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Sublime imagined unity as a political factor

I wish I’d read Zizek’s Trouble in Paradise before writing my fragile movement’s paper, because this is exactly what I was trying to explore: how does this ‘imaginary unity at its most sublime’ inform popular perceptions of the mobilising potential of social media? From pg 97:

The ongoing events in Egypt provide yet another example of the basic dynamics of social revolts, which consists of two main steps traditionally designated by pairings like ‘1789/1793’ (in the case of the French Revolution) or ‘February/October’ (in the case of the Russian Revolution). The first step, what Badiou recently called the ‘rebirth of history’, culminates in an all-popular uprising against a hated figure of power (Mubarak, in the case of Egypt, or the Shah, in the case of Iran three decades ago). People across all social strata assert themselves as a collective agent against the system of power which quickly loses its legitimacy, and all around the world we can follow on our TV screens those magic moments of ecstatic unity when hundreds of thousands of people gather on public squares for days on end and promise not to go anywhere until the tyrant steps down. Such moments stand for an imaginary unity at its most sublime: all differences, all conflicts of interest are forgotten as the whole society seems united in its opposition to the hated tyrant.

I take him to be saying, from pg 104, it must be the case that a ‘we’ is invoked in order to mobilise across divisions, but that in an oppressed and divided society this ‘we’ cannot be anything other than imagined. The real work starts with the building of a substantial ‘we’, something that happens through the transformation of the social order.

It is only after the first enthusiastic unity disintegrates that true universality can be formulated, a universality no longer sustained by imaginary illusions. It is only after the initial unity of the people falls apart that the real work begins, the hard work of assuming all the implications of the struggle for an egalitarian and just society. It is not enough simply to get rid of the tyrant; the society which gave birth to the tyrant has to be thoroughly transformed. Only those who are ready to engage in this hard work remain faithful to the radical core of the initial enthusiastic unity.

Categories: Fragile Movements and Their Politics Cultures Thinking

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