Who said Basque difference? Imanol Galfarsoro University of Leeds
16th March 2011 Research Seminar of Hispanic Studies LCHAM College University of Birmingham
The paper presented in this seminar is a new re-working of two previous conference papers. “Nationalism or, the political logic of liberal democracy in (late) modernity: Reflections on (post)nationalism and diaspora politics Conference, 12th –13th June 2007 University of Surrey CRONEM (Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism) Nationalism and National Identities Today: Multidisciplinary Perspectives
Antagonism, Contingency, Universality… and Absent Centre: Towards the Radical Emptying of Basque Ethnic Substance [in Joseba Sarrionaindia's Tales from seven count[r]ies] Academic Conference, 12-14th April, 2010 London- KCL. Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland; Parallel Session: 1 Monday 12th April 10.30-12.30. Basque Panel: Nationalism and Multiculturalism: On the Politics of Antagonism, Hegemony, and Terror with Joseba Gabilondo and Juanjo Olasagarre.
Who said Basque difference? Reflections on identity, politics, identity politics, nationhood and multiculturalism (as well as on the power of certain illusions of reality) We are often reminded that we live in the era of globalization. Unprecedented financial, technological, cultural, ideological and human exchanges are constantly taking place all around us (A. Appadurai, 1990, 1996). As the world has irremediably opened up into a borderless network society (M. Castells, 2000a, 2000b) relevant questions emerge regarding culture, identity and national consciousness. In this context questions such as the following must me answered: what is the point in closing down political expectations to single territorially based identities? What is it with such particularistic stubborn attachments that essentialist and homogeneous notions of national and cultural ‘difference’ routinely bring to the fore? What is it with such irrational and passion ridden (pathological) identification with a petty local ‘ethnic’ substance? In other words: Where lies the political logic for such an insistence on narrow (‘minded’) narratives longing for a particular national form? Consider, for instance this assertion by Slavoj Žižek: It is usually stated with regret that one cannot begin to live in peace and true pluralist democracy because the very continuing persistence of nationalist obsessions and their usually suspect corollaries arising under the guise of parochial provincialism, racism and xenophobia, terrorism and violence, anti-Semitism, anti-feminism, homophobia…i This statement is indeed worth considering. For when addressed to someone from the “separatist” Basque region of Spainii it is precisely at this level of interpellation that the political game is often played out; a level of interpellation, moreover, whereby an additional explicit question together with an implicit demand are at their strongest. The explicit question is this: instead of
wasting our time in imagining closed national communities, are there not much more important and pressing matters going on in the world deserving our intellectual priority and attention? As a matter of fact, I could not agree more with this invitation to find the righteous ethical place in the global arena. There are indeed forms of political and cultural activity (even activism), which are certainly more worthy of our effort than others. However, this appeal to privilege important human questions over the trivia of our petty-local identities does not only constitute a true reminder of what global misery is really all about. If anything, it also requires a further qualification. Just as I was preparing this seminar on the Identity Politics of Basque Difference, it so happened that, in the face of such an unimportant topic, my fourth baby girl was also teething mad, poor little thing! And on the face of this very worrisome occurrence, there is neither Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe put together, there is no Libyan crisis, no violation of fundamental human rights, in fact, which will turn my distant compassionate concern about human suffering into a committed urge to helping the destitute or ridding the world of injustice. My main concern, here and now, my main pressing worry, even as we speak, is my baby girl! Nothing else! And her well-being is certainly far more important than worrying about changing the world, let alone, more to the point, dispelling both liberal-humanist and radical intellectuals alike of any shadow of a doubt as to my own political convictions. In this respect, my own (subject) position in regards to the question of identity politics and Basque difference, which happens to be our topic today, is quite unimportant indeed. Yet, at the same time, leaving aside petty family affiliations, liberal and radical intellectuals alike must also be reminded, nevertheless, of two major fallacies inherent to their self-styled committed predicament in favour of resolving â€˜important global issuesâ€™. In our particular case, these fallacies are required to be duly exposed before anything else, because they often shortcircuit all things Basque in particular, but also European or Western in general.
