Occupy This Zizek! My new Potts Point Apartment!
The following text was recorded by Agatha Gothe -Snape, in conversation with me, Sarah Rodigari, about the Field Theory Zizek Excursion, held in my new Potts Point apartment on October 15th 2011.
There is a lot to be said about Zizek and Live Art.
Actually, I don’t even want to talk about Live Art.
No, don’t write that down.
So… the topic, Zizek.
Um, the Zizek Excursion was an opportunity for peers and friends and thinkers to get together and talk about the relationship between psychoanalysis and performance. We all know this is a broad church.
In true psychoanalytical form, this excursion happened the same night at Occupy Sydney commenced in Martin Place Sydney.
So, the next thing is, what’s the next thing.
I have no idea what happened.
We ate socca.
I invited ALL THE PARTICIPANTS to reflect on their experience of the night.
What follows are their account.
Dear Koji, Nina, Brain and Jess,
There were over twenty RSVPs for the Zizek excursion on Saturday October 15, more people than could be accommodated. This date also marked the first day of Occupy Sydney and on the evening it was you dears (oh and Tessa for a brief stint) who tore yourselves away from such a momentous occasion and came to my place, where as relative strangers we shared food together and watched a documentary about Zizek.
Thank you all for coming.
I am writing to ask if you might like to write a brief response about your experience of the Zizek excursion? I have been thinking about Zizek a lot. I have been thinking about his acknowledgement that he is a performance of himself, resting somewhere between truth and fiction, and that he is aware that his idiosyncratic honesty in acknowledging this is also a performance and a parody of himself. I often find myself lost between truth and fiction, are these separable? I have also been thinking about his writing methodology and how he tricks himself into writing, first by saying I am just getting ideas down on the page and then after bashing out these ideas he says to himself, I only have to edit now. This again seems like a relationship between truth and fiction, in which Zizek is both clairvoyant and storyteller.
Will you be the clairvoyants and storytellers of this Field Theory Excursion?
Brian Fuata’s response
I came down from Newcastle to attend both Occupy Sydney and the Zizek screening. I was excited to see how big the protest might be after the NY and London versions. The film I hadn’t seen yet also excited me. I wanted the experience of the film to be imbued by the reality of the protest. I was reminded of a story about Guillermo Gomez Pena and La Pocha Nostra holding a workshop somewhere in Mexico, I think it was Oaxaca, where there was civil unrest directly outside the building they were in. The story goes, that apparently Pena had no choice but to take the workshop outside. Workshop participant and protester became interchangeable. I never thought that anything like that would happen on this day, but there was some myth rub off that entertained my mind, and it did colour how I saw the protest and film screening as a double bill.
I had been attracted by the spectacle of protests over the years, the performances of protestors, police, horses and passer-bys and media, and although very familiar with this performance trajectory, the documentation of NY and London had me excited in the way I see a Best of album; a Greatest Hits.
I’m reminded of Le Tigre’s song Cry for Everything Bad that’s Ever Happened. How late-nineties-Newtown-queer of me! I mention that with a genuine blush.
I arrived at the occupation at 5pm and bumped into a friend Sumu who also introduced me to two friends of his. Sumu and I spoke about the last time we saw each other, which was at a performance of mine at Tin Sheds Gallery and after that, talk of possibly joining him in the birthday celebrations of the nightclub Good God. I decided to stay in that night. He went.
Our conversation at the protest continued. I had asked him how the nightclub was for him. He said it was a strange night. Our talk moved on. I remember then, him, his friends and I laughing over small talk. I think I said something funny about protest drum circles, can’t remember if Sumu’s friends were part of this conversation.
I remarked on how small the crowd was. I saw a few familiar faces from previous protests I attended over the last ten years.
I was disappointed. The occupation was a bad performance in its typicality. It seemed out of place, no direction, and no design. A pale imitation of what I had seen in the media and not because of the lack of fervour in the protestors and organizers, but of its innocuous Australian middle class context. The general feeling of the masses is a good one, this good feeling was reflected in what seemed like an air of irrelevance of this Martin Place organization. I lasted about 15minutes then walked aimlessly around town to kill time before Zizek.
I got a text from Nina. Nina was at the protest. I was at McDonalds for the free Internet, which I mention not to be ironic or cynical towards the protest. I have faith and believe the cause, it was a genuine coincidence.
I arrived again at Martin Place, and Nina was with Sumu and one of his friends. I stood quiet while watching and listening to Nina and Sumu speak to each other. Witnessed them laugh. Saw some cute boys; the sky darkening. I nodded in agreeance to the things said. Nina spoke of calling Sarah to bring the screening to the occupation. I felt uncomfortable that the screening at Sarah’s house was a sanctioned stage and to bring the film outside would disrupt a specialised space of conversation. A conversation separate from the crassness of mass hysteria; this isn’t Mexico and we were not activists.
