What Is Žižek For? | Present Affairs

Contemplate the next passage:

What can be my—how ought to I name it—spontaneous angle in the direction of the universe? It’s a really darkish one. The primary one—the primary thesis would have been—a sort of complete self-importance. There may be nothing, principally. I imply it fairly actually. Like, finally—finally—there are just a few fragments, some vanishing issues, when you take a look at the universe it’s one massive void. However then, how do issues emerge? Right here, I really feel a sort of spontaneous affinity with quantum physics, the place, you recognize, the concept there’s that the universe is a void, however a sort of a positively charged void, after which specific issues seem when the stability of the void is disturbed. And I like this concept spontaneously very a lot, the truth that it’s not simply nothing, issues are on the market. It means one thing went terribly improper, that what we name creation is a sort of a cosmic imbalance, a cosmic disaster, that issues exist by mistake. And I’m even able to go to the tip and declare that the one option to counteract that is to imagine the error and go to the tip. And we’ve got a reputation for this, it’s known as “love.” Isn’t love exactly this type of a cosmic imbalance? I used to be at all times disgusted with this notion of “I like the world, common love.” I don’t just like the world. I’m principally somebody in between I hate the world or I’m detached in the direction of it. However the of entire of actuality, it’s simply it, it’s silly. It’s on the market. I don’t care about it. Love for me is a particularly violent act. Love is just not “I like you all.” Love means, I pick one thing, and you recognize, once more it’s this construction of imbalance, even when this one thing is only a small element, a fragile particular person individual, I say “I like you greater than the rest.” On this fairly formal sense love is evil.

Having carried out a casual ballot amongst family and friends members, my sturdy suspicion is that your response to this passage—which, as you possibly can see, ranges over such seemingly disparate matters because the which means of the universe, quantum physics and the emergence of matter, and the character of affection—will fall into certainly one of three classes: (i) You consider that it expresses one thing profoundly insightful; (ii) You consider that it expresses insane gibberish; (iii) You might be completely not sure what to make of it: maybe it’s saying one thing insightful concerning the universe, creation, emergence, quantum physics or love; or perhaps, in reality, it’s simply unbridled lunacy posing as philosophical profundity.

If you happen to fall into the primary class, you probably are—or can be—a Slavoj Žižek fan: the above passage is a verbatim transcript of the beginning of the favored 2005 documentary movie concerning the 70-year-old Slovenian thinker, entitled (considerably unimaginatively) Žižek!. And also you’re in good firm. Described on his ebook covers and lecture excursions as a “Hegelian thinker, Lacanian psychoanalyst, and political activist”, Žižek—a self-described “radical leftist”—is without doubt one of the solely intellectuals alive in the present day who has an complete journal solely devoted to discussing his concepts. Prestigious newspapers and magazines have labelled Žižek a “movie star thinker” with “rockstar recognition” who has a “fanatical world following,” the “Elvis of cultural idea,”and, maybe most (in)famously, because the “most harmful thinker within the West.” Thousands and thousands of individuals have watched his lectures and movies on YouTube; 1000’s of scholars, teachers, and laypeople have purchased his books; and lots of 1000’s extra have attended his lectures: Three,000 individuals not too long ago packed out the Sony Centre in Toronto, the place Žižek held at debate with the Canadian medical psychologist and fellow public mental Jordan Peterson. Tickets have been bought for as a lot as $1,500.

If, nonetheless, you fall into the second class of individuals, you’re not in dangerous firm both. In a much-read evaluation of  Žižek’s work in The New York Overview of Books, the distinguished British political thinker John Grey claimed that Žižek’s work merely “[a]chiev[es] a misleading substance”, earlier than ultimately concluding that “Žižek’s work … quantities to lower than nothing”. Harvard evolutionary psychologist and in style public mental Steven Pinker overtly described Žižek on Twitter as a “charlatan” (in addition to a “student-detesting … plagiarist”); and Noam Chomsky, maybe the world’s foremost public mental, not too long ago accused Žižek of partaking in “theoretical posturing” by “utilizing fancy phrases,” however that Žižek’s work finally incorporates “no content material … past the extent of one thing which you’ll be able to clarify in 5 minutes to a twelve-year-old.”

Lastly, when you fall into the third class of individuals, you’re additionally possible in good firm too—although you’ll not often, if ever, discover such agnosticism publicly expressed by different teachers and public intellectuals (and even, for that matter, by people on-line). Discussions of Žižek’s work—as is the case in a lot of public discourse nowadays—tends to be closely polarized: individuals both love him or hate him. Those that are not sure what to assume principally stay silent.

I ought to lay my playing cards on the desk on the outset: I’m not in any respect not sure what I consider Žižek—I fall squarely inside the second class of individuals listed above. Extra particularly, I, too, assume that Žižek is, at his finest, a posturing charlatan. Nevertheless, I additionally assume that, at his worst, he’s considerably worse than that: he’s additionally a repetitive, reactionary, and at occasions even racist particular person whose continued acceptance and, in some sectors, even quasi-veneration by the left is, I believe, deeply dangerous to the worldwide progressive trigger.

I notice that these are severe allegations, and that they require a major quantity of substantiation. Let me, then, show the fees one after the other.


Allow us to start by inspecting claims for which Žižek has garnered a major quantity of criticism during the last couple of years—particularly, these associated to Islam and the European refugee disaster, as spelled out in his 2016 ebook In opposition to the Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror and Different Troubles with our Neighbours (“ADB”).

A lot of what Žižek writes in ADB very a lot conforms to what a self-proclaimed leftist would say on these points. For example, he writes that the “final causes” of the refugee disaster are a mix of each “the dynamics of worldwide capitalism” in addition to “Western navy intervention” in Libya and Iraq. Furthermore, he writes that Western Europeans are “stopping” Africans from “altering their societies” via “devastating” types of “financial neocolonialism,” usually mediated by worldwide establishments such because the IMF and the World Financial institution (69-72). Žižek additionally argues that “our purpose” as world progressives ought to be to “reconstruct world society” such that the “determined refugees” are now not compelled to flee their nation of origin (18-19)—which thus (presumably) entails ending such Western navy interventions and financial neocolonialist insurance policies all through Africa and the broader Center-East. Later within the ebook, Žižek additionally explicitly states that “the principal risk to Europe doesn’t come within the form of Muslim immigrants however in its anti-immigrant populist defenders” (107), and that “Europe must reassert its full dedication to offering means for the dignified survival of refugees” (155). (Moreover, in a tv interview with Mehdi Hasan on Al Jazeera’s UpFront, Žižek was additionally equally specific that he needs “much more refugees” to be allowed to hunt asylum in Europe.)

In abstract, Žižek believes that: (i) the West bears important accountability for inflicting the refugee disaster; (ii) Europe ought to (subsequently) do the morally acceptable factor and open its doorways to the refugees; and (iii) to take care of the foundation reason behind the disaster, Europe ought to finally stop its damaging financial insurance policies and navy ventures in Africa and the Center-East.

To repeat: all of those factors are, after all, very customary issues for a leftist to say. (And I agree with all of them.) Nevertheless, all through the ebook Žižek can be eager to ascertain a fourth, core thesis in his ebook, one which leftists wouldn’t standardly subscribe to—particularly, that Europe ought to open its doorways to the refugees regardless of the cultural incompatibility of refugees and Western residents. Extra particularly, within the ebook Žižek overtly defends Samuel Huntington’s (in)well-known thesis of the “conflict of civilizations” between Islam and the Western world. As he writes: “We’re undoubtedly within the midst of the conflict of civilizations (the Christian West versus radicalized Islam)…” (11). 

Lest one assume that such a comment was some sort of a weird anomaly, Žižek, in reality, makes nearly an identical remarks at two completely different factors later within the ebook. Thus, he writes that:

“…the refugees need to have their cake and eat it. They principally anticipate to get the perfect of the Western welfare state whereas retaining their particular lifestyle, which is in a few of its key options incompatible with the ideological foundations of the Western welfare state.” (88)

Maybe most explicitly, close to the tip of the ebook he unambiguously states that “it’s a easy indisputable fact that many of the refugees come from a tradition that’s incompatible with Western European notions of human rights” (149).