The fallacies of ‘petty localism’ and ‘First World privilege’ We often hear that direct political and intellectual intervention in rich, First World countries amounts to a capriciously shameless game played out from an extremely privileged position. As Zizek states: Every exclusive focus on First World topics […] cannot but appear cynical in the face of raw Third World poverty, hunger and violence. As Zizek puts it somewhere else, moreover, “The symbolic efficiency [efficacy] of illusions regulates activity which generates social reality”.iii Hence the symbolic efficiency of this widely mobilised piece of political rhetoric is all too obvious in the concrete Basque situation. In fact, when we hear that “[T]here are much more important things going on in the world” the main aim, obviously, remains to disarm the legitimacy of certain ongoing and precise civic claims and political demands taking place within the concrete Basque context of intervention, which is obviously also European and hence First Worldiv. Yet as Zizek continues: On the other hand, attempts to dismiss First World problems as trivial in comparison with “real” permanent Third World catastrophes are no less a fake – focusing on the “real problems” of the Third World is the ultimate form of escapism, of avoiding confrontation with the antagonisms of one’s own society v. Therefore, the fallacy ultimately leading towards NOT confronting the antagonisms of one’s own society on the basis of a rather spurious gradation (global / local, north / south, rich / poor) of binary priorities has to be disarmed. In addition, the case must also be put forward, as Zizek indeed does it, that: A particular, localized socio-political struggle is at the same time the struggle in which the fate of the entire universe is being decided.vi In other words, there is no direct access to the universal if it is not through precise and concrete particulars. That is to say: the particular socio-political struggle for national independence taking place in the Basque country also speaks of, and shapes the universal dimension of social justice as fought out in this concrete location. Furthermore, in reference to Europe (and the critique of Eurocentrism) it is also worth recalling here Dipesh Chakrabarty’s hints and advice for 5
“Provincializing Europe” (2001) from a subaltern, postcolonial perspective. In this seminal book he did not only reminded us, for instance, that the discipline of history must be constantly interrogated and is only one way among many of approaching the past. By attempting to provincialise history and democratise historiography, he also accounted for both the inadequacy yet indispensability of the European intellectual tradition. On this account, Žižek once issued “A leftist plea for ‘Eurocentrism.’” There fe insisted on the potential of democratic politisation as the true progressive and radical European legacy (UE 206). Europe’s truly radical political legacy and traditions could still allow overcoming, Žižek argued, the post-political procedural (and supposedly neutral) framework of pluralist negotiation and consensual regulation promoted by liberal democracies. Instead, this radical European legacy could… …Open the way for a return of the political proper, that is, the reassertion of the dimension of antagonism that, far from denying universality, is consubstantial with it (UE 198). On listening to this I hope that the audience in this seminar is also able to grasp the following split: on the one hand, there are many Eurocentric paradigms that must be shaken from that sense of superiority informing their intellectual practice; on the other hand, there are clear instances, nevertheless, key intellectual players and political movements etc of the European tradition that cannot be entirely discarded. At stake here is an overall insistence on the irreparable character of the various splits we have to confront and explore. This also requires an understanding that while I shift between two perspectives (South
Eurocentric) I also try to discern in each the echoes of its opposite. In this sense the ‘narrow’ focus ‘limited’ to dealing with the Basque question within the European context allows for a further double movement, which is not extent of certain paradoxical overturns. The first movement stems from following Zizek’s approach and hence deploying discourses articulated in strict terms of universal political and civic rights through the particular Basque struggles over such political signs as freedom or democracy, to mention only two important ones. The signifiers of 6
these political signs, needless to say, are empty by definition and in the process of filling them in with meaning they are always open to hegemonic articulations (E. Laclau & Ch Mouffle, 1985; E. Laclau 1990, 1996, 2005.) Most importantly, the way these concepts are filled in also provides an insight of how particular struggles for meaning fit into the totality of the liberation struggles that are taking place in today’s world constellationvii. The second movement consists of arguing in favour of deploying discourses of indifference to Basque cultural difference (A. Badiou, 2001, 2003.) Why? Because, ultimately, Basque cultural difference is mostly presented nowadays in strictly multiculturalist qua post-political terms; that is to say, in terms of responding to the problematic of how to manage (or indeed mismanage) “Basque ethnic difference” within the overall constitutional patriotic context (J. Habermas, 1994, 2001) of two particular national-state structures.
