On Zizek’s plagiarism

A former student wrote to ask what I thought of the recent evidence of plagiarism in an essay by Zizek. I replied that Zizek’s own explanation of the incident, which can be found here among many other places, struck me as plausible — indeed, I’d add now that it isn’t hugely different from what traditional academics might ask a research assistant to do for them.

Overall, I’d call this unintentional plagiarism due to laziness, rather than actually trying to pass off someone else’s ideas as his own. If he turned in the essay for my class, I’d give him the chance to rewrite.

4 thoughts on “On Zizek’s plagiarism

  1. I agree. If you think about the many works he’s published over the years (65+ not counting papers, etc.), I’m sure you’re absolutely right. Like many he probably does use the help of students, etc. to add in details etc. and then peruses the information and does his own rewrites as needed. As big of a reader as he is I’m sure there are things such as this that came by way of a friend that just passed right on by him, especially as it tended as he says to disqualify the argument rather than support it.

    anyway, thanks for your kind input in regards to his work… I admire you’re writings and thoughts here on the blog…

  2. I agree that what Zizek says happened is probably what did happen, but I don’t think I understand the analogy to student writing. If a student handed in a paper and you discovered that a page or two had been lifted verbatim from a book review published online, and when you confront him with it he explains that he had a friend write that part of the paper because, well, he didn’t have time to read the book it is about (and it looks like his friend didn’t have time to write the passage either), you would give him a rewrite?

    It’s probably true that many established academics don’t write all the actual prose in their books, but I do think it remains the implicit norm. That is, you can’t defend yourself against criticism by saying, “Oh, but I didn’t write that part of the book.” And Zizek may not have passed off something you would dignify as an “idea” as his own, but he has surely passed off Hornbeck’s work of summarizing MacDonald’s work.

    The fact that he disagrees with MacDonald does not make it better, but worse. Zizek is dismissing an author that he implicitly (and in fact explicitly) claims to have read. In his explanation of the plagiarism he is forced to admit that he hasn’t read MacDonald’s book at all. So this isn’t just stealing Hornbeck’s reading of MacDonald. It’s failing to observe a minimal standard of intellectual decency.

  3. I think, in addition to Thomas’ useful clarification above, were Zizek a student, his past academic behavior would be relevant. His explanation of his plagiarism resembles in my opinion his recent misattribution of racist quotes to Noam Chomsky: when called on the error, his first response was bizarre. I’m summarizing from memory, but it was basically: “yeah, Noam didn’t say it, but I wasn’t wrong anyway.” His carelessness with facts, quotations, and other people’s lives and works, does not speak highly of him. Were I an academic dean, he’d be on probation at the least.

    Moreover, when do we compare the requirements of a highly respected and voluminously published scholar with the requirements of an undergraduate? Certainly Zizek should be held to a higher standard than the 18-21 year olds I teach?

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