Exhuming the rotting corpse of Huntington’s repeatedly debunked thesis is, clearly, a reasonably unusual—to not point out extremely inflammatory—factor for a self-proclaimed “radical leftist” to do. Therefore, the plain query is: What causes does Žižek present for pondering that there’s such a “conflict”? Extra particularly: What are these “Western notions of human rights”, and why is Islam ostensibly incompatible with them?

Žižek is just not completely specific on these factors. Nevertheless, from what he writes, it seems that he believes that “Western” and “Islamic” tradition are irreconcilable for at the least two completely different causes. The primary, he writes, is as a result of “Muslims discover it unattainable to bear blasphemous pictures and reckless humor,” which is seemingly incompatible with “Western notions” of free speech. And the second is that “the subordination of ladies” is “a part of the Muslim life-world”, which conflicts with “Western values” referring to ladies’s equality (149).

To speak this fashion concerning the world’s 1.Eight billion Muslims—and, furthermore, to take action whereas offering nearly no substantiating proof—is extremely provocative, to say the least. Furthermore—as Žižek is definitely effectively conscious—to speak of “Western notions of freed from speech” is itself an exceedingly gross simplification: for one factor, there are important variations between European and American free speech legal guidelines and attitudes; for one more, even inside Europe there are huge variations in interpretation of the notion of “free speech”. (Thus, as an illustration—to make use of Žižek’s phrasing—the German authorities really “finds it unattainable to bear” the denial of the Holocaust.) Furthermore, by claiming that Islam inherently conflicts with the (“Western”) idea of free speech, Žižek ignores the huge variations within the interpretation and implementation of free speech legal guidelines on the earth’s fifty majority Muslim international locations, in addition to the truth that, when requested, most Muslims world wide in reality categorical assist for “Western values,” together with (however not restricted to) freedom of speech. Final however not least, leveling such an accusation in opposition to Islam can be deeply hypocritical, provided that Žižek himself has overtly advocated criminalizing sure types of speech. As he writes in his (2018) ebook Like a Thief in Broad Daylight: “The one factor we are able to do […] is to mobilize the broadest worldwide public with a view to immediately criminalize any speak of using nuclear and different weapons of mass destruction” (390).

What concerning the declare that the “subordination of ladies” is “a part of the Muslim life-world”? This may undoubtedly come as a shock to, as an illustration, lots of the ladies dwelling in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. It is a nation which has beforehand elected a feminine president (in contrast to, say, the U.S. and lots of different European international locations); the place greater than 40% of ladies occupy senior administration positions (a share twice as excessive as in Spain, the U.Okay., and the U.S.); and which has the next proportion of elected ladies authorities officers than many international locations in Europe (and precisely similar the proportion because the U.S.). 

What proof does Žižek himself adduce in assist of his declare relating to Islam’s angle in the direction of ladies? Apparently—and, certainly, virtually absurdly—the solely piece of proof he cites in his ebook is the notorious 2015-16 New Yr’s Eve Cologne assaults, when a number of hundred males—lots of whom have been apparently of North Africa descent—have been alleged to have sexually assaulted tons of of ladies close to the town’s central practice station. In line with Žižek, the assault was:

[A] public spectacle of instilling concern and humiliation, of exposing the privileged Germans to painful helplessness […] [N]aive makes an attempt to enlighten immigrants (explaining to them that our sexual mores are completely different, lady who walks in public in a miniskirt and smiles doesn’t thereby sign sexual invitation, and so forth) are examples of breathtaking stupidity. Immigrants know all this completely effectively – and that’s why they’re doing it. They’re effectively conscious that what they’re doing is overseas to our predominant tradition, and they’re doing it exactly to wound our sensitivities. (143-Four)

In an interview on Al Jazeera’s UpFront tv program, presenter Mehdi Hasan confronted Žižek over this passage:

HASAN: How is that this not a press release that couldn’t come out of the mouth of Marine Le Pen, of the Golden Daybreak, of all types of horrible teams? … Immigrants as an entire try to wound European sensitivities?

ŽIŽEK: Not immigrants, those that did [what happened] there [in Cologne]… And I spoke with individuals from there…

HASAN: So that you took an assault, and generalized, to make a generalized level about European tradition? How is that not bigotry? How is that not what the far proper does?

ŽIŽEK: Wait a minute. It was completely not a sexual assault within the sense of rapes and so forth. It was a sort of a—if I’ll use your time period—kind of a provocation, if I’ll use the phrase that you simply used…

HASAN: The attackers have been upsetting who? European tradition? Critically? A bunch of drunk thugs?

ŽIŽEK: My Arab associates advised me that what occurred in Cologne was additionally occurring on Tahrir Sq. in Egypt…

HASAN: And what do you extrapolate from that? What’s your conclusion?

ŽIŽEK: Nothing…

HASAN: Nothing?! Nevertheless it occurs in Germany on the Oktoberfest in Munich, it occurs at Mardi Gras…

ŽIŽEK: It’s not the identical…

HASAN: Why is it not the identical? Ladies get attacked in public locations everywhere in the world. Why are you racializing it? Why are you culturalizing it?

ŽIŽEK: No, I believe you’re right here completely simplifying issues….

HASAN: You might be! Sorry Slavoj, you simply mentioned to me that it occurs in Tahrir Sq. and it occurs in Cologne. What occurs? What’s the lesson from Cologne and Tahrir Sq. that you’re making? That you simply assume is price making?

ŽIŽEK: The lesson is that we should always study to speak overtly about all these issues and never attempt to whitewash them and so forth.

Žižek’s alleged “lesson,” nonetheless, naturally solely raises the additional query: What, precisely, are “these issues,” in the event that they’re not equal to the truth that “the subordination of ladies” is “a part of the Muslim life-world”—an alleged downside for which he has (nonetheless) not supplied any severe proof?

Žižek’s points with Islam, nonetheless, don’t finish with its (alleged) violations of “Western values” of free speech and ladies’s equality. In two significantly outrageous passages, he means that: (1) any type of political Islam—even of the “average” selection—is tantamount to fascism; and (2) pedophilia scandal within the UK metropolis of Rotherham perpetrated by males of predominantly Pakistani descent means that younger Pakistanis are inherently predisposed towards pedophilia:  

The political decisions supplied by Islam may be clearly recognized: they attain from Fascist nihilism, which parasitizes on capitalism, as much as what Saudi Arabia stands for […] Essentially the most Islam can supply (in its ‘average’ model) is yet one more ‘various modernity,’ a imaginative and prescient of capitalism with out its antagonisms, which can’t however resemble Fascism. (37-Eight)
One can effectively think about a non-pedophilic [Catholic] priest who, after years of service, will get concerned in pedophilia as a result of the very logic of the establishment seduces him into it. Such an ‘institutional unconscious’ designates the obscene disavowed underside that sustains the general public establishment […]. In different phrases, it isn’t merely that, for conformist causes, the Church tries to hush up its pedophilic scandals; reasonably, in defending itself, the Church is defending its innermost obscene secret. What this implies is that figuring out oneself with this secret aspect is a key constituent of the very identification of a Catholic priest. If a priest significantly—not simply rhetorically—denounces these scandals, he thereby excludes himself from the ecclesiastic neighborhood, he’s now not ‘certainly one of us’. […] We must always method the Rotherham occasions in precisely the identical method. Right here, we’re coping with the ‘political unconscious’ of the Pakistani Muslim Youth. (52-Three)

Relating to the primary declare: this would seem to have the absurd consequence that the one types of political Islam that exist are extremist variations of Sunni Wahhabi-Salafism, and (therefore) that, as an illustration, the Ennahdha Celebration in Tunisia is both a fascist occasion or isn’t really Islamic. Relating to the second declare: placing apart the (outrageous) declare that pedophilia is “a key constituent of the very identification of a Catholic priest,” I discover it unattainable to not learn this passage as suggesting that pedophilia options as a “key constituent of the very identification” of “Pakistani Muslim Youth”—which, I believe, can solely plausibly be learn as a textbook occasion of racism of probably the most debased selection.

