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Postmodernists

Zizek and ‘intellectual suicide’

Readers who have had nothing better to do on a late Saturday morning than to read my literary journalism over the years might have noticed that there is a possible tension in what passes for my “thought”: evincing on the one hand a kind of Anglo-empiricism, I nonetheless have a soft spot for the works of such writers as Derrida, Baudrillard and Zizek, all of whom are anathema to the Anglophone analytic tradition. Why is this?, almost none of you ask. Well, there was my encounter at an impressionable age, while trying to figure out what one could possibly say about Nietzsche, with Derrida’s Éperons (that’s what you can say about Nietzsche; or rather, at least, that’s how you can say it); there was my personal encounter with Baudrillard, a man as generous and playful as his books; and there was my enjoyment, often baffled but nonetheless sincere, of Zizek’s writings. But perhaps the common factor was this: I was not at all sure that I was as clever as any of these men,1 and so even when I was troubled by seeming opacity or nonsense,2 I reckoned that I had better tread carefully.3

Luckily, the opinion journalist Johann Hari does not suffer from such uncertainty, and has taken it upon himself to denounce Slavoj Zizek in an article for the New Statesman, on the occasion of the British release of the documentary film, Zizek!.4 In doing so, he furnishes a useful example of the word “postmodernist” as it is almost always used nowadays, as a kneejerk insult from reactionary anti-intellectuals.

Three times, the opinion journalist Johann Hari refers vaguely to a group or cabal called “postmodernists”, none actually worth bothering to name, who apparently all love Zizek; and he accuses Zizek himself twice of partaking in “postmodernism”. Does it matter that Zizek himself has repeatedly explicitly denounced what he understands to be “postmodernism”? Does it even matter that what is often taken to be the manifesto of these continental clowns, Jean-François Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition (1979), is at least as much a lament for as a celebration of what it describes? Indeed, is not the term “postmodern” and its cognates these days rather like the phrase “politically correct”5, existing purely as a handy boo-term for idiots?6

I only ask, since the opinion journalist Johann Hari shows no sign of actually having read any of Zizek’s books. Instead he deploys very careful language: “When you first look through the more than 50 books he has written…” (well, at least he looked through them, or, let’s be realistic, some of them); or “as you pore through Zizek’s words” (“pore over” is the more common usage, but our intrepid critic seems to be fixated on “through”: he has to get through this shit somehow or other). Here is the opinion journalist Johann Hari’s considered judgment on Zizek’s oeuvre, so far as he has managed to look or pore through it:

It seems he seeks to splice Karl Marx with the notoriously incomprehensible French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, slathering on top an infinite number of pop-cultural references.

An infinite number? Sokal and Bricmont must be spinning in their as-yet-uninhabited graves. Nonetheless, the opinion journalist Johann Hari finds it within himself to accuse Zizek, in his film performance, of “intellectual suicide”. In another world, it might be considered intellectual suicide to denounce a writer with whose works one has only a hurried and superficial acquaintance, and to throw around the term “postmodernist” as a cheap schoolboy jibe. But, readers, we don’t live in that other world, do we?7

