On being over halfway through Less Than Nothing

I’ve been reading Less Than Nothing on and off for at least six months at this point. When people ask me about it, I always say, “Whenever I’m reading it, I think it’s probably the best thing he’s ever written, but once I put it down, I have no motivation to pick it back up again.” The reason for this stems precisely from the book’s greatest merit — it really is a comprehensive synthesis of Zizek’s thought. The problem is that I’ve already done my own synthesis, so few of the big conclusions are “news” to me.

What is most appealling about the book is its wealth of detail. It is much more rigorous and textually supported than almost anything else he’s written — we don’t just get basic concepts from Hegel and Lacan, we get actual citations, and citations that range over the whole of their work. In the Hegel section, that is paired with an ongoing dialogue with contemporary scholarship. Perhaps more importantly, though, he is constantly getting clearer and clearer on what he wants from Hegel and Lacan and what is to be gained from their synthesis.

There is a sense in which all of his previous work was a preparatory exercise for this book, but I wonder what this book is itself preparing for. I’ve said before (in a post that shows that I’ve been reading the book for over six months, actually!) that in retrospect, The Parallax View seems to be a premature attempt at systematizing in his own name, but Less Than Nothing clearly isn’t that system — or at least it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near on pace to become that. We shall see! For now, consolidating and deepening an intellectual project that has spanned two decades seems to be a big enough achievement.

A final note: a friend of mine expressed skepticism that Zizek could actually do all the work implied by this book while still publishing at such a rapid clip, etc. I wonder if we might conceptualize his more political or popular writing as his equivalent to blogging — keeping himself in the public eye so that people won’t have forgotten about him by the time the big book comes out. Of course, that kind of activity is always a bit of a “dangerous supplement,” as the blogging-like writing is obviously of lower quality and may hurt his reputation qualitatively even as it extends its quantitative reach. I’ve seen that happen with my own blogging persona, as when people have assumed, in ignorance of my actual published work, that my attitude toward Radical Orthodoxy is sheerly one of snide dismissal. The more people you reach with your blog, the more people know you and judge you solely for the blog.

Of course, Zizek’s “blogging” actually makes him a lot of money, I’d imagine, so presumably it’s worth it. My rationale is much less clear.

6 thoughts on “On being over halfway through Less Than Nothing

  1. Good observation and I agree. Another thing I noticed is that the digressions actually go somewhere and you don’t get the sort of tattered connections that a lot of his other work has. I personally think the best section is the one on Badiou towards the end. In this section I think he presents some of the most bona fide critiques of Badiou but in a really constructive way. For example he introduces anxiety as that which universalizes the event and other addendum’s to Badiou’s formulas. The whole death drive and human animal debate is also awesome.

    It’s unfortunate that Badiou himself only footnotes Zizek in his own work. I want to encourage him to tackle Zizek’s responses to his work more seriously. Although rumor has it that Badiou is writing a book on psychoanalysis right now.

  2. I’ve always felt like his critique of Badiou is much stronger and more serious than people give it credit for — there’s still a tendency to view Zizek as a follower of Badiou, but however much he admires Badiou, his critique of Badiou’s lack of negativity seems like an uncrossable divide.

  3. Would this make Less than Nothing a good place to start for someone who’s never read Žižek before? (Aside from chance snippets; articles, interviews, etc.) I realize it’s massive, but if it provides a “comprehensive synthesis” of his previous work, as well as the serious rigour and detail you mention, then it might possibly do nicely as a kind of introductory volume, a jumping-off point to the rest of his oevure?

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