In brief, Žižek’s views on (Muslim) immigrants and refugees may be roughly summarized as follows: even though nearly all of immigrants are inherently predisposed in the direction of fascism, pedophilia, the subordination of ladies and the hatred of free speech, Europe ought to, nonetheless, open its doorways to them and assure their “dignified survival”. It’s a place that, to my information, has not been defended within the literature earlier than, probably as a result of it’s so patently absurd: in any case, if somebody actually believed that the refugees have been pedophilic women-subordinating freedom-hating fascists, why on Earth would she or he need Europe to permit them in? Certainly, one suspects that, by making an attempt to carve a distinct segment for himself by discovering a “third method” between the “left-wing” view that Europe ought to “open its doorways extensively” to the refugees and the “right-wing” view Europe ought to “pull up the drawbridge” (16), Žižek has ended up endorsing a place—one may even name it a type of racist humanitarianism—that leaves him not solely vast open to criticism, but in addition outright ridicule, on each fronts. 


However it isn’t merely on the subject of refugees that Žižek has expressed views that many—and never solely these on the progressive left—would discover deeply troubling. To listing only a few of them: he overtly supported Donald Trump within the 2016 U.S. presidential election (a place he has since proudly defended); he advisable that French voters abstain within the second spherical of the 2017 French presidential election, his cause being that the selection between the pro-EU, pro-NATO, neoliberal Emmanuel Macron and the anti-EU, anti-NATO, neofascist Marine Le Pen—who has in contrast Muslim immigrants in France to Nazis—represented a “false selection”; he has advisable that Europe ought to contemplate enacting the “world militarization of society,” together with (e.g.) the introduction of common conscription, as one potential technique of responding to the refugee disaster (ADB, 147); he has instructed that the West may want to have interaction in terrorism with a view to defeat ISIS (“So as to result in this destruction [of ISIS]we should keep away from … partaking within the regular Left-liberal litany of ‘One can’t combat terror with terror, violence solely breeds extra violence’” [ADB, 9]); he has instructed that sure types of political engagement could allow one to hold out ethical atrocities (“We must always completely reject … the concept we ought to be able to constrain our political or (religious-political) engagement when it leads us to violate elementary ethical norms, when it makes us commit mass killings and trigger different types of struggling” [TP, 378]); he has repeatedly proven contempt for odd individuals (calling 99% of them “boring idiots”), and has even gone so far as to say that he “doesn’t consider there’s something actually genuine in odd individuals’s precise worries”; and, most preposterously—and worryingly—he has explicitly expressed his desire for “the worst of Stalinism [over] the perfect of the liberal-capitalist welfare state” (TP, 269).

Plainly, many of those claims are merely indefensible; and, certainly, even Žižek himself usually evinces little curiosity in attempting to defend them. Furthermore, to the extent that any sort of argument may be discerned behind these claims, they’re usually—as I’ll now try to point out—terribly weak. 

Take, as an illustration, Žižek’s assist for Donald Trump within the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Though Žižek claims to be “horrified” by the (prospect of the) Trump presidency, his assist for Trump within the U.S. election was primarily based on the presumption that his victory would “set off a strategy of radicalization within the Democratic Celebration—and this course of is our solely hope”; or, as he advised Channel Four’s Cathy Newman in a U.Okay. tv interview: “I need right-wing chaos in order that the New Left will save us from it.

Now, put apart the inherent hazard in voting in as U.S. president a local weather change-denying clown who has pushed the nation to the brink of a probably catastrophic struggle with Iran and a species-ending struggle with Russia; for there are, at the least, two different severe issues with Žižek’s declare right here.

Illustration by C.M. Duffy

The primary is its obvious inconsistency with a few of Žižek’s different professed beliefs, specifically his declare that Trump “can be a centrist liberal … he’s actually a reasonably odd, centrist politician,” in addition to his earlier assertion that “we’ve got to desert the concept there’s something emancipatory in excessive experiences, that they permit us to open our eyes to the final word fact of a state of affairs” [ADB, p. 66]. In spite of everything, if Trump actually is only a centrist liberal, how will he present the “right-wing chaos” that Žižek wishes? Furthermore, if there’s “nothing emancipatory in excessive experiences”—and, absolutely, Trump’s election would rely as simply such an instance—then why does Žižek categorical religion within the declare that the left shall be invigorated by Trump’s victory? Moreover, if Žižek actually needs right-wing chaos, why didn’t he merely suggest voting outright for Marine Le Pen?

The second, much less advert hominem downside with Žižek’s declare, alternatively, is the entire and utter lack of proof that he supplies for it. Why, precisely, is right-wing chaos a obligatory precursor for radical change? Why does he assume that Trump (or Le Pen’s) victory may (re)invigorate the left, reasonably than destroy it? Why does he assume it’s unattainable for leftists to vote for the lesser fast evil now in (e.g.) Clinton and Macron, while concurrently organizing with a view to enact extra progressive political change sooner or later? And why on earth (at the least in Trump’s case) does he assume it’d be a good suggestion to really vote for the “catastrophe” that Žižek—in addition to almost each different sane particular person on planet Earth—is so eager to keep away from? To make use of Žižek’s personal phrasing as soon as once more: if voting for Clinton or Macron was like “providing us as a treatment the very factor that induced the sickness” (LTDB, 166), this absolutely solely raises the plain query: Why in God’s title vote for the symptom of an sickness?

Žižek, in equity, has in reality responded to (a few of) these objections:

A traditional liberal argument for voting for Clinton or Macron in opposition to Trump or Le Pen is that whereas it’s true that what Clinton and Macron stand for is the very predicament that gave delivery to Trump or Le Pen, not voting for Clinton or Macron is like voting for an precise catastrophe with a view to forestall a potential future catastrophe. This argument sounds convincing, given that we ignore temporality. If Le Pen had been elected President in 2017, it might have triggered sturdy anti-fascist mobilization, rendering her re-election unthinkable, plus it might have given a robust push to the Leftist various. So the 2 disasters (Le Pen President now or the specter of Le Pen as President in 5 years) aren’t the identical: the catastrophe after 5 years of Macron’s reign, if it seems to be a failure, shall be way more severe than the one which didn’t occur in 2017. (LTBD, 164)

However this argument is patently absurd. For one factor, whether it is true that Le Pen’s election “might have triggered sturdy anti-fascist mobilization”, then it additionally naturally follows that she may not have triggered such mobilization; and, equally, whether it is true that she might have “given a robust push to the Leftist various,” then it additionally naturally follows that she may not have given the French Left such a robust push. 

Secondly, even whether it is true Le Pen victory in 2017 would have mobilized anti-fascist resistance and/or given a robust push to a leftist political various (as an illustration, a motion led by the revered French leftist politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon), this does not essentially entail that Macron’s precise reign will “finish in failure”—as Žižek himself seems to confess (“if it seems to be a failure”).

Thirdly, even whether it is true that Macron’s presidency does “finish in failure”, this merely does not entail that it will have been higher to have (in a way) “gotten Le Pen over with” by voting for her in 2017—for the easy and fully apparent cause that Le Pen is just not required to win in 2022.

And at last, even whether it is true that Le Pen wins in 2022, this doesn’t imply that her election then shall be “way more severe” than her (hypothetical) election in 2017. Why, as an illustration, couldn’t her election in 2022 trigger “sturdy anti-fascist mobilization” and provides a “sturdy push to the [French] Leftist various”? Why, in different phrases, couldn’t her election in 2022 be simply as severe as—or even perhaps much less severe than—her (once more, hypothetical) election in 2017?

In abstract: Žižek holds deeply reactionary views on quite a few necessary political points, together with (however not restricted to) these referring to latest Western presidential elections. Lots of his extra outrageous claims (e.g, expressing assist for state-sponsored Western terrorism) are, to my information, by no means substantiated in any of his works. Furthermore, these views that he does try and substantiate are completed so by proof or argumentation of the flimsiest selection—and typically even straightforwardly contradict a few of his different professed beliefs.


