RES: a trip to North Korea

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Sat Apr 22 14:59:38 PDT 2000

Yoshie Furuhashi wrote:

>Isn't there a contradiction between the above two responses?
>Reparations are a "fantasy" (tell that to the folks in Jubilee
>2000!), you think, because American leftists would never, ever, be
>able to control the American government.

The question is what should about 4-5 billion people in the world do today and tomorrow, when American socialists - all 100 of us - don't control the U.S. government. Amin's proposals are designed for that world, not the world we'd like to see.

>(2) The North Korean personality cult is quite deplorable, but
>North Korea is less obsessed with the personality cult than the USA
>is, with its cult of the "Founding Fathers," "In God We Trust," love
>of "celebrities" of all kinds, slavish admiration of the rich, the
>powerful, and the beautiful.

You & Charles & others seem to think that when you point to some debased practice of the U.S. it gets a nominally socialist country off the hook for being similarly debased. I don't see it. All the U.S. cults you list are deplorable.

> On top of that, we got the cult of "branding" & "intellectual
>property" as well, as Naomi Klein & Michael Perelman point out. If
>you don't see the cult of personality here, you are quite out of
>touch with American culture! As Zizek might say, you project what
>you see but don't want to see here onto other nations. Scary
>nationalists are always "out there"; likewise, worshippers of the
>"Great Leader" are always "out there." How about some

That would be true if I didn't see these things here, but I do, so it isn't.

Here's what Zizek really has to say on a related topic, from The Fragile Absolute, pp. 33-36:

>In his key essay 'On the problem of the Beautiful in Soviet Art'
>(1950), the Soviet critic G. Nedoshivin claimed:
>Amidst all the beautiful material of life, the first place should be
>occupied by images of our great leaders.... The sublime beauty of
>the the basis for the coinciding of the 'beautiful' and
>the 'true' in the art of socialist realism.
>How are we to understand this logic which, ridiculous as it may
>seem, is at work even today, with North Korea's Kim Yong Il? These
>characterizations do not refer to the Leader's actual properties -
>the logic here is the same as that of the Lady in courtly love who,
>as Lacan emphasized, is addressed as an abstract Ideal, so that
>'writers have noted that all the poets seem to be addressing the
>same person.... In this poetic field the feminine object is emptied
>of all real substance.' This abstract character of the Lady
>indicates the abstraction that pertains to a cold, distanced,
>inhuman partner - the Lady is by no means a warm, compassionate,
>understanding fellow-creature:
>By means of a form of sublimation specific to art, poetic creation
>consists in positioning an object I can only describe as terrifying,
>an inhuman partner.
>The Lady is never characterized for any of her real, concrete
>virtues, for her wisdom, her prudence, or even her competence. If
>she is described as wise, it is only because she embodies an
>immaterial wisdom or because she represents its functions more than
>she exercises them. On the contrary, she is as arbitrary as possible
>in the tests she imposes on her servant. [from Lacan, The Ethics of
>And is it not the same with the Stalinist Leader? Does he not, when
>he is hailed as sublime and wise, also 'represent these functions
>more than he exercises them'? Nobody would claim that Malenkov,
>Beria and Khrushchev were examples of male beauty - the point is
>simply that they 'represented' the function of beauty... (In
>contrast to the Stalinist Leader, the psychoanalyst is 'obiectively'
>ugly even if he is actually a beautiful or sexually attractive
>person: in so far as he occupies the impossible place of the abject,
>of the excremental remainder of the symbolic order, he 'represents'
>the function of ugliness.) In this sense, the designation of the
>Stalinist Leader as 'sublime' is to be taken literally, in the
>strict Lacanian sense: his celebrated wisdom, generosity, human
>warmth, and so on, are pure representations embodied by the Leader
>whom we 'can only describe as terrifying, an inhuman partner'- not
>symbolic authority obeying a Law, but a capricious Thing which is
>'as arbitrary as possible in the tests it imposes on its servants'.
>Thus the price the Stalinist Leader pays for his elevation into the
>sublime object of beauty is his radical 'alienation': as with the
>Lady, the 'real person' is effectiely treated as an appendage to the
>fetishized and celebrated public Image. No wonder the practice of
>retouching was so widely used in official photographs, with a
>clumsiness that is often so obvious that it is difficult to believe
>it was not intentional - as if to show that the I real person', with
>all its idiosyncrasies, is to be totally replaced by its alienated
>wooden effigy. (One of the rumours about Kim Yong Il is that he
>actually died in a car crash a couple of years ago, and that in
>recent years a double has replaced him in his rare public
>appearances, so that the crowds can catch a glimpse of the object of
>their worship - is this not the best possible confirmation of the
>fact that the 'real personality' of the Stalinist Leader is
>thoroughly irrelevant, a replaceable object, since it does not
>matter if it is the 'real' Leader or his double, who has no actual
>power?) Is not this practice of elevating a common vulgar figure
>into the ideal of Beauty - of reducing beauty to a purely functional
>notion - strictly correlative to the modernist elevation of an
>'ugly' everyday excremental object into a work of art?

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list