  1. Update 0: It’s funny how this bit – notice I did not say “I was sure they were cleverer than me”; just I was not sure that they weren’t, this on the basis of such brilliant books as The System of Objects or The Work of Mourning, which by the way aren’t opaque at all – has enraged the defenders of reason etc., who presumably are all sure that they are just as if not more clever than the men whose books they cannot be bothered to read. By what criterion they arrive at this judgment is an interesting question.
  2. Update 1: “Even when…” ie the judgment that the writers were clever was not based specifically on the passages of seeming opacity or nonsense, which would indeed be as silly as Ophelia Benson takes it to be. Update to the update: though this hasn’t stopped the hard-of-reading David Thompson from summarizing this post as “Steven Poole mistakes opacity for cleverness, calls people who disagree ‘reactionary anti-intellectuals.’” It’s funny how none of the critics of this post have responded to the point about the lazy use of the term “postmodernism”, perhaps because they all indulge in it themselves.
  3. Update 2: “Tread carefully” is not meant as a synonym for “blindly worship their phatic asses”, but rather something like “expend a little more effort trying to understand what they might be getting at rather than dismissing them impatiently as wilful obscurantists, as the telepathic Ophelia Benson does”. I hope that helps.
  4. Late update: unfortunately, his account of what is actually in the film is rather unreliable.
  5. About which I may one day write a lengthy post.
  6. Update 4: as I write here, it was wrong of me to suggest that Hari is an “idiot” and an “anti-intellectual” in general. It seems that it is mainly in the face of what he perceives as a homogeneous postmodernism that he has the habit of writing idiotic and anti-intellectual things, viz. this, and also his previous articles about Derrida, Baudrillard, etc. Also see this post by Antigram.
  7. Update 5: The sequel offers some insight into another anti-”postmodernist”‘s standards of evidence and argument.
106 comments
  1. 1  Niko  May 1, 2007, 2:11 am 

    I hardly think Johann Hari can be called a “reactionary anti-intellectual”… Have you read much of his work?

  2. 2  Niko  May 1, 2007, 2:17 am 

    I also only knew about this post because of a link from hari’s website… which you have to give him some sort of credit for.

  3. 3  Niko  May 1, 2007, 2:26 am 

    Also (I promise this is my last post, I should have grouped these together!) I think Hari is rightly pretty damning of Zizek.

    In what possible context is it ok to say these things (as Zizek has):

    “You know, the democrats in 1925 accused Mussolini: ‘You want to rule Italy, but you don’t have any programme.’ You know what was his answer? ‘We do have a programme: our programme is to rule Italy at any price. I love Mussolini.”

    “Walking to his theatre in July 1956, Brecht passed a column of Soviet tanks rolling towards the Stalinallee to crush the workers’ rebellion. He waved at them and later that day wrote in his diary that, at that moment, he was for the first time in his life tempted to join the Comminist party.” Zizek calls this “an exemplary case of the passion of the real. It wasn’t that Brecht supported the military action, but that he perceived and endorsed the violence as a sign of authenticity.”

    “Today the enemy is not called Empire or Capital. It’s called Democracy.”

    After talking such shit, and praising Lenin, Stalin and Mao, it’s hard to know how you can come back from it and be a decent thinker.

    Also, as to Hari being an idiot, he did get a double first at Cambridge in philosophy. Disagree with him by all means, by I don’t think you can call him a thicko.

  4. 4  Leinad  May 1, 2007, 2:59 am 

    “You know, the democrats in 1925 accused Mussolini: ‘You want to rule Italy, but you don’t have any programme.’ You know what was his answer? ‘We do have a programme: our programme is to rule Italy at any price. I love Mussolini.”

    This is obviously wryly ironic.

    “Walking to his theatre in July 1956, Brecht passed a column of Soviet tanks rolling towards the Stalinallee to crush the workers’ rebellion. He waved at them and later that day wrote in his diary that, at that moment, he was for the first time in his life tempted to join the Comminist party.” Zizek calls this “an exemplary case of the passion of the real. It wasn’t that Brecht supported the military action, but that he perceived and endorsed the violence as a sign of authenticity.”

    And this interpretation of Brecht’s attitude is an endorsement? How?

    “Today the enemy is not called Empire or Capital. It’s called Democracy.”

    ‘Democracy’ capital D, doesn’t have much to do with democracy.

    “After talking such shit, and praising Lenin, Stalin and Mao, it’s hard to know how you can come back from it and be a decent thinker.”

    Oh wait. You’re a thicko.

    Never mind.