One of many first issues one notices upon starting to check Žižek’s work is simply how monumental a process finding out him is: to place it bluntly, the person has printed an absolute shit ton. Since he started writing in English in 1989, Žižek has printed an unbelievable 48 books within the English language alone, a mean of effectively over a ebook yearly. Furthermore, throughout this era he has additionally written or appeared in quite a few documentary movies, given tons of of public lectures and tv and newspaper interviews, written quite a few newspaper articles, and, to high all of it, written an additional 16 books in Slovenian.

How has Žižek been in a position to obtain such astounding ranges output—and what’s extra, obtain them whereas (to cite the blurb of his 2015 ebook, Bother in Paradise) “rang[ing] over every part from music movies to Marx” in nearly all of his works?

Because it seems, there isn’t any distinctive reply to this query—reasonably, there are (at the least) three.

One apparent cause is Žižek’s proclivity for citing the identical core group of authors, and discussing nearly the very same assortment of (admittedly wide-ranging) matters, in almost all of his books. Thus, along with Hegel and Lacan, a typical Žižekian ebook will embrace bountiful references to Alain Badiou, Sigmund Freud, and Karl Marx; it should normally embrace comparatively detailed discussions of or references to Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Vladimir Lenin; and, lastly, it should comprise numerous remedies of, or scattered allusions to, present “scorching” political or cultural points, together with (however not restricted to) the failures of capitalism, communism, Christianity, China, anti-Semitism, immigrants, Islam, and—maybe most regularly—intercourse. So much of intercourse.

The desk beneath makes an attempt for example this level utilizing an admittedly reasonably crude quantitative methodology, particularly the variety of references Žižek makes (in accordance with iBooks) to every matter or theorist or historic determine in 5 of his most not too long ago printed books. (Within the desk I’ve tried to exclude references made within the books’ indexes and footnotes; furthermore, I’ve—considerably arbitrarily—included, e.g., phrases akin to ‘Freudian’ as references to Freud.) The primary three books—Like a Thief in Broad Daylight (“LTBD,” 2018), The Braveness of Hopelessness (“TCH,” 2017), and Bother in Paradise (“TP,” 2015)—have been written for a well-liked viewers: in complete, they common out to roughly 200 pages a chunk, or round 500 pages on iBooks. (Until in any other case acknowledged, all future web page references seek advice from the iBook model of the related ebook.) The final two books—Absolute Recoil (“AR,” 2015), and Much less Than Nothing (“LTN,” 2013)—are marketed as extra severe, “tutorial” works: the previous is roughly twice the size of the opposite three books; the latter is greater than 5 occasions as lengthy.

Particular person or Subject
Like a Thief in Broad Daylight (2018)
The Braveness of Hopelessness (2017)
Bother in Paradise (2015)
Absolute Recoil (2015)
Much less Than Nothing (2013)
Intercourse/sexuality/sexuation (and so forth.)

What this desk reveals is that though in Žižek’s extra severe works the variety of references to capitalism, communism, immigrants, Islam, China, and so forth., (proportionally) tends to lower, it by no means fairly goes to zero. Moreover, such a decline in references is invariably greater than compensated for by a proportional improve—and typically even huge improve—within the variety of references to Badiou, Lacan, Hegel and Freud. In different phrases: in Žižek’s extra severe books, he merely refers back to the similar core group philosophers extra regularly than he does in his in style books, whereas the (admittedly vast) vary of matters stays more-or-less the identical. (Apparently, and reasonably weirdly, the variety of references to intercourse stays (roughly) proportionately fixed, regardless of whether or not or not the ebook is pitched for a well-liked viewers.)

A second cause for Žižek’s prolific publication document is—to place it charitably—his reasonably lax private requirements for what constitutes acceptable tutorial apply. Specifically, Žižek has beforehand: written about movies earlier than he’d seen them; cited prolonged descriptions of operas and movies from Wikipedia (e.g., LTBD, 47-Eight, 99-102); cited blurbs of books reasonably than the books themselves (e.g., TP, 37-Eight); written about matters (e.g., the philosophy of quantum mechanics; LST, Ch 14) with which he has little, if any, real familiarity and/or with minimal engagement with the modern literature (extra on this later); and, in a single significantly weird episode, plagiarized (ostensibly by chance) from a white supremacist journal.

The third and most necessary cause for Žižek’s prodigious output, nonetheless, can be, on reflection, maybe the obvious one: he self-plagiarizes—or, to place it in much less litigious phrases, he recycles materials—so much. And I imply so much.

Such an accusation in opposition to Žižek is hardly new: in 2014 he was accused of, and subsequently admitted to, recycling materials from certainly one of his books for a New York Instances op-ed. (In his protection, Žižek claimed that he was unaware that this contravened the newspaper’s official coverage.) Nevertheless, what is way much less appreciated is the extent to which Žižek self-plagiarizes even from amongst his personal books. Take, as an illustration, the next passage, which seems in nearly an identical kind in (at the least) six of his not too long ago printed books:

So whereas, in a market economic system, I stay de facto dependent, this dependency is nonetheless ‘civilized’, enacted within the type of a ‘free’ market alternate between me and different individuals as an alternative of direct servitude and even bodily coercion. It’s simple to ridicule Ayn Rand, however there’s a grain of fact within the well-known ‘hymn to cash’ from her Atlas Shrugged: ‘Till and until you uncover that cash is the foundation of all good, you ask on your personal destruction. When cash ceases to develop into the means by which males take care of each other, then males develop into the instruments of different males. Blood, whips and weapons or . Take your selection—there isn’t any different.’ Did Marx not say one thing comparable in his well-known formulation of how, within the universe of commodities, ‘relations between individuals assume the guise of relations amongst issues’? Available in the market economic system, relations between individuals can seem as ones of mutually acknowledged freedom and equality; domination is now not immediately enacted and visual as such.

(LTBD, 58-9; evaluate to Dwelling within the Finish Instances (‘LET’), 565-6; TCH, 111-2; LTN, 1538-9; First as Tragedy, then as Farce (‘TTF’), 183-Four; TP, 217-Eight)

A number of different examples of such inter-textual, paragraph-length self-plagiarism is also cited: (1) Against the Double Blackmail (‘ADB’), 12-13; TP, 118-9; TCH, 36-7; (2) LTBD, 300-2; TP, 145-6; LET, 622-Three; (Three) ADB, 36; TCH, 292-Three; TP, 164-5; (Four) ADB, 296-7; LTBD, 201-2; TP, 296-7; TCH, 555-6; (5) TP 312-Three; AR, 304-5; LTBD 371-2. (Notice: these are simply the passages I might discover which seem in at the least three books.)

To lots of you, such inter-textual recycling may appear innocuous. Don’t teachers recycle their work on a regular basis? After all, it’s true that lots of them do. Nevertheless, what units Žižek other than different teachers is arguably not the mere reality that he’s joyful to re-use parts of his work—although the truth that the re-used parts are sometimes verbatim copies of each other is, maybe, considerably uncommon. Neither is his distinctive characteristic merely the scale of his self-plagiarism—although the size is, certainly, nice in comparison with nearly all of different teachers. Fairly, I believe, what distinguishes him is the truth that he’s the one outstanding tutorial I’m conscious of who engages in intra-textual self-plagiarism; who, in different phrases, recycles passages in a single and the identical ebook.

