The Breakdown of Rational Argumentation

The Breakdown of Rational Argumentation
The Breakdown of Rational Argumentation

By Michael Marder and Slavoj Žižek

Since Hamid Dabashi is pursuing his slanderous campaign against Slavoj Žižek and his colleagues, from Michael Marder to Santiago Zabala, repeatedly spreading claims which were demonstrated to be clear lies, all we can do is repeat the facts. Dabashi begins his last text with:

“‘Fuck you, Walter Mignolo!’ With those grandiloquent words and the gesture they must have occasioned and accompanied, the distinguished and renowned European philosopher Slavoj Žižek begins his response to a piece that Walter Mignolo wrote…”

No reference is given – no wonder, since I, Slavoj Žižek, have never uttered the phrase “Fuck you, Walter Mignolo!”. (In a public talk in which I responded to Mignolo’s attack on me, I did use the words “fuck you,” but they did not refer to Mignolo: his name was not mentioned in conjunction with them; they were a general exclamation addressed (if at anyone) at my public.) From here it is just a step to elevating my exclamation into “Slavoj Zizek’s famous ‘Fuck you, Walter Mignolo’,” as Dan Glazerbrook did:

“The world of academia, too, has seen Europeans ‘lashing out’ at the suggestion that they are not, after all, the sole and divine arbiters of what constitutes social, political and philosophical thought: witness, for example, Slavoj Žižek’s famous ‘Fuck you, Walter Mignolo’ response to a suggestion that there might be more interesting philosophers than him in the (non-European) world!”

Note how the accusation is here individualized: not only do I privilege European thought, I even claim that there are no more interesting philosophers in the non-European world than ME!

Back to Dabashi’s text, some pages later, he writes:

“Žižek claims:

‘I am a man and what I have to recapture is the whole past of the world, I am not responsible only for the slavery involved in anto Domingo, every time man has contributed to the victory of the dignity of the spirit, every time a man has said no to an attempt to subjugate his fellows, I have felt solidarity with his act. In no way does my basic vocation have to be drawn from the past of peoples of color. In no way do I have to dedicate myself to reviving some black civilization unjustly ignored. I will not make myself the man of any past. My black skin is not a repository for specific values. Haven’t I got better things to do on this earth than avenge the blacks of the 17th century?’

This is all fine and dandy – for Žižek. He can make any claim he wishes. All power to him. But the point is the singularity of the world, his world: he claims that as a European he is responsible not just for slavery but also for fighting injustice. He is absolutely right. But so is the “black man” he just buried alive and relegated to the seventeenth century. He asserts prophetically that he is ‘a man’. One hopes he means this not just anatomically. But he is not the only man, either in body or as archetype. The ‘black man’, as he puts it, is also a man, a different man, in flogged body and in denied archetype. The black and brown person – male and female – also has a world, a contemporary world, the world that Žižek occupies…”

There is just one tiny problem: the passage quoted and attributed to me and then mocked as an example of my European racism and of my misreading of Fanon is FROM FANON HIMSELF (again, no reference is given in Dabashi’s text – it is from Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, New York: Grove Press 2008, p. 201-206.) So let us reiterate the point again: cases like these are not worthy of a detailed answer. If such slanderous lies convince anyone, then there is no loss in it for us, because we prefer not to have the support of people like these.

At issue is not only the dissolution of minimal standards for academic rigor — at least those of attributing a lengthy quote one cites to its actual author — but also, and more problematically, a kind of self-righteousness that causes Dabashi to assume that he is the embodiment of truth itself. By claiming for himself the status of a victim (if not of the Victim) as far as the colonial and postcolonial enterprises are concerned and by elevating himself to the level of a representative of all such victims, he deigns to speak from the standpoint of their suffering — and there is no arguing with the incarnation of victimhood as such!

Lest we forget, Dabashi is an endowed professor at one of the most prestigious universities in the United States and in the world, which hardly qualifies him for the role he allots to himself. None of us, “European philosophers” attacked by him, comes anywhere close to such levels of institutional power.

But that is not enough. Dabashi goes on to speculate (though he presents this as a matter of fact) on the colonial heritage I, Michael Marder, presumably keep alive by deducing my lineage from the academic post I hold at a Spanish university. He writes in the same essay: “Young European philosophers like Zabala and Marder, who think that as Europeans they own the world of ideas, feign the authority of their colonial forebears as if anything anyone says anywhere in the world is about them.” This statement echoes another one made earlier in the text, where the author claims that in our philosophical arguments my colleagues and I ignore non-European traditions “just as their forebears did with our parents’ labor, abused and discarded it.”

What does one say to such interpellation? That I am of East-European Jewish origin? That my ‘forbears’ did not colonize anything but suffered from pogroms, Nazi gas chambers, and every other imaginable persecution throughout Europe? That I experienced anti-Semitic attacks first-hand during my childhood in the Soviet Union? Rational argumentation indeed fails; it is suffocated by slander. And just as one cannot argue with a self-appointed representative of the Victim, it is impossible to argue with an interpellating authority, which in this case dons the mask of victimhood.

Behaving the way he did, Dabashi only confirmed the conclusions of my 2013 essay, “A Postcolonial Comedy of Errors”. All the reversals of position, role-plays, substitutions of characters, and so forth we have witnessed here are quite comic. The whole thing threatens to turn into a tragicomedy on one condition only, namely if Dabashi were to be taken seriously and, with his lies, to inflict irreparable damage on the field of postcolonial studies and, more importantly, on the intricate question of representation when it comes to the victims of colonial and postcolonial violence.

[Appeared in The Philosophical Salon on October 3rd 2016.]

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