Slavoj Zizek needs to stop writing political columns. He is not good at it. Some readers are still making heroic efforts to construe his political columns positively, but if you need a supporter to write a 2000+ word defense of your pithy political intervention — indeed, if most readers construe it as meaning the opposite of what is intended — then you are doing it wrong.
Those heroic defenses — a genre to which I have contributed in the recent past — generally ask that the reader situate Zizek’s political column or interview or whatever within his vast theoretical apparatus, which has been growing at a rate of at least 500 pages per year for the last couple decades. Demanding hundreds of hours of labor from your reader before you can extract a worthwhile point out of an opinion column is not how political interventions are supposed to work. If your point requires a certain theoretical context in order to make sense, then you should not publish your point without that context.
Leaving aside the question of whether Zizek’s opinions about the refugee crisis or whatever else are “correct,” we must also pay attention to the form of his interventions. How do they function politically, concretely speaking? Let’s look at their real-world effect rather than fantasizing about what it would be like if the powers that be somehow implemented his program or he were dictator. I don’t know how we can conclude that they are anything but an utter failure. They do not prompt discussion of the actual issues at hand, but instead turn all attention to how we are to assess Slavoj Zizek the individual — is he a Eurocentric Islamophobic racist? And even if we grant that he’s not, the very fact that the question is coming up constantly indicates that there is a failure of presentation.
Yet it appears that he takes every such accusation as an occasion to dig in his heels further on his stupid South Park-style contrarian “provocations.” So we’re dealing with political interventions that utterly fail to get their point across and instead prompt an increasingly negative referendum on Zizek — apparently causing a feedback loop where he insists all the more on his ineffective presentation (again, construing his intentions as charitably as possible).
The only way to stop this vicious cycle is to stop. He needs to stop writing these opinion columns, and his friends need to stop writing apologetics and start writing him e-mails begging him to just stop, before he completely destroys his reputation and legacy.
7 thoughts on “Would not the most radical political intervention for Zizek be precisely to STOP?!”
Elaborating a bit more on the failure of presentation: presumably his defense is that politically correct pseudo-leftists are always going to misconstrue him, and so on and so on. But one of his constant points is that right-wing racists exist and therefore need to be taken into account and dealt with. Why does this same point not apply to the scourge of the politically correct left? Why can’t he practice what he preaches and actually take his potentially sympathetic audience into account in his presentation?
I don’t know how welcome my interventions actually are here, but:
“His vast theoretical apparatus, which has been growing at a rate of at least 500 pages per year for the last couple decades”, to my mind this illustrates a general problem especially with Continental philosophy, but throughout academia. This milieu requires 1.) early publication and 2.) continued productivity. But how many good books can a philosopher have in him? Sarte’s Flaubert, for example — what a horrible monstrosity. (Even his Baudelaire was unreadable for someone more interested in Baudelaire than in Sartre).
I will always admire Wittgenstein for publishing only two books, both of which finally said what he wanted to say the way he wanted to say it. But Wittgenstein was an heir, not a meritocrat. He was born so rich that he could give away his inheritance without ever having to worry about poverty, since he’d always have someone to borrow from.
This all meshes with my belief that leftism and academia are just two of the forms that the success aimed for by the ambitious can take, and that reverting to the ordinary / nobody status is what terrifies everyone, and is what would happen to Zizek if he shut up for 10 years. (“Oh, yes……him”. I think I remember him).
All writing is subject to misinterpretation, but there are degrees.
Most of his attackers and defenders, especially online, haven’t read his recent short political intervention, Against the Double Blackmail. Those that have read the book don’t contribute to the either side of the recent effort to politically bury Žižek. And you mention long texts of support being written in absurd length, yet forget to mention the countless attacks because of which such pathetic attempts at support exist in the first place. Žižek has done his work, and he doesn’t need a theologian friend to instruct him how to do his job at the age of 66.
If it required a whole book to make his case convincingly, then why did he publish potentially misleading fragments ahead of time? I think even a dumb theologian can see the problem here.
“I will always admire Wittgenstein for publishing only two books, both of which finally said what he wanted to say the way he wanted to say it.”
Wittgenstein only published one book while he was alive; the Investigations was still a (complete, polished) manuscript when he died. And the one book he did publish he was only able to publish after he got Russell to agree to write an introduction for it.
A little tangential now, but Daniel: the Philosophical Investigations was neither complete nor polished, Wittgenstein qualifies in the Preface that it is not the book that he had wanted to write, but that he does not have the time to write that book. He was never happy with the way in which he ordered his aphorisms (he initially wrote them all down and then arranged and re-arranged them).
As for the post itself, I entirely agreed. Zizek is not very politically astute.
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