So the film then happens. The food was delicious. It wasn’t as many people as I thought. I was surprised to find Koji there. We sat down and watched the film.
Zizek himself, on film is a great guy. He is believable and entrancing and incredibly funny.
“Vegetarians are degenerates who will turn into monkeys”.
Koji Ryui’s response
My apology for such a delayed response. I am sure this would apply to everybody and so it would sound very lame but amongst all the end of the year / semester commitments, I was not able to find time to respond to your request any earlier. I myself felt like being a hopeless student who do not get his act together till the very end with all the over due assignments. I hope my absence did not come across too offensive to you.
Now my memory of the excursion in terms of the content of the film is also quite hazy and I can no longer remember what was from then and what was from the other times, although my memory of the actual evening is quite sweet and clear. Unlike the other participants there, I would imagine that I was ‘the new face’ to the group taking up on the random invitation I received through my newly created Facebook account. Despite my attendance being rather ‘experimental’, you guys were very generous with the hospitality and made me feel welcomed throughout the evening. The meal was delicious and I thoroughly enjoyed your company and our conversations there.
I believe Zizek was quite a mediator raising valid enough points for us to engage with and simultaneously kept us entertained and amused both with his presence and his intellectual gymnastics – some totally articulate and some a little tricky to understand. Here, I am in two minds about the tendency of ideology and politics being an entertainment. I enjoy them this way probably in a similar way to say enjoying the aesthetic of the protests. However, another part of me really would like to embrace possibly naive, utopian and perhaps very daggy yet sincere attitude which reminds me of Zizek’s quote discussing the Slovenian band Leibach (which is also appropriate to the aesthetic of the protests) that i overheard somewhere
..cynicism as today’s prevailing mode of ideology means that it is the positive condition of the functioning of the system that its own ideology must by its own subject not be taken seriously. An ideal subject today is the one who has ironic distance towards the system, etc., etc. And the reverse of this is that the only way, I would even say, to be really subversive is not to develop critical potentials, or ironic distance, but precisely to take the system more seriously than it takes itself seriously.
Anyway, regardless of which angle we managed to engage from (and it probably would have been an oscillation between the two, sincere and cynical, for many of us), Zizek & dinner felt very special and intimate where several people who all had different days coincided to share the same experience. Thanks again for hosing the evening, and i hope there’ll be more of these in the future.
PS: I agree that Zizek rests between truth and fiction with his words. And his experimental writing methodology (which I wonder if it is a bit like him playing exquisite corpse with his own words but being super rational at the same time) does indeed make him clairvoyant alike. Sort of like Carlos Castaneda back in the day, what amuses me is not only what he says or whether if that is true or false, but how much it resonates. (I wonder then, the discussion of Simulacra and Simulation is valid here at all.) Controversial thoughts of philosophical geniuses often become a well accepted mentality of the future generations decades later. I look forward to the day when everyone thinks like Zizek. If that ever happens that would be very entertaining.
Jess Olivieri’s response
It was a little while now that Sarah and I sat at her kitchen table wondering if we had over catered, convincing ourselves that we could happily eat the tomato and spinach stew for the rest of the week and perhaps the week after. When people finally did arrive it was with great anticipation that I sat on the floor to watch Zizek in all his idiosyncratic glory.
This is where my memory gets hazy, I know, the important bit, but it was a lot to take in and the challenge of conveying the ideas of this man seemed to be lost on me among the biopic elements of this documentary. It made me wonder if it really was Zizek’s ideas that I was excited by, or him as his constructed public persona. Really how interested am I in communism as being the answer to capitalism, or in his constant use of sex as a metaphor for, well everything.
It seemed appropriate that we were watching this documentary on the eve of Occupy Sydney, Zizek has a mainstream appeal that the Occupy world wide protests seemed to also receive and in Occupy New York Zizek aligned himself with the values and aesthetic of Occupy as he gave a rousing speech to the gathered crowds.
As our late guests arrived straight from Occupy Sydney our night had begun with a discussion on the aesthetics of leftist protest, and the need for the crust punks to rethink their presentation to the world, is the dirty green hair stereotype really the road to getting people on side?
Perhaps this is where Zizek could be an answer to the great problem of capitalism, in his acknowledgement of the importance of the separation of private and public persona, in what one might say is as an open armed embrace of the performance of the self, perhaps some might even be so bold to say he is the new king of Live Art. If there where more enigmatic round bellied sweaty people tugging at their over sized t-shirts spraying spital as they use sex to dissect the evils of capitalism, maybe then more people might listen.
Nina Stuhldreher’s response
A large microphone in a Bauhaus Paradise or What can a former rebel do?
Žižek! The sound of this word, pronounced harshly but with a little Slavojesque lisp, was perfectly repeated by the lighting of a TV-camera lamp – zz zzt – that later on that night targeted me and a fellow protester at Martin Place. It was October 15, the day when the wave of the Occupy movement hit Sydney. After an exciting media reunion with my former hero thanks to Field Theory, my way home dropped me into field research again. I don´t know if the image ever hit the internet. The gaze of the cameraman, anachronistically exposed by the lamp, is still in my mind. Commodified memories.
