Reversals

I have grown sick and tired of his writing of late, but I do think Zizek reveals something important here, in The Fragile Absolute.

Let us specify this crucial point by reference to a well-known tasteless defence of Hitler: “True, Hitler did some horrible things, like trying to rid Germany of Jews, but we should not forget that he none the less did some good things, like building highways and making the trains run on time!’. The whole point of this defence, of course, is that although it formally denounces anti-Semitic violence, it is covertly anti-Semitic: the very gesture of comparing the anti-Semitic horrors to building highways, and putting them together in a statement whose structure is that of ‘Yes, I know, but none the less….’, makes it clear that praising Hitler’s construction of highways is a displaced way of praising his anti-Semitic measures. The proof is that the critique of Hitler which turns around the terms of the first one (popular in some extremely conservative ecological circles) is no less acceptable but implies an even stronger defence of Hitler, albeit in the form of criticism: ‘True, Hitler did some good things, like trying to rid Germany of Jews, but we should not forget that he none the less did some horrible things, like building highways and thus ruining Germany’s environment…’

And is not a similar reversal also the true content of the standard defence of the perpetrators of extreme-Right racist violence: ‘True, he did participate in lynchings of African-Americans, but we should not forget that he was also a good and honest family man who went regularly to church…’ – instead of this, one should read: ‘True, he did some good things, like trying to get rid of the nasty African-Americans; none the less, we should not forget that he was just a common family man who went regularly to church…’ The key to this reversal is that in both cases we are dealing with the publicly acknowledged and acceptable ideological content (building highways, going to church) and its obscene disavowed underside (Holocaust, lynchings): the first, standard version of the statement acknowledges the public content and disavows its obscene underside (while secretly endorsing it); the second version openly dismisses the public aspect and endorses the obscene underside.

Got that? Now suppose I say this:

Nick Griffin does some horrible things, like head up a party full of racists and holocaust deniers, but some of the things he does make sense, like calling for the restoration of British culture at the heart of civic society. And he defeats the Left in debates.

And its inverse:

Nick Griffin does some horrible things, like defeating the Left in debates and calling for the restoration of British culture at the heart of civic society, but some of the things he does make sense, like heading up a party full of racists and holocaust deniers.

The same phenomenon is revealed: the gesture of disavowing the obscene underside (heading up a party full of racists and holocaust deniers) whilst simultaneously acknowledging the acceptable ideological content (defeating the Left in debates, calling for the restoration of British culture at the heart of civic society): at root a defence of the individual in question.

Now read on:

Free speech and the bacon and eggs of democracy – Ian O’Doherty, Columnists – Independent.ie

The best example this week came with the treatment of the odious BNP leader, Nick Griffin.

Now, a quick perusal of the policies of the British National Party will show you that while some make perfect sense — an end to untrammelled immigration, the restoration of British culture at the heart of civic society and putting a stop to multiculturalism, a further look will show that it is also a party of utterly racist nutters, Holocaust-deniers and the kind of sad bastard whose biggest worry in life is inter-racial marriage.

But while he may be many things, Nick Griffin is no nutter, and he is particularly hated by the Left because he routinely trounces them in debates.

As you can see, I had to water down the commentary a bit, i.e. make what is supposed to pass for the acceptable ideological content a bit more acceptable (immigration in England is not ‘untrammelled’, etc). But I think this demonstrates -how shall we put it? -conflicting emotions- concerning the BNP on the part of our august scribe.

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2 Responses to “Reversals”


  1. 1 EWI June 16, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    A reactionary right-wing muppet in the Sindo? I’m shocked.

  2. 2 Hugh Green June 16, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    Yes, the sun was shining down on the nothing new when I wrote this.


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