National identity and multiculturalism Once the structure of the split that informs this intervention has been clarified, it is now time to resituate the debate within the confines of the implicit demand alluded to earlier. For as I have already spoken of my ‘origins’, the mysterious workings of this implicit demand speak of how I am also somehow expected to decry the dark reverse that Basque ‘ethnic’ nationalism constitutes of a thriving European democracy; to depict, furthermore, all the dirty details that distort the image of a great ‘civic’ European nation such as Spain which, following its internationally acclaimed transition from dictatorship to democracy, baths now in freedom and prosperity… and, like Zizek himself in the cases of East European ‘ethnic nationalism’, I in no way intend to disown such a demand either. viii Having said this, however, Zizek again here: the first thing to do when discussing national identity and nationalism is not to be distracted with the would-be ‘anti-nationalist’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ babble to which we all have grown accustomed (UE). After all, ample evidence exists of how by way of constantly and adamantly refusing, mocking, denouncing, demonising, criticizing and 7
suppressing nationalism we only show the pleasure, fascination, attraction and appeal that nationalism exerts upon ourselves. Therefore, we should be the first to acknowledge that this attitude we often adopt of the self-proclaimed cosmopolitan and anti-nationalist intellectual is deeply suspicious. To move on: as soon as we plunge into the question of nationalism, nationalist exclusions etc and by extension, of the supposedly opposite notions of cosmopolitan citizenship or multiculturalist respect and tolerance of the other etc, the opportunity also arises of dealing with the second fallacy alluded to earlier. Imperatives of rigour, ethics of alterity We are now entering into the thick of the Basque question. Earlier we spoke of the fallacy consisting of dismissing ‘local’ struggles or Eurocentric, First World concerns as both unimportant and/or capricious. Once the limits of this approach, both liberal-humanist and radical, to deal only with the grave problems of the world is dismantled, the second fallacy arises as soon as the Basque question itself is accepted as a reluctant topic of discussion. This fallacy, needless to say, stems from automatically linking the Basque national question with violence and terrorism. Yet, in turn, this automatic link also allows bringing to the fore some relevant reflections by Ernesto Laclau, and Alain Badiou which are added to those of Zizek himself. In his book On Popular Reason, Laclau states the following: There is an ethical imperative in intellectual work, which Leonardo [de Vinci] called ‘obstinate rigour’. It means, in practical terms – and especially when one is dealing with political matters, which are always charged with emotion – that one has to resist several temptations. They can be condensed into a single formula: never succumb to the terrorism of words.ix Laclau then quotes Freud’s appeal not to concede to faint-heartedness, a main form of which “in our time is the replacement of analysis with ethical condemnation” (249). The theme of “Basque terrorism” (sic.) is particularly prone to this type of exercise. As such, there is nothing wrong, obviously, in condemning terrorism, but always following Laclau:
The problem begins when condemnation replaces explanation, which is what happens when some phenomena are seen as aberrations dispossessed of any rationally graspable cause. (250) One is well aware of the obvious political interest for not trying to diminish the discursive and symbolic appeal that the negative emotional connotations of terrorism possess. We have already mentioned how the symbolic efficiency of illusions regulates activity, which also generates social reality. In the Spanish context the propensity of reading everything under the umbrella of “Basque terrorism” works indeed wonders as an emotionally charged fantasy or delusionary fetish, which indeed generates obvious social reality. In this context, Laclau’s appeal to the value of rigorous rational explanation can hardly be met. Instead Badiou’s uncompromising outburst on his Ethics (2001) may fill in the void. Badiou reacts angrily against the “ethical ‘delirium’” and the “moralizing sermons” that are still “busily confusing politics with the hypocrisy of a mindless catechism”: The enemy dominates everywhere. The presumed ‘rights of man’ [are] serving at every point to annihilate any attempt to invent forms of free thought […] The infamies of Western capitalism as the new universal model [are imposed by] the intellectual counter-revolution in the form of moral terrorism. (E., liii- lv). For Badiou the blackmailing effect of this moral terrorism shows itself at its best when the universal reality of the market economy meets with two dimensions he criticizes heavily. (1): the ethics of alterity which refer to Jaques Derrida’s ‘ethical turn’ (1994) through his readings of Emmanuel Lévinas’ ethics of the other (1948, 1972). This reading leads Derrida to the idea of openness to the “alterity of the Other” which is, in turn, understood to be crucial to the multiculturalist debates on identity politics and the politics of difference and multiplicity (more later.) (2): the relativistic fantasies of multiculturalism which, according to Zizek now, should be left behind because they are based on the comfortable opposition often established between the ‘openness’ of liberal-democratic tolerant universalism, on the one hand, and religious, ethnic, nationalist, and / or organic fundamentalist ‘closure’, on the other. According to Žižek, this opposition, “fails to take into account their interconnection, that is, the way the supposedly 9