Take, for instance, the next passage, drawn from his ebook Bother in Paradise:

What all this suggests is that in the present day’s conservatives aren’t actually conservative. Whereas totally endorsing capitalism’s steady self-revolutionizing, they simply need to make it extra environment friendly by supplementing it with some conventional establishments (faith, as an illustration) to constrain its damaging penalties for social life and to keep up social cohesion. Right this moment, a real conservative is the one who totally admits the antagonisms and deadlocks of worldwide capitalisms, the one who rejects easy progressivism, and who’s attentive to the darkish obverse of progress. On this sense, solely a radical Leftist may be in the present day a real conservative. (TP, 40-1)

Now evaluate it to the this one, drawn from afterward in the identical ebook:

Right this moment’s mainstream self-declared political and cultural conservatives aren’t actually conservatives: totally endorsing capitalist steady self-revolutionizing, they simply need to make it extra environment friendly by supplementing it with some conventional establishments (akin to faith) to comprise its damaging penalties for social life and keep social cohesion. A real conservative in the present day is the one who totally admits the antagonisms and deadlocks of worldwide capitalism, the one who rejects easy progressivism, and is attentive to the darkish obverse of progress. On this sense, solely a radical Leftist may be in the present day a real conservative. (TP, 325-6)

That is hardly an remoted instance. Right here, as an illustration, is one other passage, drawn as soon as once more from Bother in Paradise

One of many bizarre penalties of the 2008 monetary meltdown and the measures taken to counteract it (huge sums of cash to assist banks) was the revival within the work of Ayn Rand, the fullest ideological expression of radical ‘greed is nice’ capitalism: the gross sales of her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged exploded. In line with some, there are already indicators that the state of affairs described in Atlas Shrugged—the ‘inventive capitalists’ themselves happening strike—is now being enacted. But this response virtually completely misreads the state of affairs: many of the gigantic sums of bail-out cash went exactly to these deregulated Randian ‘titans’ who failed of their ‘inventive’ schemes and in doing so introduced concerning the meltdown. It isn’t the good inventive geniuses who are actually serving to lazy odd individuals; reasonably, it’s the odd taxpayers who’re serving to the failed ‘inventive geniuses’. (TP, 67)

And evaluate it to this one, once more drawn from the identical ebook:

As we’ve got already identified, one of many bizarre penalties of the monetary meltdown and the measures taken to counteract it (huge sums of cash to assist banks) was a revival within the works of Ayn Rand, the closest that one can come to an ideologist of radical ‘greed is nice’ capitalism—the gross sales of her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged exploded once more. In line with some studies, there are already indicators that the state of affairs described in Atlas Shrugged – the inventive capitalists themselves happening strike—has been enacted.… The absurdity of this response is that it completely misreads the state of affairs: many of the gigantic sums of bailout cash went exactly to the deregulated Randian ‘titans’ who failed of their ‘inventive’ schemes and thereby introduced concerning the meltdown. It isn’t the good inventive geniuses who are actually serving to lazy odd individuals however the odd taxpayers who’re serving to the failed ‘inventive geniuses’. (TP, 334-5)

Certainly—amazingly—within the Penguin paperback model of Bother in Paradise I used to be capable of finding at the least three additional examples of such intra-textual, paragraph-length self-plagiarism. (Examine pages 35 & 231; 59 & 232; and 45 & 235 [physical copy].)

In abstract, the key of Žižek’s prodigious output is just not actually that a lot of a secret in any respect: he sticks to the identical authors and matters; he usually engages in shoddy (some may even name it half-assed) scholarship; and, maybe most crucially—and, unusually, as he himself has even overtly admitted (“I’m at all times writing the identical ebook”)—he simply writes the very same issues, repeatedly, over and over. And, when that’s not sufficient, he merely repeats himself in a single and the identical ebook. Actually.


So far, we’ve got mentioned Žižek’s repetitiveness, his bigotry, and the usually remarkably poor quantity of proof or stage of argumentation that he usually adduces in assist of a few of his extra controversial positions. 

What we’ve got not mentioned to this point, nonetheless, is one other main characteristic—maybe the main characteristic—of Žižek’s work, particularly, his (outstanding) discursiveness.

Take, as an illustration, his most up-to-date ebook, Like a Thief in Broad Daylight, printed by Penguin’s Allen Lane, a publishing home which on its web site claims to be “the main writer within the UK of bestselling severe non-fiction…. Our books are famend for his or her high quality and their originality of thought”. The ebook encompasses a glowing endorsement from Greek economist and famend leftist public mental Yanis Varoufakis on its again cowl, who writes that “Žižek’s glorious new ebook serves humanity a method that solely genuine philosophy can.”

What’s the ebook about? Its jacket cowl informs us that:

In recent times, techno-scientific progress has began to remodel our world – altering it virtually past recognition. Right here famend thinker Slavoj Žižek turns his gaze on the courageous new world of Massive Tech, revealing how, with every new wave of innovation, we discover ourselves shifting nearer and nearer to a bizarrely literal realisation of Marx’s prediction that ‘all that’s strong melts into air’. […] Like a Thief in Broad Daylight illuminates the brand new risks in addition to the novel potentialities thrown up by in the present day’s technological and scientific advances, and their electrifying implications for us all.

Thus, the ebook is ostensibly about science and know-how, and specifically its influence on future (and current) human society and politics. This perception is additional strengthened by the ebook’s subtitle: “Energy within the Period of Publish-Humanity,” in addition to by the truth that Žižek himself mentions within the ebook’s second paragraph “the shattering influence [on humans] of contemporary sciences, particularly mind sciences and biogenetics,” and the way “the progress of in the present day’s sciences destroys the fundamental presuppositions of our on a regular basis notion of actuality.” (7-Eight)

As one shortly progresses via the ebook, nonetheless, one quickly recollects the outdated adage about not judging a ebook by its cowl—or, apparently, by its introduction or (sub)title. The ebook is just not about know-how. It isn’t about science. It isn’t about “energy within the period of post-humanity.” It isn’t, in reality, about something in any respect. In actual fact – if something – it’s largely about intercourse.

Here’s a collection of excerpts from the ebook—which, to repeat, is supposedly concerning the influence of science and know-how on human affairs:

… I doubt that the American comic Louis CK’s acts, deplorable and lewd as they’re, could possibly be placed on the identical stage as direct sexual violence. (9)
[W]right here does Lenin stand [on the issue of] mak[ing] a dangerous radical gesture with out with the ability to foresee all its potential penalties? (132)
In what sense can the self-critical admission of 1’s accountability for severe errors be in comparison with the necessity to shit and fart? (176)
[W]e ought to always remember that the LGBT+ battle may also be co-opted by mainstream liberalism in opposition to ‘class essentialism’ of the Left. (188)
A Europe the place Marine Le Pen or Geert Wilders are in energy is now not Europe. (204) [Aside: this arguably only makes Žižek’s recommendation of abstention in the 2017 French presidential election more bizarre, given that Le Pen’s election would apparently destroy Europe.]
[Robert E. Lee] could effectively have been a gentleman with good manners and private honesty, however he nonetheless dealt brutally with slaves…(248)
Some perceptive observers have already seen how the one type of sexual relation that totally meets politically appropriate standards can be a contract drawn up between sado-masochistic companions. (310)
Though I’m not a fan of Intercourse and the Metropolis, an attention-grabbing level is made in one of many episodes the place Miranda will get concerned with a man who likes to speak soiled throughout intercourse, and since she prefers to maintain silent, he asks her additionally to voice no matter soiled issues pop up in her thoughts, with no restraint. … In the course of her babble she mentions that she has seen how he enjoys it when, whereas he makes like to her, he pushes her finger into his ass…. The lesson of this incident is necessary: even the universality of speaking freely is predicated on some exceptions apart from excessive brutality. (302-Three)
[T]he paradigmatic hardcore sexual place (and shot) is that of the lady mendacity on her again along with her legs unfold vast backwards and her knees above her shoulders; the digicam is in entrance, displaying the person’s penis penetrating her vagina (the person’s face is as a rule invisible; he’s lowered to an instrument), however what we see within the background between her thighs is her face within the thrall of orgasmic bliss…. This elementary hardcore scene completely renders the minimal reflexivity that cuts from inside each fast orgasmic One. (334-5)
There are various good issues to say about [the 1935 film] High Hat, starting with the function of tap-dancing as a disturbing intrusion into the day by day routine… (352)
The primary and apparent Lacanian studying of La La Land would see its plot as yet one more variation on the theme of ‘there isn’t any sexual relationship’… (354)
What can we study from Hegel about Donald Trump and his liberal critics? (376) [Apart: that is the primary sentence of the ebook’s concluding chapter.]
Was …Stalin not the massive jokester of the 20 th century? (379)
The query is, how does an emancipatory-revolutionary collective which embodies the ‘basic will’ have an effect on intense erotic ardour? (361)
[W]ho, then, actually deserves [the Nobel Peace Prize]?(395)
Let’s evaluate the sexual lives of two US presidents, Kennedy and Trump. (429)

In between all of those profound reflections on farting, porn, Robert E. Lee, Lenin, La La Land, and the sexual lives of US presidents, there are—so far as I might inform—solely three locations within the ebook which have even a minimal bearing on the difficulty of know-how and its influence on people.

