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Narrating our way out of the crisis

What have the Obama victory and the financial crisis to do with Marxism and narrative? A lot, according to the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek.

It is unlikely that the financial meltdown of 2008 will function as a
blessing in disguise, the awakening from a dream, the sobering reminder
that we live in the reality of global capitalism. It all depends on how
it will be symbolised, on what ideological interpretation or story will
impose itself and determine the general perception of the crisis. When
the normal run of things is traumatically interrupted, the field is
open for a ‘discursive’ ideological competition. In Germany in the late
1920s, Hitler won the competition to determine which narrative would
explain the reasons for the crisis of the Weimar Republic and the way
out of it […]

and, quoting an article by the French neoliberal economist Guy Sorman:

[…] the main task of the ruling ideology in the present crisis is to
impose a narrative that will not put the blame for the meltdown on the
global capitalist system as such, but on its deviations – lax
regulation, the corruption of big financial institutions etc.

Against
this tendency, one should insist on the key question: which ‘flaw’ of
the system as such opens up the possibility for such crises and
collapses? The first thing to bear in mind here is that the origin of
the crisis is a ‘benevolent’ one: after the dotcom bubble burst in
2001, the decision reached across party lines was to facilitate real
estate investments in order to keep the economy going and prevent
recession – today’s meltdown is the price for the US having avoided a
recession seven years ago.

The danger is thus that the
predominant narrative of the meltdown won’t be the one that awakes us
from a dream, but the one that will enable us to continue to dream.

His thoughts might be regarded as marginal (especially as he likes to define himself as a Marxist), but the idea that the current financial crisis was
generated by the financial system itself and not by some external shock is shared by the less controversial George Soros here.

Slavoj Žižek is a dialectical-materialist philosopher and psychoanalyst. He also
co-directs the International Centre for Humanities at Birkbeck College. He will be in Gorizia, Italy this evening – discussing what film and ideology have to say when a border between two nations disappears.