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June 05, 2005

The other day, David Hudson posted a link to a terrific article by Slavov Zizek, entitled Revenge Of Global Finance. Beginning with a deconstruction of the theopolitical contradictions in the Star Wars trilogy, Sizek extends those conflicting ideologies to perspectives on economics. Although the article seems structurally incomplete to me, and I don't agree with elements of it, its content is fascinating and well worth reading.

Zizek establishes that the Star Wars universe as one with New Age ideals; and that these ideals are thrown into disarray with the advent of a Christ-like figure (Anakin Skywalker). After differentiating between an all-inclusive compassion in the Buddhist sense and separative Christian love, he then criticizes Revenge Of The Sith for not utilizing that very dichotomy (already established in the first two prequels) as sole instigation for Anakin's turn towards the Dark Side (a dramatic construct which would have perfectly mirrored Palpatine's political machinations). A worthy criticism, indeed.

A few paragraphs on, this theological talk turns towards economics, and Zizek ultimately suggests that a Christological perspective on finance is preferable to an admittedly appealing postmodern - or Buddhist - version of the same. It's at this point that I feel that the article, while conclusive, seems incomplete; and what really interests me about it overall is this notion of 'intolerant, violent Love' represented by Christianity:

The Buddhist stance is ultimately that of indifference, of quenching all passions that strive to establish differences, while the Christian love is a violent passion to introduce a difference, a gap in the order of being, to privilege and elevate some object above others. Love is violence not (only) in the vulgar sense of the Balkan proverb, "If he doesn't beat me, he doesn't love me!" The choice of love itself is already violent, as it tears an object out of its context and elevates it to the Thing.

This argument is true, but not as condemning as it sounds; after all, 'violent passion' is a bit redundant, etymologically speaking. Monogamous love of an individual is separative love; and the concept of 'true' love, or passion, is, by its nature, violent. Furthermore, the act of marriage between two people is a microcosm of the relationship Christianity (as well as Judaism and any other monotheistic religion) holds with its supreme deity (which, at least as far as the Christian creed goes, is the spiritual embodiment of that all-encompassing compassion for which Buddhism strives within the self).

This is why Christianity considers the sacrament of marriage to be an act of worship in itself; and why agnostics and atheists who marry outside the church are nonetheless (and perhaps unknowingly) illustrating the very ambiguous and dualistic ideology Zizek finds faulty in The Star Wars films. Does the fact that such contradictions are inevitable in human nature provide a bit of leeway for Anakin's muddled turn? Zizek, who argues that the the sextet is a 'political myth proper,' probably wouldn't allow it, but hey, it works for me! I wish I could say that the ambiguity was the result of great writing, rather than excuse for a lack thereof, but that hasn't stopped me from planning to see Revenge Of The Sith for a third time this week.

* When I say there's a lack of great writing, I'm referring to Anakin's dialogue; Palpatine's various monologues, ont the other hand, were so well written they were nearly shocking to hear, and they went a long way towards making up for deficits on other counts.

Posted by David Lowery at June 5, 2005 02:13 AM


Love is way too complex for religion. This is why religion continues to fail the human race. It seems to me that humans are at their best when they step out of the constraints of dogma.

Posted by: jmj at June 5, 2005 11:47 AM

the palpatine monologues and the rest of the dialogue were so different in quality that i tend to think they were written by different people. tom stoppard anyone?

Posted by: bryan at June 5, 2005 01:16 PM

JMJ: love and religion are equally complex, equally susceptible to widespread misuse and, in most popular cases, and in perhaps their purest sense, equally based on the concept of (dogmatic) adoration.

Bryan: precisely.

Posted by: Ghostboy at June 5, 2005 01:36 PM

I agree with your notion that the article is incomplete. In fact, Zizek merely uses Revenge of the Sith in a concerted, catalytic effort, in order to discuss what's really on his mind: global capitalism and its mirroring of Bhuddistic philosophy. While I agree with his parallel of these two concepts, I feel as if he's a bit too critical of Anakin's decent.

One key issue that Zizek failed to mention is that Anakin really turned out not to be the Jedi who would "restore balance" to the force--clearly, this man is Luke Skywalker. And while Anakin's decent is one of urgency and despair, due to his "indecisiveness" as a Jedi and because he is at the mercy of a very clever Palpatine, Luke's was much more hubristic and monumental. Ultimately, however, Luke conquers himself and fulfills the Prophecy by eliminating the Sith by killing the Emperor and helping Vader restore himself. This is the pivotel moment in which tragedy turns to heroism.

Posted by: Just another anonymous kook at June 6, 2005 12:52 PM

What a bunch of goddamned (literally) ignorant nonsense.