Commodified Communism! Is the key thought I recollect from my discourse-tourist trip to Sydney. I haven’t seen so much flowery beauty in a long time: everything seemed to spring and bloom. Even artworks criticizing colonialism, kwila wood frames bought in an op shop, or the notion of “communism” itself that all of a sudden burst with a glamorized blaze of color.
“White tiles were recently still in, which means most likely already out now. Cardboard is, post-Hirschhorn low-tech craft, very retro in the German-speaking world, but ok in London as the pictorial that breaks up slick video installations. The MDF-look is totally retro pre-millennium game-theory aesthetics, but pale pine plates are fully trendy. In the 90s paintbox silver was the hip opposite of gold leaf, but currently light gray and flat yellow get on fantastically in the rhombus business”, I declined it like a verb in my head.
It seems that the introduction of a certain book had come to my mind, “Postmoderner Links-Nietzscheanismus” (“Postmodernist Left-Nietzscheanism”), published in 2004 during “times of political disappointment”, as the cover blurb states. It asks whether post-modernity was born out of Deleuze and Foucault’s reading of Nietzsche, and examines the way they re-evaluated Nietzsche’s overman and neo-religious ideas – the price of which being allegedly a contradictory aesthetization of the political. To illustrate the insufferableness of this development’s touchdown in the meatspace, the book quotes a scene from Marco Giordana’s film “To Love the Damned” (1980) where a former rebel returns home from exile, “torn between leftist terrorism and yuppie culture”, and finally puts a pistol in his mouth after spelling out “a new version of post-leftist political correctness”. Marx – I really don’t know how that happens – Marx lands on the right. Boom!
With a glamorous roar Zizek also landed in the mediatized matrix of the social arena again. Back home at my place, the guru of “Enjoy your Symptom!” had finally appeared next to my computer as a spitting image of himself, as a little psychological drill instructor, wildly gesticulating, calling out “Why hesitate!? What do you fear!?” My milieu had perceived him disappearing into a discourse-niche, a socialist-pensioner with an enthusiasm for Lenin bordering on a hobby-horse. But now he was back. With the help of this year’s revolutionary sex-appeal, beamed right into the lounge room of Field Theory, next to hip rubber trees, fantastic silver beet hot-pots and the most beautiful, meditative Bauhaus aesthetics. And with a traction beam connected to the giant white space ship at Circular Quay, the rhombus-layer-shaped Bastille, where one cannot be sure if – when the “Festival of Dangerous Ideas” takes place – the mighty concrete is supposed to stop those ideas from getting out or rather to protect them against the outside. If the igloo tents at Occupy-Sydney hadn’t been real but 2D, it would have been easy to collage a small Sydney Opera House from them.
The night was warm and I noticed how little I knew. Lacking a sleeping bag kept me from having an overnight share of world history. Perception-drunk I staggered home, passing through a street named after an unhappy gay dandy. Rather famous as a minister of war for a former Occupy Australia movement, he had lost his reputation starring in the role of murder in the accusatory poem THE MASK OF ANARCHY. Written in 1819 in respond to the Peterloo Massacre by Percy Shelly, another young rebel torn between beauty & the fight for freedom, it is believed to be the first modern statement of the principle of non-violent resistance. Mahatma Gandhi is known to have referred to it. And the Occupy movement recently referred to Mahatma, by making Pepperspraying Cop attack him in a cynical photoshop meme.
“Do Australian artists dream of rotating Pyramids?” I had shortly before asked in my performance. Only a short time later it was the activists of Occupy [Venice] Biennale who discovered the similarity between tents and triangles.
I sank into the white-white sheets of my fancy hotel bed and dreamed of a morning swim in the square roof-top swimming pool.
- Cardboard: I am mainly referring to the „Bataille Monument“ that artist Thomas Hirschhorn installed at documenta11 in Kassel (2002). For pictures see http://legermj.typepad.com/blog/2010/12/community-subjects.html – This article reviewing European ‚community art’ projects also features interesting quotes by Zizek and the Dutch urban theory group BAVO on the role of identity politics and art activism in multinational capitalism.
- Postmodernist Left-Nietzscheanism: Jan Rehmann’s main points from this book can also be found in his English essay „Towards a deconstruction of postmodernist Neo-Nietzscheanism“ at http://ojs.gc.cuny.edu/index.php/situations/article/view/176/200.
- Rotating Pyramids: A scene from my performance „Nootropics“ shown as part of the „Islands“ series, initiated by Brian Fuata fort he „Rules of Play“ exhibition at Tin Sheds Gallery, September 2011. http://playingrules.tumblr.com/Islands (3rd picture from top)
Translation: Anita Fricek