Zizek on Cuba • Welcome to the Desert of the Real

Excerpted from Welcome to the Desert of the Real a 2002 book by Slavoj Žižek

"Another version of the 'passion for the Real' as opposed to the 'servicing of goods' in social reality is clearly discernible in the Cuban revolution. Making virtue out of necessity, today's Cuba heroically continues to defy the capitalist logic of waste and planned obsolescence: many of the products used there are, in the West, treated as waste - not only the proverbial 1950s American cars which magically still function, but even dozens of Canadian yellow school buses (with old painted inscriptions in French or English, still completely legible), probably given as a present to Cuba and used there for public transport.

Thus we have the paradox that, in the frantic era of global capitalism, the main result of the revolution is to bring social dynamics to a standstill - the price to be paid for exclusion from the global capitalist network.

Here we encounter a strange symmetry between Cuba and Western 'post-industrial' societies: in both cases, the frantic mobilization conceals a more fundamental immobility. In Cuba, revolutionary mobilization conceals social stasis; in the developed West, frantic social activity conceals the basic sameness of global capitalism, the absence of an Event ....

Walter Benjamin defined the Messianic moment as that of Dialektik im Stillstand, dialectics at a standstill: in the expectation of a Messianic Event, life comes to a standstill. Do we not encounter in Cuba a strange realization of this, a kind of negative Messianic time: the social standstill in which 'the end of time is near' and everybody is waiting for the Miracle of what will happen when Castro dies, and socialism collapses? No wonder that, besides political news and reports, the main item on Cuban TV is English -language courses - an incredible number of them, five to six hours every day. Paradoxically, the very return to anti-Messianic capitalist normality is experienced as the object of Messianic expectation - something for which the country simply waits, in a state of frozen animation.

In Cuba, renunciations themselves are experienced/ imposed as proof of the authenticity of the revolutionary Event what, in psychoanalysis, is called the logic of castration. The entire Cuban politico-ideological identity rests on the fidelity to castration (no wonder the Leader is called Fidel Castro!): the counterpart of the Event is the growing inertia of social being/life: a country frozen in time, with old buildings in a state of decay.

It is not that the revolutionary Event was 'betrayed' by the Thermidorian establishment of a new order; the very insistence on the Event led to the immobilization at the level of positive social being. The decaying houses are the proof of fidelity to the Event. No wonder revolutionary iconography in today's Cuba is full of Christian references- apostles of the Revolution, the elevation of Che into a Christlike figure, the Eternal One ('lo Eterno'-the title of a song Carlos Puebla sings about him): when Eternity intervenes in time, time comes to a standstill.

No wonder that the basic impression of Havana in 2001 was that the original inhabitants had escaped, and squatters had taken it over-out of place in these magnificent old buildings, occupying them temporarily, subdividing large spaces with wooden panels, and so on. Here, the image of Cuba we get from someone like Pedro Juan Gutierrez (his 'dirty Havana trilogy') is revealing: the Cuban 'being' as opposed to the revolutionary Event-the daily struggle for survival, the escape into violent promiscuous sex, seizing the day without future-oriented projects. This obscene inertia is the 'truth' of the revolutionary Sublime."

Slavoj Zizek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real





Žižek on Castro's death:


Slavoj Žižek: ‘Castro should be forgotten as soon as possible’




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