These are excerpts from a talk that Žižek gave four years ago during the Occupy Wall Street movement:
“There is a danger. Don’t fall in love with yourselves. We have a nice time here. But remember, carnivals come cheap. What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal lives. Will there be any changes then? I don’t want you to remember these days, you know, like ‘Oh. we were young and it was beautiful.'”
And again at the conclusion of his talk:
“The only thing I’m afraid of is that we will someday just go home and then we will meet once a year, drinking beer, and nostaligically remembering ‘What a nice time we had here.’ Promise yourselves that this will not be the case.”
When I think about the crucifixion, one of the striking aspects of it was that in the most crucial moments, Jesus’ followers and friends abandoned him. They said they wouldn’t, but they did anyway, no one was prepared to go all the way to death alongside him. What they (and we) were denied was any kind of romantic notion about how they were with him and that they had had some kind of “nice time” together. Surely this must have been one of the things that spurred on the early church: the abandoning of Jesus to his fate. The disciples could not return to their daily lives with nothing but a warm nostalgia, they were left with something very different, the sense of an event (by the time Sunday roles around) but also a gnawing realization about how poorly they conducted themselves.
The easiest way to sap a movement of its power is nostalgia, especially with a myth that allows everyone to participate by proxy that so many events generate. For baby boomers the archetype might be Woodstock or the Summer of Love – everyone gets to pretend that they were there – at least in spirit and it is a good nostalgic feeling that gives them some kind of leave to go back to doing whatever it is that they are doing. Who would want to be there on Good Friday? Your leader dies and everyone cowers.
We live in an age where it is easier than ever to fall in love with ourselves. One doesn’t need to travel anywhere or do anything other than repost a clever graphic on Instagram, or like something on Facebook, or follow the right people on Twitter and retweet their sagacious insights, or upvote the right AMA thread on Reddit. I get the sense that many readers of this blog care about various causes (of a really wide range, I gather), but what is it that anyone does about them? If I try to think of a concrete action that I have taken, there aren’t that many, but then I get the feeling of having participated by merely retweeting stuff that I found agreeable.
I have neither the learning nor the authority to tell you the Meaning™ of Good Friday (and certainly there are lots of people who can and have). But I think one thing that stood out to me this year is the idea of our absence from it. There is no proxy that we can align ourselves with who really stands out in classic heroic fashion here (Jesus doesn’t even bother to defend himself, Socrates at least did that), there is no way to gather round and wax romantic about this event. It stands as a rebuke to every kind of mega Christian conference and gathering and every giant display of the church’s power by stained glass or by klieg light. These are all things that make it easy to fall in love with ourselves, these are the sort of events that are the opposite of Good Friday.
EDIT: The conclusion, that now seems obvious to me, but evidently eluded me whilst writing the original post, is that this is an argument for the centrality of celebrating the eucharist, there is nothing else in broad Christian practice that so effectively reminds us how easily we betray, and how we should not fall in love with ourselves.