The primary (92-5) is when Žižek briefly discusses the philosophical influence of newly-developed “thoughts management strategies,” specifically an experiment (for which Žižek doesn’t present a reference) carried out at New York College in 2002, during which a rat’s mind was “management[led]” by an “exterior machine.”“Will I stay completely unaware that my actions are being steered, or will I notice that one thing is improper, that an exterior energy is figuring out them?” (95) Žižek asks—earlier than instantly ignoring the query and shifting on to debate the Greek eurozone disaster. (The alleged hyperlink between the 2 topics is that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is, in accordance with Žižek, an instance of a “steered human being in our political actuality”.) 

The second (405-6) time Žižek discusses know-how’s influence on people is when he briefly considers the philosophical penalties of a possible new regulation in Egypt which might (Žižek claims) make it “unlawful for individuals to consider in God, even when they don’t speak about it.” This leads Žižek to ask the query: “[H]ow will authorities set up if somebody is an atheist if he doesn’t even speak about it?… [W]unwell they scan the suspect’s mind with the units utilized by neuro-theologists attempting to find out if there are traces of spiritual experiences in his neurons?” Having requested this query, Žižek once more instantly ignores it. Additional down the identical web page, we discover him discussing “the wave of pedophilia” amongst American Catholic monks. (I’m not joking.)

The third (99-119) and remaining time when Žižek discusses the acknowledged themes of the ebook is when he presents a 20-page (99-119) evaluation of the movie Blade Runner 2049—a big portion of which is drawn immediately from Wikipedia.

In short, Žižek’s ebook isn’t about know-how in any respect. Certainly, it’s a ebook which is about nearly something however know-how. It’s about identification politics; it’s about LGBT+ rights; it’s about Macron and Le Pen; it’s about Clinton and Trump; it’s concerning the Europe and the European Union; it’s about immigrants and refugees; it’s about Islam, Christianity, Judaism and atheism; it’s about Islamophobia and anti-Semitism; it’s about intercourse; it’s about porn; it’s about motion pictures and TV reveals; it’s concerning the Russian Revolution; it’s about Lenin; it’s about Stalin; it’s about Hegel; it’s about Hitler; it’s about Lacan; it’s about Badiou… In brief, it’s about every part—and, in an necessary and apparent sense, nothing.

Curiously, Žižek himself would very possible agree with this evaluation: as he himself says, “a lot of what I write is blah, blah, bullshit, a diversion from the 700-page ebook on Hegel I ought to be writing.” Honest sufficient – so let’s flip to that (really 1000-page; and on iBooks, virtually 3000-page) ebook, particularly his (2013) work Much less Than Nothing: a ebook which Amazon describes as “the top publication of a distinguished profession,” and which Žižek himself has described as “my true life’s work.

Because it seems, there’s a essential distinction between this sort of work by Žižek, and his different “much less severe,” extra in style books. Specifically, though it’s true that (e.g.) Like a Thief in Broad Daylight doesn’t have a single specific matter or subject material, nonetheless (almost) the entire specific paragraphs that one can discover in it do, and, what’s extra, they make sense. In different phrases, we perceive (just about) what Žižek is saying when he’s speaking about episodes of Intercourse within the Metropolis, or Robert E. Lee, or hardcore pornography—even when we don’t perceive why he’s saying it.

Not so for Žižek’s “extra severe” tomes. Right here, as an illustration, is Žižek’s abstract of the central thesis of Much less Than Nothing:

Much less Than Nothing endeavors to attract all of the ontological penalties from this eppur si muove [a phrase alleged to have been uttered by Galileo when forced by the Inquisition to recant his claim that the Earth moves around the sun]. Right here is the formulation [of Much less Than Nothing] at its most basic: “shifting” is the striving to achieve the void, particularly, “issues transfer,” there’s something as an alternative of nothing, not as a result of actuality is in extra compared with mere nothing, however as a result of actuality is lower than nothing. For this reason actuality needs to be supplemented by fiction: to hide its vacancy. (18-9)

Confused? I actually was. How can one thing exist, and but concurrently nothing exist—or reasonably, less-than-not-exist? Moreover, who—or what—is “supplementing actuality by fiction,” if (lower than) nothing exists? Are (e.g.) novels being written by issues that don’t exist—or maybe by issues that don’t even not exist? Does Žižek exist? If he doesn’t—or if he doesn’t-even-not-exist—then who the hell wrote the ebook I’m studying? What’s extra, who the hell is studying it?

However maybe, I believed, I’d be capable to get a greater grip on the ebook’s central thesis by starting with its subtitle: “Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism.” As somebody who’s at all times struggled with understanding simply what, precisely, dialectical materialism consists in, I used to be curious to see to what extent Žižek was in a position to enlighten me. (Curious, however not particularly hopeful.)

Listed here are some related excerpts from the ebook:

Listed here are the final traces of Parmenides: —’Then could we not sum up the argument in a phrase and say really: If one is just not, then nothing is?’ — ‘Definitely.’ —’Let thus a lot be mentioned; and additional allow us to affirm what appears to be the reality, that, whether or not one is or is just not, one and the others in relation to themselves and each other, all of them, in each method, are and aren’t, and look like and seem to not be.’ —’Most true.’ Is that this not probably the most succinct, minimal definition of dialectical materialism? If there isn’t any One, simply multiplicities of multiplicities, then the final word actuality is the Void itself; all determinate issues “are and aren’t.” (114-5)
Buddhism thus supplies a radical reply to the query “Why is there one thing and never nothing?”: there is solely Nothing, nothing “actually exists,” all “somethings,” all determinate entities, emerge solely from a subjective perspectival phantasm. Dialectical materialism right here goes a step additional: even Nothing doesn’t exist—if by “Nothing” we imply the primordial abyss during which all variations are obliterated. What, finally, “there’s” is simply absolutely the Distinction, the self-repelling Hole. (599)
[D]ialectical materialism begins with the axiom of de-centering: the intercourse organs concerned in copulation perform as “organs with out our bodies,” organs invested with libidinal depth that are skilled as minimally separated from the topics’ our bodies—it isn’t the topics themselves who copulate however their organs “on the market.” […] Because of this even (or exactly) in probably the most intense sexual exercise, the collaborating topic is lowered to the function of a helpless, passive observer of its personal exercise, to a gaze fascinated by what’s going down…
The true basis of dialectical materialism is just not the need of contingency, however the contingency of necessity. (1218)
[According to] dialectical materialism … there isn’t any “goal” actuality, each actuality is already transcendentally constituted. (1390-1)
[O]ne can’t assist noticing that, as to the optimistic content material of Hawking’s Concept of The whole lot, it bears an unmistakable resemblance to dialectical materialism, or is at the least totally suitable with an affordable model of dialectical materialism. (2820)

Thus, dialectical materialism, as construed by Žižek, is the thesis that: (i) nothing exists; (ii) nothing (or Nothing) doesn’t exist; (iii) normally, issues each exist and don’t exist; nonetheless, (iv) “absolute Distinction” (aka “the self-repelling Hole”) exists, whereas (v) goal actuality undoubtedly doesn’t exist. It additionally claims—in reality, it even “begins with” the thesis—that (vi) intercourse (which appears to exist) is a passive expertise for all sexual members (who additionally appear to exist—at the least whereas having intercourse). In the end, although, dialectical materialism’s “true basis” is the thesis that: (vi) necessity (an idea which, presumably, exists) is contingent (an idea which additionally apparently exists). Oh, and when you’re nonetheless not sure what the thesis of dialectical materialism is: (vii) Hawking’s (uncompleted, and therefore presumably solely semi-existing) Concept of The whole lot “unmistakably resembles” it. So there.