neutral liberal-democratic framework produces nationalist closure as its inherent opposite.” (UE 20) To summarise, therefore, Laclau and Badiou, and Zizek as well, doubt about the very morality of deploying the discourse of liberal-humanist ethics for the purposes of eliminating political and intellectual dissent. In fact, for these authors, (1) the first requirement to develop critical thinking is to call into question the very standard of humanist civilised normality that the universal liberal democratic framework constructs in order to secure the self-righteous up-holding of its own high morality. Then (2), the second requirement is to confront liberal democracy’s own self-appointed internal and external uncivilised monsters (anti-cosmopolitan nationalism, xenophobia, religious intolerance…) so to speak, but to confront them rationally, though explanation and not condemnation. It is thus once these requirements are clear that we can venture into the final part of this seminar which will begin with (1) an analysis of the ambiguous and contradictory nature that defines the modern notion of Nation and will end dealing with (2) the question of multiculturalist difference. The nation’s pre-modern phantasmatic presence The modern notion of Nation is not only ambiguous and contradictory. In fact, that nationalism itself is a complex object of study materialises in the fact that the very concept of nation has proved "notoriously" and "extremely" difficult to define; - as both Benedict Anderson (1983) and Peter Alter (1989) respectively emphasised quite awhile ago. Peter Alter said that nationalism is ambiguous because it is polymorphic and multiform, and conceals within itself “extreme opposites and contradictions: it can mean emancipation and it can mean oppression.” Nationalism is then a controversial object because, as a conclusion of the mentioned ambivalence, it can be considered as an anomalous historical development or even as a political aberration, which becomes, he continues, “synonymous with intolerance, inhumanity and violence. (...) And yet at the same time, it could just as often engender hopes for a free and just social order”. This is why, as a conclusion, his main proposal remains that “only with 10
reference to a concrete historical context can we say what the term actually does or should signify.”x Moreover, this is why Benedit Anderson adds to Alter’s suggestive invitation for individualised inquiry the following supportive appeal; namely to “do our best to learn the real, and imagined, experience of the past” xi The past indeed is key to narratives of national building. In a seminal reader published under the title of Nation and Narration; Homi K. Bhabha's introductory lines state: "Nations, like narratives, lose their origins in the myths of time". Geoffray Bennington’s contribution to the same volume revolves around the proposals that "the idea of the nation is inseparable of its narration" and that "at the origin of the nation we find the history of the nation's origin."xii In this sense, myths constitute the narratives of foundation of the nation. Myths build the necessary buttresses to uphold the national constructions which, nevertheless, are always historically determined. The mythical meanings endorsing the idea of .a national identity are always constructed and reconstructed through discourse in concrete and determined conditions of historical specificity. To this extent, Benedict Anderson's central argument becomes relevant here: Nationality, nation-ness or nationalism are not only "cultural artifacts" of a particular kind. The nation itself is "an imagined community". The nation is imagined, created, why not even invented and fabricated as Ernest Gellner (1983, 1987) or E. Hobsbawn (with R. Terence, 1983; 1990) often point out. In fact what matters to understand the construction of a national identity is not that a nation is merely imagined and invented. What is important is the ways in which the nation is 'imagined' and 'narrated'. The ways, that is, in which nationness is retold and rediscovered: The nation is reinvented through history, memory and desire. The nation is narrativised through imaginative literature, both written and oral. The nation is re-articulated through ideological and political work et cetera Following Žižek’s argumentxiii, however, the overall ambiguity of nations also lies in the very fact that they are often perceived wrongly as ‘leftovers from the past’ when in fact their place is constituted by the very break from the past.
