Zizek and Polls

LeoCasey at aol.com LeoCasey at aol.com
Mon Oct 2 15:20:45 PDT 2000

Doug wrote: << I don't think you need psa to make SZ's point here: that polls measure things within (and by doing so, reinforce) existing parameters of discourse, while real political leaders and movements can change those parameters. Ever get called by a pollster and try to fit yourself into their categories? It feels like intellectual violence. >>

There is an insight in that view, but I think it still draws the contrast and opposition too sharply, too undialectically as we would have once said. In this Zizekian analysis, we have, on the one hand, the purely objective, the poll which simply reflects the existing state of affairs, and on the other hand, the dynamically subjective, the political actor who changes that state of affairs and the parameters of political discourse. But, IMHO, the objective and the subjective are never so radically separated.

Each side of this contrast are more contradictory than Zizek allows. Polls are themselves interventions in, and not simply reflections of, the existing state of affairs. This is perhaps most apparent in polls which are specifically designed to spread certain political messages [Such as "What do you think of the charge that Bill Paxson left Congress because the news media was about to reveal that he once had a male lover from a very well-connected Republican family who killed himself over the end of their affair?"]. But the effect is much more widespread: by constructing public opinion in particular ways, by making it manipulatable in certain fashions, polls have a clear political power and subjectivity. Their very increasing importance in the world of politics furthers the market model of political life.

By the same token, political leaders and movements which change the terms of political discourse are always working with the discursive materials before them, that objective world of public opinion and thought, and rearticulating and reshaping it in new ways and forms. Their subjectivity is more grounded in, and more shaped and limited by those objective conditions than I think Zizek would care to admit.

Now, of course, polls are considerably more limited in their political subjectivity than a self-conscious political leader or movement, so it would be a mistake to deny Zizek's point in toto.

For a whole host of reasons, I think that psychoanalysis has a tendency to dichotomize the objective and subjective in this undialectical fashion. Marcuse's _One Dimensional Man_ is perhaps the clearest example of this tendency at work. If you look at Zizek's affection for Hegelian thought [which shares this tendency], and Laclau's much more critical approach, in the latest Zizek/Laclau/Butler text, I think that you will see an interesting theoretical expression of this problem -- especially interesting because it seems that Laclau may be now recognizing, after a period of infatuation with Zizek's work, some of its limitations. Note especially Zizek's affection for the 'revolutionary movement' therein that he can not describe in anything but the most general philosophical, indeed Hegelian, terms.

Leo Casey United Federation of Teachers 260 Park Avenue South New York, New York 10010-7272 (212-598-6869)

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, and it never will. If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. -- Frederick Douglass --

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