For decades, Zizek has been expressing his disdain for teaching. Now, for whatever reason, people are choosing to get worked up about it on Twitter. What’s striking to me is not merely the fact that Zizek’s views on this matter were already well-known — rather, it’s abundantly obvious that his claims are only slight exaggerations of widespread attitudes in academia.
I’m sure all of us have stories of colleagues basically slandering their students, and there is no more common complaint in the academic world than about the tedium of grading. I would venture to say that much of the resentment of Zizek’s attitudes stems from an unacknowledged desire to do exactly the things they’re castigating Zizek for. Wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to tell the students what I really think of them? Wouldn’t it be great not to have to deal with their crappy writing? Wouldn’t it be amazing to finally take the university at its word, valuing research absolutely and exclusively while making at best a token gesture toward teaching?
Indeed, it was disdain for teaching that made it so tempting to outsource pedagogical labor to grad students and underpaid adjuncts so that real professors could have the space to do real academic work. Zizek’s opinions aren’t some crazy outlier, they’re the structuring principles of our system of academic labor.
I’ve seen a couple theories on Twitter that Zizek is attempting to subvert the teaching profession from within, but if so, he’s remarkably dedicated to the bit — by all reports, he really does neglect his students totally. We don’t need to posit some kind of conscious intention on his part to use his approach as a starting point for reflection, though. It does seem as though most universities do not highly value teaching. They show this through their standards for advancement and through their staffing practices, which treat the majority of teaching faculty as totally disposable. They rely on people’s passion and/or guilt to generate acceptable pedagogical results. Zizek is in a unique position as an academic who can walk away from any faculty position and be totally fine, and that enables him to take the “offer meant to be refused” and treat teaching as a pointless formality compared to his real work. In other words, as ethically objectionable as we might find Zizek’s pedagogical practices, the real problem is the system that makes his approach plausible.
5 thoughts on “Zizek’s pedagogy: Or, The id of the academic mainstream”
Blaming the system is a cop-out. If the system rewards jerks, that’s no reason to be one. I might also be a jerk. I’m lucky. I have a good job, and I happen to like teaching. And I like my students, at least most of them. I think the current of anger right now may have more than a little to do with inequality. The humanities are dying, and there are tons of newly minted PhD’s who take scholarship and teaching seriously and will never get jobs, unlike certain celebrity-professors who make gobs of money and couldn’t give a crap. Maybe Slavoj should check his privilege?
Or maybe Zizek never conceived of himself as a ‘teacher’ but still must jump through the requisite hoops. This is a guy who was basically left alone for many years to dedicate himself to independent study. He is a highly-productive hermit, not a born essay grader. It isn’t Zizek’s fault that he managed to write a bunch of books that made him into a rockstar academic and that you decided to join an academy already overstuffed with highly qualified, highly deserving and highly intelligent individuals competing over too few jobs.
“When I really love someone, I can only show it by making aggressive and bad-taste remarks.”
Perhaps it’s a mistake to view his comments as emanating from a transgressive position, and he’s merely doing his students the courtesy of not being courteous. If he was less “celebrated” academic it would be otherwise.
Some fascinating parallels in the latest issue of JAAR of the contrast between J.Z. Smith’s ideal pedagogy in his new “On Teaching Religion” and his actual (terrible) pedagogy in practice: http://jaar.oxfordjournals.org/content/82/2/531.full
My experience of other teachers is that they really did not try very hard to teach their students what was important. They considered their students as unworthy. I will agree that students play the game of disrespect behind their teachers back, or to their face and otherwise, but as professionals, teachers are not supposed to take this immaturity seriously. Students are grievously guilty of not studying but aren’t they really imitating their parents? Most teachers however play the game of getting even with students by simply not telling them what they need to know, not simply by how they grade. This makes students unable to get into college because they do not have the reading comprehension or general knowledge to pass the admissions tests or to get accepted in the admission process. But, even though teachers get the “”last laugh”” on the students, the teachers also villify and despise teachers who actually do try to really teach their students. This puts the most committed teachers in the difficult position of having to fend off uncooperative students, arrogant administrators, and belligerent teachers all of whom give excellent lip service!
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