On the one hand, ‘Nation’ designates the modern community delivered of traditional ‘organic’ ties: a community in which the pre-modern links that connect the individual to a particular land, family lineage, religious group and so on are broken; the traditional corporate community is replaced by the modern nation-state whose constituents are ‘citizens’, that is, people as abstract members, not as members of particular land holdings, for example. On the other hand, ‘Nation’ can never be reduced to a network of purely symbolic ties: there is always a surplus that sticks to it: to define itself, ‘national identity’ must appeal to a contingent materiality of ‘common roots’. In short, ‘Nation’ designates both the instance by means of which traditional ‘organic’ links are dissolved and the ‘reminder of the pre-modern in modernity’, the form long standing organic deep-rootedness acquires within the modern post-traditional universe, the form ‘organic substance’ acquires within the universe of abstract and rational subjectivity. The crucial point is to conceive of both aspects in their interconnectedness: it is the new ‘bond’ brought about by the modern Nation that renders possible the disengagement from traditional organic ties. The ‘Nation’, therefore, is a pre-modern leftover that functions as the inner condition of modernity itself, as its inherent impetus to its progress. Hence the futility, I would argue, of a further, and yet again comfortable division that standard scholarship tended to establish once between ‘ethnic nationalism’ and ‘civic patriotism’ (John Hutchinson & A. D. Smith, 1994, 1996, W. Connor, 1978, 1992). A past division and indeed an intellectually and scholarlu overcome division, which, nevertheless, still works wonders when applied to our own particular Basque case;- wonders and illusions which create realities. Basque ‘ethnic nationalism’ vs. Spanish “civic, constitutional patriotism’ In fact, placing emphasis on the opposition between Basque ‘ethnic nationalism’ and the ‘civic patriotism of the Spanish democratic state’ is a classic and is still a must in the realms of the Hispanist commentariat, whether it be under the form of vulgar and cheap journalistic narratives or otherwise more intellectually 12
driven scholarly accounts. Either or, these narratives and accounts go by and large like this: On the one hand, we encounter the civic side of the equation where norms of rational behaviour prevail: universa(list), cosmopolitan, democratic, open, generous… In addition, civic patriotism is also the natural place for all acceptable values to prosper, ranging from peace, tolerance and pluralism to equality and freedom; not to mention the defence of diversity, solidarity, individual human rights and multicultural integration of the other (regions, emigrants, ethnic minorities…). On the other side of the equation, secessionist terrorists thrive on ahistorical and homogeneous definitions of identity whereby particular(ist), tribal, closed and petty narrow-minded instances of a people emerge which represent
authoritarian terms. What we have here, therefore, is the defence of an organic community prone to reclaim spurious and nebulous collective historical rights seeking nothing else but mono-cultural privilege and the exclusion of the other on the primordialist, millenarian and messianic basis of a romantic cultural obscurantism leading to chaos, violence and ethnic cleansing… Yet, one needs not be a brilliant mathematician to know that sums do not add up in this highly recognisable litany of angelic pluses and diabolic minuses. On this account, it would be perhaps preferable to infer another commentary; namely that this is indeed how the illusion of reality takes hold and how reverse racist nationalism works today in our globalised world; at this reflexive and concealed level whereby one should be very careful with journalists and politicians but also intellectuals and scholars placing much emphasis on the reality of their own democratic credentials without allowing others the same access to that illusion. In this respect, the true Spanish democrat would not be the one adopting a highly recognizable patronizing attitude along the way of saying:
now, give up on referring to such lamentable historical accidents as Franco’s dictatorship, that’s old news, and acknowledge at once that ours constitutes the only state-bound reality duly structured institutionally to sustain the principles 13
of a modern, democratic and open citizenship”. On the contrary, the true Spanish democrat would rather be the one who stops treating Basques as a primitive tribe in the Pyrenees, and is instead prepared to defend the proposition that Basques posses exactly the same democratic substance and potential to sustain the same principles and political / institutional structures as anybody elsexiv. On account of the above epistemological requirement, moreover, for Spanish democracy not to be to democracy what military intelligence is to intelligence, and hence for a Spanish democrat to be both truly democratic and intelligent, this also amounts to a further ontological movement to take place. It amounts, namely, to allowing exceptionalist notions of Basque cultural difference ‘to disappear’ in order to open the space for pure political equality to emerge and manifest itself fully.