Truly an example of as the saying goes a so-called 'thinker' "pouring from the empty into the void," desperate to appear insightful.

This arrogant hack assumes that Christianity and Buddhism represent ONE perspective each, or TWO different and contradictory perspectives entirely. He is unable to get past the verbal gamesmanship level, otherwise his entire argument would collapse in a semantic heap of rubble.

It's always fun to see an event film such as Star Wars or LOTR make so-called intellectuals go into great masturbatory fits about what this or that aspect means, as if its some geometrical theorem to solve by postulating "values" where "values" are variant for each individual's nervous system.

Delusion (to borrow a favorite term from the Buddhists) is what happens when one focuses on one thing, distorting it, to the detriment of the overall picture.

Posted by: David at June 6, 2005 01:42 PM

Adam - I actually originally brought up Return Of The Jedi, but then deleted it because it felt irrelevant. And you neglect one key issue in that film, which renders your argument invalid - Luke in fact did not kill The Emperor. He enabled Vader to do so - thus Vader fulfilled the prophecy. Or did Luke fulfill it by enabling Vader? Hmmmm.

God, we sound like dorks discussing these semantics (how do the Ewoks fit in?)

David - I think you're neglecting the intent of the article in your criticism of it. I'd assume Zizek - like most logical people - would never posit that any religion or philosopy to be limited to one or two purely exclusive sensibilities; but there is certainly a dichotomy to be found between the teachings of Christianity and Buddhism, and I think it's formally appropriate to exploit that dichotomy in a broad sense for the sake of the argument being made. If anything, I'd criticize him for putting Buddhism and New Age Paganism roughly in the same camp.

Posted by: Ghostboy at June 6, 2005 02:09 PM

The article is theologically ignorant for reasons which I have neither the time nor the interest to detail here. Therefore his entire argument is null and void, because that is what it is based upon. His misreading of both Buddhism and Christianity is staggering. It is based on the exoteric pablum, the superficial party-line 'sound bite' garbage you see in the New Age sections of book chains everywhere.

Suffice it to say that if this author knew as much as he claims about the 'differences' between these world views he would not have an article to write, and where would he be then?

Don't answer that question.

Posted by: David at June 6, 2005 03:03 PM

You wrote: "The article is theologically ignorant for reasons which I have neither the time nor the interest to detail here. Therefore his entire argument is null and void, because that is what it is based upon."

You should have ended your rebuttal with that first sentence, before you rendered it completely fallible. I can't really respond to your critique any further, which seems to be your intent - but you certainly can't expect any reader to give you the benefit of the doubt, either.

Posted by: Ghostboy at June 6, 2005 03:19 PM

Fair enough, Mr. Lowery. It was not, and is not my aim to turn your very good blog into a seminary.

Perhaps it is a fool's hope that people who are truly interested in spirituality and philosophy will dig deep enough to get past the miasma of mostly artificially constructed dichotomies by the likes of Mr. Zizek--although he is at least trying to get to deeper levels, misguided though I believe they are.

But this is why men like George Lucas are able to stoke the collective unconscious to the tune of billions of dollars and we sit on the sidelines, gawping.

Posted by: David at June 6, 2005 05:30 PM

Wow, people sure got upset about that article... I thought it was a cute idea, actually.

I was just talking to a friend about this... I'll probably keep most of it for blog fodder, but there seemed to be some indication that Lucas was losing a bit of his fondness for 'buddish' (his word) ideas. Obviously, the Jedi didn't protect the galaxy very well, in the end, and this may be because they were so removed from ordinary concerns. Or maybe it's just reading into it.

Posted by: David Scott at June 7, 2005 01:30 AM

Ahhh, so many Davids! I think there are four that have posted on this site now, not including myself.

To the one who isn't David Scott: I am truly interested in spirituality and philosophy - and while I'm no theologian, I feel I have a deep enough grasp on my own perspectives to extrapolate with conviction what I did from Zizek's piece. I'm always willing to be corrected, however, provided some edification is included along with that.

Posted by: Ghostboy at June 7, 2005 02:21 AM

David Lowery:

Now that I think about it, I think you're absolutely correct. I don't know why I let that get by me. Thanks for the obvious insight.

Yipe! Mesa so stupid, okee-day?

Posted by: Just another anonymous kook at June 7, 2005 03:29 PM

Oh shit, man. Was that a Jar-Jar impression?

Good to see you alive and kicking Adam. Wish I had a page to direct you to, but I haven't been too good about maintaining a site.

Posted by: atcooper at June 7, 2005 11:31 PM