“This Christmas present is not for one but for all in equal measure.”
The potential for turning a few isolated acts of protest into a genuine mass movement lies in the construction of an alternative geography. By carving out a space for themselves in the built environment, these activists opened up possibilities for truly bold social changes. Great and terrible things are possible when the lines of authority are erased, however temporarily. As Žižek observes: “…in the first years of the October Revolution, in spite of the so-called Red Terror, there was sexual liberation, literary explosion and then it turned into the nightmare.” This time, the potential for good and bad has repeated itself- in the case of the latter, a bank was burned with the employees still inside.
Almost immediately the government appropriated the tragedy to condemn the protests, and the protesters appropriated it to blame the managers. Those in sympathy with the protesters who lay the blame purely at the feet of the bosses do so for the sake of an ideological cheap shot, one that comes at the cost of reflection and critical engagement concerning the left’s role in the incident.
I think it’s a terribly unhealthy response. It entails a reflexive retreat into an overly simplistic ideology and absolves the left of any responsibility whatsoever for what happened. What the Athens leftists need to admit in accepting responsibility is that they created a space in which the bank could catch on fire without little warning. Whether it was a deliberate bombing by anarchists, the work of some opportunistic murderer taking advantage of the upheaval, or even a false flag operation by the government, the new geography of Athens’ streets formed a necessary condition for the burning.
This is not to deflect attention from the bank’s management, who also contributed considerably to the danger of the space by ignoring the fire code in their operation of the building. Nor is it a compromise fallacy between the views of the protesters and their opponents’. But any response to the accident that immediately and uncritically tries to place blame purely on either side gets in the way of a real understanding of what happened. If we give that up, we’ll never be able to effectively use our knowledge of these new geographies, both in theory and in practice.
Even if you disagree with him, you have to admire Slavoj Žižek’s style. Rapid-fire, witty, and peppered with references to everything from Microsoft to Bolshevik jokes. His lecture was entertaining and enlightening. Given his sometimes ironic tone, I have to say it was appropriate that directly across from his speaking podium was a sumptuous neoclassical painting glorifying the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
His major points (some of which you may have gleaned from my notes) were very interesting, and I’d like to try to enumerate some of them in more detail.
Of course, a blog post can never live up to the inimitable Žižek, so I hope that the video they shot of the lecture will be available on the web soon.