Ideology and Ambivalent Ethics and More

I was lucky enough this week to attend the Pervert’s Guide to Ideology at the Zinema2 on Tuesday. It was a frustratingly joyous experience.

First, the frustration: It’s so easy to exit a Zizek movie and complain on philosophical grounds: if ideology is everywhere, how can we call this a useful insight? Claims Zizek makes can never be falsified, so how can we know whether they are true?  Unlike the Chomsky movie of the week before, which pretended to scientificness, Zizek never claims scientific truth.

That said, I can’t help but love a movie that makes impossibly giant claims, then weaves us through examples to demonstrate those claims.  Zizek claims that the most effective path through a full experience of atheism must come through Christianity — that the Christian crucifixion story is, in some ways, the ultimate expression of life in an atheistic universe.  I had just made a new friend in this movie series, one who discussed her “confirmation name” with me before the movie, and I cringed on her behalf.  (Needlessly, I learned — I am too sensitive a soul.)  I cringed on my mother’s behalf;  I am sure that, if she saw this movie, she would go home and pray for Zizek.  Me, I just wanted to buy him a beer — not because I agreed, but because I love the energy and strength it took for him to speak.

And I love the energy that it takes to make the Explorer’s Club happen.

More of the joys:

1.  The bartender at the Zeitgeist made me a “gin gin mule” that isn’t enough to make me swear off gin and tonics, but it’s close.  Nice complement to the pretzels, which are barely pretzels — mostly just loafs of awesome dipped in dips of amazing.

2.  I got to spend time before and after the event with some more local writers.  I talked last week about some of them, so I will only point out the new things I learned this week.

For example, Cheryl Reitan was there.  Cheryl’s recent work with Sue Sojourner is worth a look.  (Cheryl works with me at UMD, so I won’t gush too much.)

I also got to spend time with Sarah LaChance Adams, again.  She had a small army of UWS students with her and they were the soul of smart.  As they followed Dr. LaChance Adams to the Atrium, they engaged in conversation about the relationships between ideology and conspiracy theories, between contemporary politics and the media examples that drove Zizek’s film.  And there was some interrogation of where native or indigenous philosophies might fit in Zizek’s problem set.  If there is a value to a degree in philosophy, and there is, these students made it visible.

I also got to learn more about Sarah’s work — and in the collection and in the forthcoming monograph, I think she makes an interesting case for the idea that a generalizable understanding of ethics can be derived from understanding the complex, ambivalent roles of mothers in our culture. A reviewer probably says it better than I could: “Taking the mother’s conflicting needs and desires to nurture, on the one hand, and to be independent and free of care-taking responsibilities, on the other, as a model for the ethical relationship, she argues that all human relationships are ambivalent. Moreover, it is this ambivalence that makes them ethical.”  When I was a student, it was all about an abstract theory and case studies which might include mothers. A mother has six kids but the lifeboat will only hold 5. The utilitarian mom throws one kid overboard… and so on. The idea of starting with the lived experience of the mother as the groundwork for the ethical theory… I want to read more.

A lot to think about in this evening for me, both in the movie and in the conversation that followed.


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about 9 years ago

It occurred to me that I probably irritated a ton of people in this post, with the Christianity and the Motherhood stuff on either side.  Hope it's not too offputting.


about 9 years ago

You had me at "gin."


about 9 years ago

"Loafs of awesome dipped in dips of amazing"?

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about 9 years ago

Ramos, I teach writing for a living, too.


about 9 years ago

If you are interested in philosophy addressing the lived experience of mother here are some good places to look: 

Nel Noddings: Caring: A Relational Approach to Ethics and Moral Education
Sara Ruddick: Maternal Thinking: Toward of Politics of Peace 

These women were trying to bring the experience and importance of mothering into the realm of philosophy of ethics and the 1980s and '90s.

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about 9 years ago


It's been a long time (like, 1990s) since I read Noddings, and I never liked it -- the ethics of care always creeped, for me, toward the same kinds of biases that felt like Rorty's take on solidarity and ethics would produce:  I am obligated to behave ethically when I have a relationship to another;  beyond that, my obligations are weaker...

Maybe I misread (I was a much younger man)...

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