Indifference to difference: On why, however, multiculturalism is not necessarily the whole answer either Therefore, a true defender of Spanish democracy should allow Basque cultural difference to dissolve. In other words, he or she should allow for the ideal of political equality pure and proper (civil rights, self-determination, right to be equal…) to emerge and manifest itself fully. Moreover, this overall attitude in favour of the political proper over the cultural as difference would also require more critical approaches beyond well-intentioned discursive fantasies articulated around overly benign ideas of a democratic and multiculturalist Spain. To be ‘respectful’ of minority home nations, seeking ‘integrative’ measures to accommodate migrant populations, or to develop new forms of gender identity politics, say, are hardly innovative in themselves, should this not be accompanied with a clear sense that politics and post-politics are not the same. In other words, therefore, that while post-politics refers to the mere administrative management of cultural differences politics as such is always articulated around a central / principal antagonism whereby the relativistic necessity and pluralistic contingency of particular struggles for (national, gender…) recognition and against discrimination (racism, sexism…) can be re14
enacted through discourses of equality and social justice as well as ideals of truth and universalism. This is indeed what Badiou suggests in his severe critique of multiculturalism. For Badiou multiculturalism wants to respond to the apparent complexity and multiplicity of being and “its great ideal is the peaceful coexistence of cultural, religious and national ‘communities’, the refusal of ‘exclusion’ (Ethics, 26). However, always according to Badiou, the world is not as complex as we are often made to believe. If fact, as he claims in “Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universality”, ( 2003) our world is perfectly simple. On the one side, the rule of abstract homogeneization imposed by capital has finally configured the world as a vast, extended market (world-market). On the other side, a culturalist and relativist ideology accompanies the ongoing process of fragmentation into a myriad of closed identities. This affirmation of identity always refers back to language, race, religion or gender, and demands the respect and recognition of one’s own communitarian-cultural singularities. Yet the false universality of monetary abstraction and homogeneity has absolutely
communitarianisms – of women, homosexuals, the disabled, Arabs! In other words, both processes, i.e: financial globalization or the absolute sovereignty of capital’s empty universality and identitarian protest or celebration of particularist differences are perfectly intertwined: the two components of this articulated whole are in a relation of reciprocal maintenance and mirroring. Moreover,
communitarian identities are turned into advertising selling points -Black homosexuals, disable Serbs, moderate Muslims, ecologist yuppies… (9-13). Therefore, as Badiou claims: certainly, the empirical existence of differences cannot be denied as such: “there are differences. One can even maintain that there is nothing else” (98). And back to the Ethics, moreover: Infinite alterity is quite simply what there is. Any experience at all is the infinite deployment of infinite differences. Even the apparently reflexive experience of myself is by no means the intuition of a unity but a labyrinth of differentiations, and Rimbaud was certainly not wrong when he said: ‘I am another’. There are as many differences, say, between a Chinese peasant and a young Norwegian professional as between myself and anybody at all, including myself. (E 25-26)
Hence when always according to Badiou “Contemporary ethics kicks up a big fuss about ‘cultural’ differences…. What we must recognize is that these differences hold no interest for thought, that they amount to nothing more than the infinite and self-evident multiplicity of humankind, [as obvious in the difference between me and my cousin from Lyon as it is between the Shi’ite ‘community’ of Irak and the fat cowboys of Texas]. (E 26)