Nonetheless confused? I nonetheless was. So I turned to a barely newer (2015) ebook of Žižek’s, Absolute Recoil. This ebook’s subtitle is: “In the direction of a New Basis of Dialectical Materialism.

I used to be disenchanted after I found within the Introduction that the ebook “incorporates chapters in—not on—dialectical materialism: dialectical materialism is just not the ebook’s matter; it’s, reasonably, practiced inside these pages” (12)—this sounded barely hand-wavy to me. Nonetheless, I used to be hopeful that Žižek would offer the reader with at the least some specific definition that I might work with, to at the least give me some sort of deal with on what the hell Much less Than Nothing (and, by extensions, Absolute Recoil) was presupposed to be about.

Listed here are some related excerpts:

[D]ialectical materialism transposes again into nature not subjectivity as such however the very hole that separates subjectivity from goal actuality. (35)
[W]hat characterizes dialectical materialism is exactly that it incorporates the idealist legacy, in opposition to vulgar democratic materialism in all its guises, from scientist naturalism to the post-Deleuzian assertion of spiritualized “vibrant” matter. Dialectical materialism is, first, a materialism with out matter, with out the metaphysical notion of matter as a full substantial entity—in dialectical materialism, matter “disappears” in a set of purely formal relations. Second, regardless of being materialism with out matter, it isn’t idealism with out an thought—it’s a materialism with an Concept, an assertion of the everlasting Concept outdoors the house of idealism. (165-6)
For dialectical materialism … the topic is previous to the method of subjectivization: this course of fills within the void (the empty kind) that’s the pure topic. (183)
Dialectical materialism considers historic materialism as a selected ontology, a sort of metaphysica specialis of the social being, as the applying of the common legal guidelines of dialectics to the social sphere … (214-5)
[D]ialectical materialism doesn’t posit simply the unique multiplicity of being…. For dialectical materialism, one has to assume a Two previous to multiplicity… (598)
…[T]he place of dialectical materialism is that there isn’t any peace even within the Void. (932)

Gone are the obscure references to the likelihood—and, certainly, the reality—of simultaneous existence and (lower than) nonexistence, and of necessity being (essentially? continently?) contingent. Now, we’re advised that dialectical materialism: (i) claims that matter undoubtedly doesn’t exist, though at the least one Concept does exist; (ii) is dedicated to a selected metaphysical thesis relating to historic materialism; (iii) claims that “the method of subjectivization … fills the void of” of “the pure topic”; (iv) affirms that that the “hole” which “separates subjectivity from goal actuality” (a actuality which, we’re apparently now led to imagine, exists) is to be “transposed onto nature”; (v) that one has assume (of the quantity?) Two earlier than pondering of any sort of multiplicity; and (vi) peace can’t be discovered anyplace – not to mention within the (existent? nonexistent?) Void.

Is such virtually comedian obscurity intentional on Žižek’s half? It’s actually potential—although, apparently, Žižek himself denies that it’s: within the 2005 documentary Žižek!, Žižek unequivocally affirms that he’s “a complete Enlightenment individual. I consider in clear sentences and so forth.”

On the (doubtful) presumption of Žižek’s mental honesty, then, we’re apparently left with two choices: 

Žižek has expressed these concepts as shut to obviously as one probably can, however the concepts themselves are too difficult for many of us (besides, e.g., Žižek) to grasp;
Žižek has truthfully tried to specific these concepts as clearly as he can, however he has completed so in a suboptimal method (on account of, as an illustration, a poor writing model, lack of intelligence, and so forth.).

Although (1) is, after all, at all times a chance, I see little proof to counsel that solely Žižek, in addition to, maybe, a smattering of different Hegelian/Lacanian philosophers, are able to greedy such ostensibly advanced philosophical concepts—for the easy cause that, from what I can collect from the understandable a part of his writing, Žižek isn’t actually that good. 

To (additional) illustrate this level, take the ultimate chapter of Much less Than Nothing, which is—to place it evenly—a catastrophically embarrassing foray into the philosophy of quantum mechanics (a subject I’ve expertise instructing at college stage). Right here, Žižek fails to quote a single established modern thinker of quantum mechanics, as an alternative principally counting on in style science books by Brian Greene and Steven Hawking, in addition to a ebook on quantum mechanics by Karen Barad, a Professor of Feminist Research, Philosophy, and the Historical past of Consciousness on the College of California, Santa Cruz. 

On this chapter, Žižek finally ends up endorsing, with nearly no argumentation, a wildly controversial interpretation of the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics—which is, in itself, a particularly controversial place to undertake within the philosophy of quantum mechanics. (In line with Žižek, the Copenhagen Interpretation claims that “it’s the collapse of the quantum waves within the act of notion which fixes quantum oscillations right into a single goal actuality” [1392]—a place which, amongst different issues, he seems to be unaware was famously mocked by the good physicist John Bell: “Was the wavefunction of the world ready to leap for 1000’s of thousands and thousands of years till a single-celled dwelling creature appeared? Or did it have to attend just a little longer, for some higher certified system … with a Ph.D.?”) Žižek additionally makes quite a few essential technical errors all through the chapter (e.g., he confuses decoherence with wave-function collapse [1454]); and, in traditional Žižekian model, he goes wildly—and I imply wildly—off matter.

Listed here are just a few excerpts from the chapter—which, to repeat, is ostensibly about what Hegelian philosophy has to say on the philosophy of quantum mechanics:

Maybe aliens are already right here, however simply so massive or so small that we don’t even discover one another. (1390)
…[W]e ought to insist on (sexual) distinction itself as the first reality, because the unattainable Actual with regard to which each positions, “masculine” and “female,” seem as secondary, as two makes an attempt to resolve its impasse. (1434)
[I]t appears that the very prognosis of Hamlet as an obsessional neurotic factors on this route: in distinction to hysteria which is discovered all through all (at the least Western) historical past, obsessional neurosis is a distinctly fashionable phenomenon. (1460)
So, to conclude, allow us to recapitulate not solely this chapter, however the point of interest of the complete ebook, by taking as a place to begin Ray Brassier’s query: “How does thought assume the loss of life of pondering?’ (1463)
One has to oppose right here sexuality and animal intercourse (copulation): animal intercourse is just not “sexual” within the exact sense of human sexuality. (1473)

Sure, it actually is that this dangerous: additional Žižekian ruminations on intercourse—on this event, animal intercourse—are presupposed to illuminate the character and philosophical implications of the quantum world. This may after all be amusing—if it wasn’t additionally an mental travesty. 

I gained’t attempt to give an evaluation of the remainder of the ebook, a lot of which is nearly indistinguishable from what one will learn in essays produced by the varied postmodern essay turbines that one can discover on-line (e.g., “when Meillassoux asserts contingency as the one necessity, his mistake is to conceive this assertion in accordance with the masculine aspect of Lacan’s formulae of sexuation, that’s, in accordance with the logic of universality and its constitutive exception” [987]). So allow us to, as an alternative, take a step again, and ask ourselves the plain query: Why, regardless of his repetitiveness, his racism, his reactionary tendencies, his inconsistent beliefs, his full incapability to stay to a single matter, and his nearly self-evident charlatanism, does Žižek have such main enchantment amongst audiences in the present day? 


This query is, I believe, ill-posed. That’s, I don’t consider that Žižek is well known world wide regardless of the truth that he clearly possesses the entire damaging qualities enumerated above. Fairly, I believe, he’s celebrated largely exactly as a result of of them. 

Specifically, I believe that his “controversial” positions on refugees and Islam are virtually ideally suited to a up to date media tradition that thrives on outrage; I consider that his discursiveness is an ideal match for an age during which our consideration spans are rising ever shorter (thanks, partially, to our growing use of social media); and I believe that the (astoundingly) repetitive nature of his writing merely isn’t an issue, and will even be helpful, in a broader mental tradition during which individuals solely seldom learn books. As my pal the thinker James Williams has put it, in a lot in the identical method that Donald Trump was the right “clickbait candidate,” Žižek is the final word “a clickbait thinker”: ideally fitted to TV sound bites, he’ll give us our commodified “radicalism,” one insane, outrageously provocative quote at a time. 

