commons, the problem of our cultural commons (“intellectual property”), and, last but not least, the problem of the commons as that universal space of humanity from which no one should be excluded. Whatever the solution might be, it will have to solve this problem.