Enter here Zizek’s own take on multiculturalismxv and very much in tune with Badiou, for Zizek, multiculturalism constitutes (or defines) a specific postmodernist cultural logic with regard to identity politics, which all too “simply designates the form of subjectivity that corresponds to late capitalism”: The ideal form of ideology of (this) global capitalism is multiculturalism, the attitude which, from a kind of empty global position, treats each local culture as the colonizer treats colonized people – as ‘natives’ whose mores are to be carefully studied and ‘respected’. […] In other words, multiculturalism is a disavowed, inverted, self-referential form of racism, a ‘racism with a distance’ – it ‘respects’ the Other’s identity, conceiving of the other as a self-enclosed ‘authentic’ community towards which the multiculturalist maintains a distance made possible by his / her privileged universal position. Multiculturalism is a racism which empties its own position of all positive content [while] retain[ing] this position as the privileged empty point of universalism from which one is able to appreciate (and depreciate) other particular cultures properly – multiculturalist respect for the Other’s specificity is the very form of asserting one’s own superiority (170-1).
Following Žižek’s argument, multiculturalism does not conform a recipe containing any kind of subversive potential for progressive, let alone ‘radical’ identity politics. The (still) ongoing and largely self-serving celebration of dispersed, fragmented, plural and hybrid or hyphenated identities do not conform effective forms to challenge ‘fundamentalism’, to contest ‘essentialism’ or to disrupt ‘fixed identities’. On the contrary, set against the entire project of cultural studies which, with the celebrated ascendancy of contemporary post-structuralist, postcolonial, post-Marxist and post-national discourses, rests on the radical pluralization of cultural identities, for Žižek this form of identity politics amounts “ultimately (to) fight(ing) a straw-man” (27). It amounts to fighting a straw-man because the empty point of universality to which Žižek alludes in clear reference to Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985) is already occupied or filled in by a particular content. 16
To illustrate this point let us finish with the case of British multiculturalism, since we are here in Birmingham. You will all agree that in the case of British multiculturalism there is no such a thing as the Anglo-Saxon (or English) ethnic minority competing for recognition at a level par with AfricanCaribbean, Muslims, Gay and Lesbian, people with disabilities, Scots, Welsh, Irish… in order to define what Britishness is. It is rather this particular content (Englishness) which has historically exerted the hegemonic function and succeeded in overwhelmingly calling the shots, so to speak, by both stepping outside the chain of differences and secretly filling in the empty point of universality through the very medium of the (supposedly neutral) British national institutions (state, media, cultural establishment etc). Britishness is thus the absent centre, the unmarked political sign; it is as Stuart Hall pointed out the empty signifier, the norm, against which ‘difference’ (ethnicity) is measured” xvi; and I would argue that this is indeed still so regardless of some new reactive English identity consciousness raising exercises, as it were, on some compensatory grounds such as: if the Scots have St Andrews why not St George? If the Welsh have an Assembly we also want a Parliament, etc. So, finally, in order to translate this case of British multiculturalism into the Spanish context it is perhaps time to come up with some concluding questions which I also hope will help then to animate the debate.
