Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Balkans: Radical Conservatism and Desire

By Dušan I. Bjelić
South Atlantic Quarterly.2009; 108: 285-304
Full text available at

This essay focuses on Balkan discourse geography as a hidden contingency of the intellectual work of Slavoj Žižek and Julia Kristeva. It takes into account the extent to which their self-proclaimed cosmopolitanism and universalism reflect disidentification with their Balkan origins. This disidentification alerts one to the unacknowledged centrality of Kristeva's and Žižek's Balkan origins to their writing about the region, and it also points to the Balkanist character of their intellectual production. I emphasize the discourse geography of the Balkans—particularly Maria Todorova's articulation of "Balkanism"—as a dissonant infrastructure to the transcendent, ahistorical quality of Kristeva's and Žižek's work. Antonio Gramsci's incorporation of his origins in Sardinia into his intellectual and political praxis provides a contrapuntal reading of Kristeva's and Žižek's own psychoanalytically mediated decoupling of themselves from their Balkan origins and their own split subject positions. The empirical history of human solidarity formalized in the Marxist philosophy of class struggle and actualized in Gramsci's philosophy of praxis challenged not only Cartesian subjectivity as pure cogito but also the Cartesian elevation of abstraction over the senses. In contrast, Kristeva's and Žižek's local histories are expressed through disidentification and self-Orientalization as a constitutive gesture of subaltern intellectual labor. Instead of exploring geopolitical ambiguity for the sake of the intellectuality of human solidarity, they paradoxically reproduce in their discourse the very conditions they seek to escape.

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