That mentioned, I doubt that there’s any single cause why individuals like studying, watching, or listening to Žižek. Some, I believe, benefit from his common use of coarse or seedy jokes; some may like his frequent references to in style tradition; others, maybe, merely benefit from the total impact of his bodily look and mannerisms (his heavy accent, his lisp, his incessant tics, and his invariably matted look); and others, I believe, are merely hoodwinked (by the media, by their academics, by their associates, and even by Žižek himself) into pondering that what they’re studying or listening to is really profound thought—when, in reality, it’s something however. 

This, nonetheless, nonetheless leaves a number of puzzles unsolved. Why, as an illustration, does Penguin—probably the most prestigious publishing homes on the earth—proceed to to publish Žižek books, and to market them as misleadingly as they do? And the way is it that, as an illustration, Yanis Varoufakis—somebody whom I usually admire—felt comfy publicly describing Žižek’s final ebook, which consisted virtually completely of pervy nonsense, as “glorious.” How did this occur?

The brief reply is that I don’t know—in a lot the identical method that I don’t know why different charlatans (together with, by the way, Žižek’s hero, Jacques Lacan) all through historical past grew to become well-known, have been supplied exorbitant ebook contracts, and have been handled with awe and reverence by college students, teachers, and members of most people.

Nevertheless, what I can say with a good quantity of certainty is that the impact of Žižek’s fame is—and can possible proceed to be—considerably deleterious to the worldwide left. Proper-wingers are inclined to mock him, and enchantment to him as a textbook instance of a moronic leftist Marxist mental (and never with out some justification). On the similar time, many progressivists, having been repeatedly knowledgeable (albeit typically solely implicitly) by the media class that that is what a leftist mental is like, will possible be tempted by the false dilemma of: (i) attempting to defend him within the title of “progressivism”—a doomed, and even harmful enterprise; or, even worse, (ii) rejecting him and, consequently, rejecting their progressive politics or instincts.

In the end, what we on the left ought to do is what Žižek himself is simply not often able to doing: train our vital colleges, and specifically discover a false dilemma after we see one. Extra particularly, the left ought to, for my part, denounce—and, ideally, surrender—Žižek because the fraudulent clown that he’s, and overtly and explicitly name him out as a parody of progressivism, a shame to academia, and the embodiment of a corrupted media system and deeply impoverished mental panorama. 

It’s a truism that in the present day the left—and, certainly, wider human society—faces many necessary challenges, together with addressing and limiting the long run (and current) influence of local weather change and consequent biodiversity loss, eliminating the ever-present (and rising) risk of nuclear struggle, and combating quite a few types of world inequality. The world doesn’t have to—and, arguably, can’t actually afford—to supply Slavoj Žižek with a platform from which he can aimlessly hold forth about shits and farts, about pedophilic Muslims, and existent-cum-nonexistent somethings/nothings. We are able to do higher.

If you happen to recognize our work, please contemplate making a donation, buying a subscription, or supporting our podcast on Patreon. Present Affairs is just not for revenue and carries no outdoors promoting. We’re an unbiased media establishment funded completely by subscribers and small donors, and we rely on you with a view to proceed to supply high-quality work.

APPENDIX I: Argument Formalization

Under is my proposed formalization of the Žižek passage quoted at first of this essay. Please ship some other/higher formalisations to: [email protected].

P1 Nothing basically exists.

P2 Issues emerge from this non-existent Nothing.

P3 Quantum mechanics, i.e., thesis that the world is a positively charged subject, is true.

P4 The universe exists by mistake. [By P1, P2, and P3.]

P5 The universe current by mistake is a cosmic disaster.

P6 If the universe’s existence is a cosmic disaster, we should always attempt to counteract this disaster.

P7 The one option to counteract the universe’s being a cosmic disaster is to like different individuals.

P8 We must always love different individuals. [By P4, P5, P6, and P7]

P9 It’s unattainable to like everybody.

P10 Ought implies can. [Suppressed premise.]

P11 We must always love a subset of everybody (or every part) who (that) exists.

P12 To not love everybody (or every part) is evil.

Conclusion Love is evil. [By P9, P10, P11, and P12]

Corollary We must always do one thing evil.

This formalization, although roughly correct, ignores Žižek’s numerous remarks about “(cosmic) imbalances.” I’ve chosen to do that as a result of I’ve interpreted these remarks as merely making analogies between completely different features of the argument, reasonably than as a part of the formal argument per se.

The argument, because it stands, is clearly invalid: specifically, P1, P2, and P3 don’t by themselves entail P4. Such an issue might after all be simply be remedied by supplementing the argument with the extra premise that P1, P2, and P3 entail P4. Nevertheless, this may in flip improve the already important issues with the reality of the argument’s premises, all of which —with the potential exception of P8—could legitimately be questioned, and a few of which (e.g., P3) are farcical. (Additionally, relating to P12: Is liking stuff additionally evil?)

APPENDIX II: Most Preposterous Žižek quote

Selecting this was terribly tough. Initially, I used to be tempted to go for my all-time favorite Žižekian world salad, which I got here throughout in Bother in Paradise:

[T]he negation of the Proper provides us the (established) Left, however the negation of the Left doesn’t give us the Proper once more, however reasonably a non-Left which is of the Left greater than the (established) Left itself. (TP, 126).

Nevertheless, this was shortly outmoded by one other, much more unintentionally amusing quote in the identical ebook, during which Žižek pontificates over the virtues of onanism in comparison with regular sexual activity:

A immediately pleasurable factor might be rhythmic squeezing of oneself, masturbation perhaps, and undoubtedly not the advanced effort of a full act of copulation which, once more, needs to be discovered. (TP, 136-7)

Nevertheless, the final word winner was determined after I started watching Žižek’s movies on YouTube, and got here throughout a really outstanding interview during which, for some cause, Žižek feels the necessity to clarify the which means of (male) homosexuality to his interviewer, Cathy Newman:

If I’m homosexual, I’m a person who needs to do it with a person.

The quote, although undoubtedly amusing by itself phrases, for my part turns into the outright winner when one additionally takes into consideration (as, maybe, one shouldn’t) Newman’s bone-dry response:

Yeah. I perceive that. I imply, there are bits of your ebook that I discovered arduous to understand however that … that’s clear.

Be at liberty to ship your individual favourite quotes to [email protected]

APPENDIX III: Write like Žižek

Use at the least certainly one of—and ideally multiple of—the next phrases: obscene, obscenity, perverse, perversion, ambiguous, ambiguity, paradox, paradoxically, intercourse, sexuation, ideology, ideologically, (self-)negation.
Use at the least one—and ideally multiple—“emphasizing” phrase akin to: exactly, completely, undoubtedly, definitively, radically, totally, basically.
Discuss with—and, ideally, permit the sentence to be interpreted as a critique of—capitalism, political correctness, “liberal” (aka insufficiently radical) leftists, or minorities (particularly Muslim immigrants).
Discuss with certainly one of—and ideally seek advice from multiple of—the next philosophers: Hegel, Lacan, Marx, Freud, Badiou, and/or one of many following historic figures: Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Lenin.
Make use of at the least one—and ideally multiple—“technical” Hegelian/Lacanian/Badiouan/psychoanalytic idea: the Actual, the Absolute, the Occasion, the Nothing, the Void, the non-All, the article petit a, the Transcendental, the superego.

Listed here are three examples:

However is just not the obscene ambiguity of capitalism exactly an Occasion in Badiou’s sense—that’s, a paradoxical (self-)negation of the Actual?
Right here we should completely reject the implied distinction between the ideology of Stalinism and its leftist liberal perversion; reasonably, we should totally embrace the inherent paradoxicality of the Hegelian Absolute
Lacan’s idea of sexuation definitively presents a solution: the Nothing as embraced by Muslim immigrants is basically obscene in additional than a purely ideological sense—it’s transcendentally constituted; it’s radically sexualised.

Once more, please be at liberty to ship your individual finest efforts – or your individual various Žižekian writing formulae – to [email protected]

Related posts

Leave a Comment