Concluding questions In this seminar we have first talked away the fallacies of ‘petty localism’ and ‘First World privilege’ in order to allow ourselves speaking about national identity and multiculturalism within the context of Basque, Spanish, European, First World and also, tangentially, global politics. Methodologically we have placed emphasis on the imperative of rigour and reason in order to tackle polemical questions which are always short-circuited with high amounts of emotional investment and bias. Such is obviously the case when discussing the nation, which has been presented as carrying its own pre-modern phantasmatic presence into modernity. Then opposition often established between Basque 17
‘ethnic nationalism’ vs. Spanish “civic, constitutional patriotism has also been de-constructed while it has also been established that the ethics of alterity and the politics of multiculturalism rest on more problematic grounds that often accounted for in overly celebratory approaches to the question of difference. In this context, moreover, some basis has also been established to account for promoting forms of indifference to Basque cultural difference in order to place more emphasis on the notions of political equality and social justice. So, finally, we shall now conclude as we started, that is to say, by posing a couple questions albeit in an inverted form since now it is not me being asked but I am rather the one posing them while slightly shifting the emphasis from the nation on to the questions of multiculturalism and democracy. Hence: Could the Spanish democrat alluded to earlier think of Basqueness as being at the centre of a multiculturalist strategy of its own which would indeed contemplate an openminded spirit of respect and tolerance of the other as well, of course, as the ensuing celebration of diversity and minority cultures, hybridization, multicultural education etc? In other words, could this same Spanish democrat contemplate Basqueness deploying the very logic of the unmarked, of the empty signifier or the absent centre able to occupy a privileged universalist position and able hence to respect, say, the particular mores and customs of the Spanish ethnic minority in the Basque country? As Zizek states in a recent paper called “Multiculturalism: The reality of an illusion”: The truly unbearable fact for a multiculturalist liberal is an Other who effectively becomes like us, while retaining its specific features”.
To finish, however, I would also like to dispel any cloud of concerned doubt regarding both my suffering daughter’s teething problems as well as my own parental ethics that will necessarily inform (part of) her future education: The reality of my own illusion remains firmly universalist which is obviously an impossibility yet still also a necessary structuring ideal or political fantasy that, I think, we should all still strive for. Thank you for listening
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2009 “ Porque tenemos todo el derecho del mundo”; GARA 2010-03-01 http://www.gara.net/paperezkoa/20090221/123241/es/Porque/tenemos/todo/el/derecho/del/mundo /
Globalización, identidad nacional, cultura y...fútbol” GARA: 2009-02-21
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NOTES S. Zizek, Universal Exception [UE] (2006a), p.20 This is the standard mode of presentation in the British mainstream media. iii S. Zizek, First as Tragedy Then as Farce, (2009) p.78. iv To be more precise, political rhetoric here works thus as downright propaganda as such civic claims and political demands refer to certain ongoing and precise struggles against exclusion from the democratic process (civic claims) and in favour of selfdetermination, freedom and equality (political demands). v S. Zizek, The Paralax View (2006,) p.129 vi Conversations with Zizek (2005) vii In this respect it is worth bringing here the contents of an interview given by Zizek on this precise issue which I translated from Basque into both Spanish and English. See at the bottom of this link: “La fuerza del universalismo está en vosotros los vascos, no en el Estado español” The force of universalism is in you Basques, not in the Spanish state http://basque.criticalstew.org/?p=2496 viii Although in a sense I am also glad that people with a proven “anti-nationalist” and radical socialist record such as Tariq Ali do precisely that on my behalf. See: http://basque.criticalstew.org/?p=5661 and / or go directly to comment 2: http://basque.criticalstew.org/?p=5661#comment-1979 and click the video. ix E. Lacalu, On Popular reason [PR] 2005, p. 249) x P. Alter (1989) Nationalism (1989) pp. 2-5. xi B. Anderson,Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism,(1983) p.146. xii H. K. Bhabha, “Introduction: Narrating the nation” (1990) p. 1 & G. Bennington, “Postal politics and the institution of the nation” (1990) p. 132 & p. 121; both in H.K. Bhabha, (ed)(1990) Nation and Narration, London, (1990). xiii S. Zizek, Universal Exception, (2006a) pp. 20-21 xiv I explain these points further in the following journalistic articles in Spanish, GARA: 2008-02-25 - Cuando la capacidad de asombro ya no da más; GARA: 2009-02-21 Porque tenemos todo el derecho del mundo; GARA 2010-03-01 - Globalización, identidad nacional, cultura y...fútbol xv S. Zizek, “Multiculturalism, or, the cultural logic of multinational capitalism” Universal Exception (2006) pp. 151-182). Zizek’s overall argument is first stated in his seminal work The Ticklish Subject (2000, p. 216) xvi S. Hall “Conclusion” in B. Hesse Un/settled Multiculturalism “(2000) p. 221 (2000: 221) i