Tag Archive: Iran

Žižek on Iran

I’m reprinting Slavoj Žižek’s (copyright-free) analysis of the events in Iran, which were forwarded to Infinite Thought by Ali Alizadeh, who I mentioned in a recent post. It’s vintage Žižek: by turns provocative, unpredictable, overwrought, and brilliant, in its verve if not necessarily its accuracy, though I think he gets it mostly right. I would read Tamim Ansari’s Iran’s Regime: Marching Toward A Cliff alongside this piece; Ansari provides some useful background on the social currents involved in these Iranian events and those of 1979. Also, the Independent’s Robert Fisk continues to provide a reasonable countercurrent to most everything that comes out in the popular western press; see, for instance, this piece on fantasy and reality in Iran.

Will the cat above the precipice fall down?

by Slavoj Žižek

When an authoritarian regime approaches its final crisis, its dissolution as a rule follows two steps. Before its actual collapse, a mysterious rupture takes place: all of a sudden people know that the game is over, they are simply no longer afraid. It is not only that the regime loses its legitimacy, its exercise of power itself is perceived as an impotent panic reaction. We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the cat reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet; it starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. When it loses its authority, the regime is like a cat above the precipice: in order to fall, it only has to be reminded to look down…

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Two of the world’s best known Iranian artists, Marjane Satrapi, author of the graphic novel Persepolis and director of the Oscar-winning animated feature based on it, and leading filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, have been presenting apparent “proof” at the European Parliament that Mousavi actually won the elections. This comes in the form of an internal memo allegedly written by Iran’s Interior Minister documenting the actual results.

The Independent’s Robert Fisk raises some questions about the letter’s authenticity, but acknowledges that “it divides the final vote between Mr Mousavi and Mr Karroubi in such a way that it would have forced a second run-off vote – scarcely something Mousavi’s camp would have wanted,” which helps lend it veracity. Unfortunately, he continues, “The letter may well join the thousands of documents, real and forged, that have shaped Iran’s recent history, the most memorable of which were the Irish passports upon which Messers Robert McFarlane and Oliver North travelled to Iran on behalf of the US government in 1986 to offer missiles for hostages.”

This is one of those situations where it’s not clear whom to believe, because the economy of trustworthiness is nebulous and a little impenetrable. It reminds me of Jodi Dean‘s account of conspiracy cultures in the US, Aliens in America, in which the public-sphere ideal has been so eroded that we are left with an ineradicable “undecidability” about fundamental definitions of reality. My operating hunch, or leap of faith, here is that intellectuals and especially artists who have demonstrated accountability to a complex view of the world (that’s the key) can help weave our way through political confusion. This is a kind of ‘cultural ecology’ argument where communicative/cultural complexity — in the form of pluralism, dialogism, openness to the many-sidedness of perception, and recognition of the ultimate unknowability/undecidability/uncontainability/inassimilability of things (that’s the Lacanian/Derridean/Buddhist piece) counts for something. My leap of faith, then, without knowing much about internal Iranian politics or culture, would be to follow artists like Makhmalbaf, Kiarostami, and others, and of course to mistrust systems that rely on police rule to crush resistance. Which makes me wonder: If an analogous situation erupted in the US or Canada, who would be the artists, writers, filmmakers, I would trust?

More interesting Iran stuff can be found at iran101.blogspot.com and in Columbia University’s Hamid Dabashi‘s perceptive analyses, such as this one and this (once you get through the latter’s somewhat over-the-top Israelophobia; aren’t Netanyahu/Lieberman and Khamenei/Ahmadinejad mirror images of a sort?).

more on Tehran


Planomenology‘s Reid Kane has posted an extensive analysis of the Iranian events from a perspective informed by Zizek and Agamben, among others — the first I’ve seen in this vein, though I’m anticipating others like it in the left-philosophical blogosphere. The piece draws too much, for my taste, on a monolithic (Marxist) understanding of capital and defers too hastily to Zizek’s weaker moments (I’m being respectful here). Reza‘s comments (see below the article) provide some important correctives to the piece, as does Ali Alizadeh’s piece here. But the article makes some useful points on Foucault’s original engagement with the Iranian revolution, and especially on the possibilities opened up by the new media landscape. Reid also reminds us that Guatemalan unrest had previously been dubbed “the Twitter revolution.”

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I’m sure I’m not the only one following these events with excited trepidation and a feeling of almost wanting to be there (but glad also to be watching it from afar). Which makes me wonder: what is it about revolutionary moments that fires the imagination and keeps us, or me at least, plugged into them like to a virtual intravenous drip? Is it personal — that I grew up in the 1970s feeling that I had missed the 1960s; or a desire to re-experience the feeling I had living in Ukraine for a year during the tremendous societal opening-up of 1989-90 as the Soviet Union began crumbling all around? Or is it that these events capture, and never satisfy, that constant generic craving of something — to fill that lack or gap or “basic fault” in human nature that modern social relations exacerbate and that consumer capitalism is so expert at fueling (well beyond anything the Buddha could have imagined)? (For all its evident shortcomings and overextensions, Morris Berman’s Coming to Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West remains one of my favorite articulations of that gap, a quasi-Foucauldian psychosomatic excavation of the ‘modern soul.’)

Or is it mainly a hope for change, that utopian ‘principle of hope’ Ernst Bloch‘ writes about, that makes us want to believe that things can change for the better — which is why conservatives, who don’t believe change will ever be for the better, reject the whole idea as childish and annoying? But can this one turn out any better than, say, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of a few years ago? (A few things did improve after that one: media control was loosened dramatically, or at least decentralized among rival oligarchs, with arguably positive effects on the whole; and political options became more open and more imaginable. But the last few years have seen a constant, ongoing deflation of political spirit in Ukraine.) Will Iran’s ‘Green Revolution’ be messy and bloody (as it appears today) or will it triumph only to then dissipate into political machinations, co-opted like so many others? What’s the activists’ game plan for afterwards? For that matter, would I have been there alongside Foucault cheering on the students and clerics in the 1979 revolution, and how is this moment different from that one?

Understanding the dynamics of revolutionary or ‘open’ moments is important — which is part of what attracts me to the thinking of Deleuze, Guattari, DeLanda, William Connolly, Brian Massumi, Teresa Brennan, Nigel Thrift, and others for whom processes of “affective contagion” make up a crucial dimension of political change. In his summary of models of affective contagion (Non-Representational Theory, pp. 235ff.), Thrift describes an intensifying anxious obsessive-compulsive “time structure” in Western liberal-democratic polities, where “a growth in desengagement and detachment is paralleled by moments of high engagement and attachment” (p. 240), like this one unfolding in Iran.

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