Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Denying Zizek

One of the things that strikes me as unpleasurable about my morning paper-reading routine is that I'm forced to read in Spanish and not English. Other than that, however, one can learn quite a lot from reading a foreign news daily. This past Tuesday was one such example, when I came across a Slavoj Zizek essay [despite being Spanish, El Pais, too, puts its opiners behind a Times Select pay wall] in the opinion pages of El Pais. Noticing the title I realized that this was an essay I had already read, this past weekend, when it appeared in the opinion pages of the New York Times under the same title in English, "Denying the Facts, Finding the Truth." This kind of thing happens a lot, I have noticed. Far from infrequently I will see an Andre Glucksmann, Bernard-Henri Levy, or Ulrich Beck op-ed that has been around the old European newspaper block once or twice.

With the Zizek piece, however, something was different. Like each of the extremely limited number of the seemingly infinite essays I have read of his, the piece was highly unorganized, often rambling, and occasionally quite memorable (the Whitney Houston and the suspect factory worker bits especially). Yet, skimming over the first line of the Spanish version of his essay, I noticed that this was not the op-ed I had read in the New York Times, translated into Spanish. In this version, I soon discovered, there were two significant differences: an additional opening paragraph, and a revised closing sentence. Your guess is as good as mine as to why the New York Times decided on "denying" (censoring?) Zizek's truth, but I think we can safely say that even these small changes make the Spanish version all the more nonsensical, shocking, and offensive to American eyes. Here's my translation, juxtaposed with the Times version.

Opening Paragraph [New York Times Version]: "ONE of the pop heroes of the Iraq war was undoubtedly Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf, the unfortunate Iraqi information minister who, in his daily press conferences during the invasion, heroically denied even the most evident facts and stuck to the Iraqi line. Even with American tanks only a few hundred yards from his office, he continued to claim that the televised shots of tanks on the Baghdad streets were just Hollywood special effects."

Opening Paragraph [El Pais Version]: "Let's not cry over Saddam Hussein's death. The interminably repeated images on our televisions before the war (Saddam clasping a rifle and shooting into the air) converted him into a kind of Iraqi Charlton Heston. The president not just of Iraq, but also of the Iraqi Association of Friends of Rifles.... Let's hold onto our tears for other things."

Final Paragraph [New York Times Version]: "And now the United States is continuing, through other means, this greatest crime of Saddam Hussein: his never-ending attempt to topple the Iranian government. This is the price you have to pay when the struggle against the enemies is the struggle against the evil ghosts in your own closet: you don’t even control yourself."

Final Paragraph [El Pais Verson]: "And now the United States is continuing, through other means, this greatest crime of Saddam Hussein, his never-ending attempt to topple the Iranian government. One more reason to ask: who will hang George W. Bush."


Blogger Austin 5-000 said...

If that's not nonsensical, I don't know what is. The truth about the article is that the line about us not controlling ourselves could have been put to really good use. Zizek really surprised and pleased me with that. But then he squandered it. Sad.

5:14 PM  
Blogger Scantron said...

I, too, read the NYT version of the Zizek piece and found it somewhat confused. What's most peculiar is that despite the typical Zizekian jokemaking and storytelling, it's a terribly trite argument: the United States helped prop up Saddam, we covered up our involvement in the Iran-Iraq War during his trial, we've made Iraq more dangerous, indeed, a breeding ground for fundamentalists, we squandered our unique "opportunity" after 9/11 (I cannot tell you how many times I've read this phrase, as true as it might be). Reading the piece without the jokes you might think it's just a liberal blog, or, to be more partisan, it's just anyone with common sense. What's more interesting I think would be to gauge the reaction to this piece among the hard left, with whom Zizek ostensibly identifies (although he has a tendency to put on his "left-liberal" hat when writing for the NYT). Luckily, this has already been done for us over at Lenin's Tomb:

I agree with your judgments about the alternative final sentence. It was a sloppy and nonsequiturial way of making his point. However, we should be shocked and offended only to the extent that either a) George Bush is in no way as worse as Saddam Hussein, or b) we oppose the death penalty being applied to anyone. However, if Zizek is only saying, admittedly rather bombastically, that world leaders should be held to the same standard, as he seems to be implying with his references to the Hague and Noriega, then there's really nothing we ought to be offended at qua Americans. If our leaders have committed serious crimes, then they should pay the penalty just like everyone else.

8:27 PM  

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