Philosophy Weekend: Slavoj Zizek and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

Slovenian philosopher and Litkicks favorite Slavoj Zizek has been exchanging letters with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, who is in jail for staging this protest in a Moscow cathedral:

The letters have now been widely published, and are well worth reading for their vivid energy as well as for the stark questions they raise about the outlook for economic justice around the world. Here’s Zizek to Tolokonnikova:

In western Europe, we are seeing that the ruling elite know less and less how to rule. Look at how Europe is dealing with Greece.

No wonder, then, that Pussy Riot make us all uneasy – you know very well what you don’t know, and you don’t pretend to have any quick or easy answers, but you are telling us that those in power don’t know either. Your message is that in Europe today the blind are leading the blind. This is why it is so important that you persist. In the same way that Hegel, after seeing Napoleon riding through Jena, wrote that it was as if he saw the World Spirit riding on a horse, you are nothing less than the critical awareness of us all, sitting in prison.

Then, Tolokonnikova to Zizek:

I see your argument about horses, the World Spirit, and about tomfoolery and disrespect, as well as why and how all these elements are so connected to each other.

Pussy Riot did turn out be a part of this force, the purpose of which is criticism, creativity and co-creation, experimentation and constantly provocative events. Borrowing Nietzsche’s definition, we are the children of Dionysus, sailing in a barrel and not recognising any authority.

We are a part of this force that has no final answers or absolute truths, for our mission is to question. There are architects of apollonian statics and there are (punk) singers of dynamics and transformation. One is not better than the other. But it is only together that we can ensure the world functions in the way Heraclitus defined it: “This world has been and will eternally be living on the rhythm of fire, inflaming according to the measure, and dying away according to the measure. This is the functioning of the eternal world breath.”

Hegel, Nietzsche and Heraclitus, all in the first few paragraphs! These are refreshingly intelligent letters, and their fast spread around the Internet is as refreshing as that of Russell Brand’s popular message about the world’s problems a couple of weeks ago.

Some people consider Slavoj Zizek a publicity-hungry fraud, but the eagerness with which he reaches out to discuss world economic problems with a punk singer in jail shows that he knows how to begin conversations that will engage listeners, which should be at least one big part of a philosopher’s job description. His characteristic humility in these letters is gratifying, as when he accuses himself of being a male chauvinist for characterizing his academic philosophical theorizing as different from hers.

Some people likewise consider Pussy Riot a talentless band, though I have heard a few of their songs and think they’re fairly pleasant to listen to, certainly in the same league as many anarchist punk bands around the world. They seem to be following the playbook that activist/Situationist Malcolm McLaren once had in mind for his Sex Pistols, though the Pistols themselves refused to play along and broke up after a single album. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s conversation with Zizek seems to indicate that Pussy Riot will have greater staying power.

I loved reading these letters, though I don’t necessarily think that either the rambunctious philosopher or the jailed rocker have found the right path towards economic justice. I will always be skeptical of any attempt at an economic revolution that is not thoroughly pacifist in nature. I do not believe an economic revolution can succeed in a militarized world, which is why I think a revolution of world peace is the revolution we most need to have.

Zizek asks:

What can be done in such a situation, where demonstrations and protests are of no use, where democratic elections are of no use? Can we convince the tired and manipulated crowds that we are not only ready to undermine the existing order, to engage in provocative acts of resistance, but also to offer the prospect of a new order?

Tolokonnikova does not have an answer, but she sure is good at stating the problem:

… here I am, working out my prison sentence in a country where the 10 people who control the biggest sectors of the economy are Vladimir Putin’s oldest friends. He studied or played sports with some, and served in the KGB with others. Isn’t this a social system that has seized up? Isn’t this a feudal system?

2 Responses

  1. Love this quote:
    Love this quote:
    “Borrowing Nietzsche’s definition, we are the children of Dionysus, sailing in a barrel and not recognising any authority.”
    That’s freedom (no authority). The type of freedom our literature should be fascinated with.


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