  5. 5  Richard  May 1, 2007, 6:07 am 

    “he seeks to splice Karl Marx with the notoriously incomprehensible French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan”

    as far as I can tell, this part is largely true (mathematically challenged postscript notwithstanding) – but it also describes much continental theory and about half of all current US anthropology, no? What’s specific about Zizek, here?

    But I have to complain, Steven – you left out the best bit:
    “Behind Zizek’s comedy routines, he believes we need to return to Bolshevism. He is not offering warm, fuzzy Lennonism; this is cold, bloody Leninism.”

    A red scare? Now? Should he take on Hobsbawm next? Perhaps if Zizek were citing John Lennon among his (let’s say ‘numerous’) pop-culture references it would be OK?

  6. 6  Adam Kotsko  May 1, 2007, 6:13 am 

    Zizek’s books really do have an infinite number of pop-cultural references. They have an infinite number of infinitely thin pages, each covered with infinitessimally small type. It’s unreasonable to ask a journalist to read even one. Indeed, there are whole teams of scientists devoted to the question of how Zizek, by all evidence a finite human being, managed to write not just one, but fifty such books. When one ponders that there are also things in his books other than the infinite number of pop-cultural references, the human mind is humbled and awed before what it cannot understand.

  7. 7  Leinad  May 1, 2007, 7:22 am 

    For fans of Zizek, absurdity:

    http://www.poetv.com/video.php?vid=14200

  8. 8  Thom  May 1, 2007, 10:07 am 

    Johann Hari is very hit and miss, and he’s not always very thorough in terms of looking at more than one source before writing.

    Maybe Godwin’s Law could be extended to include ‘postmodernist’ and ‘politically correct’.

  9. 9  abb1  May 1, 2007, 10:43 am 

    “Behind Zizek’s comedy routines, he believes we need to return to Bolshevism. He is not offering warm, fuzzy Lennonism; this is cold, bloody Leninism.”

    Actually, from what (little) I’ve read nothing there sounded like “we need to”. The guy’s analyzing various phenomena, he’s clever and funny, and I don’t remember him offering any solutions whatsoever.

  10. 10  Niko  May 1, 2007, 12:30 pm 

    But abb1, he does offer solutions. Asked what he believes in, he says “I am absolutely in favour of egalitarianism with a taste of terror.”

    He explicitly calls for a return to Leninism throughout his work.

    Leniad, are you saying every positive political comment Zizek has made is ironic? Every comment attacking human rights and praising Leninism? Zizek himself explictly denies that: “obviously there is something in it, that it’s not simply a joke.”

    Richard, is it “red-baiting” to condemn people who praises Lenin, Mao and Stalin? Is there nothing wrong with praising people who killed 100 million people?

    Stephen, in terms of Hari being “reactionary”, I’d be interested if you could look at these articles, a pretty random selection. I think you’ll find it very hard to maintain that judgement:

    http://johannhari.com/archive/article.php?id=863
    http://www.johannhari.com/arch.....hp?id=1103
    http://www.johannhari.com/arch.....php?id=612
    http://www.johannhari.com/arch.....php?id=914

  11. 11  Niko  May 1, 2007, 12:36 pm 

    Also Hari agrees with you on PC. From an old Indie column:

    “Michael Howard likes the charge of “political correctness” so much he has decided to use it as a spear in the general election campaign. This summer, he laid out his approach in a remarkable speech. He said PC was “driving people crazy” and “playing into the hands of extremists”. Yet the only evidence for this “cancer” that Howard and his army of full-time researchers could come up with was a handful of trivial anecdotes. You know the drill: a council refusing to hang the St George’s flag during a football match, a few prisoners allowed to claim a “right” to hard-core porn, and so on.

    Why the lack of examples with real victims? Easy: because the stories always trotted out as evidence of the excesses of PC – the banning of “Baa-Baa Black Sheep” and so on – turn out to be urban myths. Far from being a “left-wing tyranny” and “a thought-crime”, political correctness exists far more in the wild imaginations of the right than in everyday life. When PC does impinge on our daily lives – as in the Government’s new police proposals – there is a very good reason for it.

