Over at Crooked Timber, I think it’s reasonable to say that I violated my rule against debating with Holbo about Zizek, though most of the debate was in fact about the past debate, etc. It’s embarrassing, but I thought I might as well do a follow-up post in which I make things up to the world by saying something substantive.
First, I am glad to find that Zizek was misquoted in an interview in which he is supposed to have said some really incomprehensible stuff about Gandhi. If you read that interview and were puzzled, there you have it — and apparently the paper in which it appeared is not well-reputed.
Second, I think that the whole long-running debate touches on an old comment thread where we discussed Jameson’s claim that interpretations should be judged by how “interesting” they are. Holbo has read Zizek in such a way that he’s basically saying things (often quite stupid things) at random. I will concede that such a reading can sadly have a certain plausibility, especially in particular books, and that once you’ve accepted that hermeneutical lens, even his better books can become fodder for that.
Once you’re in that framework, it’s hard to be convinced otherwise — perhaps even impossible. I complain that he dismissed my attempts to persuade him, but that dismissal was probably inevitable given that his reaction to Zizek was apparently a combination of frustration and morbid fascination. So I would venture to say that at the end of the day, the biggest point in favor of my reading of Zizek, both on the specific point we were debating and in general, is that it’s interesting and it makes Zizek more interesting.
A reading of Zizek that makes him uninteresting could itself be interesting in terms of broader trends in academia that have allowed such a charlatan to gain such fame, etc., but I stand by my conviction that it’s more interesting to assume Zizek is interesting and then find interesting things in Zizek’s text — including interesting patterns underlying his seemingly random organization. That such a reading is possible is demonstrated by the very fact that I have done it, and in fact I have an article coming out soon where I try to show that my reading is robust enough that Zizek’s more recent work can be read in light of it in ways that continue to be interesting.
Overall, then, perhaps my long-standing emphasis on the necessity of a charitable first reading was misplaced, especially since it led to all kinds of blind alleys about how supposedly I was saying people have to “agree” with Zizek. I don’t “agree” with Zizek on a lot of points — in fact, a lot of his work is on topics that are so far from my core concerns that it doesn’t even make sense to talk in terms of “agreement.” I do find him interesting on most points, though, and I think a discussion that presupposes he’s interesting is bound to be more interesting than one that presupposes he doesn’t. I think that Holbo and I have certainly worked very hard to demonstrate the converse, at least, namely that a conversation starting from the premise that Zizek is uninteresting is very, very uninteresting.