    But for all the intellectual emptiness of his speech, Howard got the headlines he wanted – “Tory boss savages PC”. “Political correctness” has become a generic term used by the right to slap down the extension of equality to minority groups without seeming like monsters. Few people will openly admit they believe it’s acceptable for the police to bully black men, or for gay people to be denied equal rights, or for grossly abusive terms to be used about the disabled or women. Instead, they simply sneer at everybody who actually wants to end these abuses.

    How do these people imagine words like “nigger”, “faggot” and “kike” faded from public discourse? We hardly ever hear them now for one reason: earlier generations of politically correct people fought against them. Minorities – supported by, yes, decent left-wingers – made it clear that they were unacceptable.”

  12. 12  Alex Higgins  May 1, 2007, 1:15 pm 

    I feel compelled to comment on this, though with the declaration of interest that Johann is a friend of mine and we suffered through the film “Zizek!” together on a Sunday evening in his flat.

    Johann’s impatience with Zizek is not that of a reactionary, but that of a progressive.

    He has read some Zizek, I don’t how much, but I was there when he was reading some of it. And I agreed with him on a piece he discussed that there is only a certain number of times that I can read someone nonchalantly quoting Mao Tse-Tung for his insight without losing patience.

    Johann was mistaken in describing Zizek as a postmodernist – I think – though Zizek’s criticism of postmodernism might be put in the context of his criticism of Lacan’s intellectual bluffing and verbal obfuscation.

    I’m not in a position to say much about Zizek, having not yet completed a book by him (though to be fair, I’m also unconvinced that I will have gained much by the time I do).

    When I watched Zizek, though, I was struck by his own confession of charlatanry, and I think that was relevant.

    Praise for Mussolini and Stalin may well be ironic, and I’m a big fan of black humour and even provocation for its own sake, but the joke wears off after the first few times.

    “But perhaps the common factor was this: I was not at all sure that I was as clever as any of these men, and so even when I was troubled by seeming opacity or nonsense, I reckoned that I had better tread carefully.”

    This, by the way, is one of my objections to Zizek and many of the best post-modernists.

    The best intellectuals in whatever field, do not seek to impress inferiority on their readers, even if their subject matter is genuinely complicated and technical. .

    Teachers who leave their students feeling small and stupid, even if they are brilliant, are failures. If they do it on purpose, they are so much the worse.

  13. 13  Steven  May 1, 2007, 1:27 pm 

    “Niko” says:

    I also only knew about this post because of a link from hari’s website…

    Actually, you first came here from a Technorati search for “johann hari”. You must be a devoted fan of Mr Hari’s, constantly searching for mention of him on the internet, and dropping by here generously to inform us about his double first and digging up articles from his archive. Of course, the alternative, that you are in fact Mr Hari himself, is also amusing to contemplate…

    Alex:

    Teachers who leave their students feeling small and stupid

    Oh, don’t worry about my inferiority complex. ;) I meant only that I would not immediately dismiss them as stupid if I did not at first blush understand them.

  14. 14  pete  May 1, 2007, 1:27 pm 

    “Zizek’s books really do have an infinite number of pop-cultural references. They have an infinite number of infinitely thin pages, each covered with infinitessimally small type.”

    i love his books for exactly this reason – you open one of them in the middle somewhere, then if you close it and open it again, there is a 0% chance that you will get the same page. the original page is lost forever.

  15. 15  Leinad  May 1, 2007, 1:55 pm 

    Niko: are you so literal minded you think that Zizek was endorsing Mussolini and the Fascist regime or perhaps just expressing his pure physical and spiritual lust for that jutting brow, that smooth shiny dome and those bushy eyebrows?

    Besides, if he’s a commie, why is he in love with one of their arch-enemies murdered and imprisoned them in their thousands? I see you’ve dropped the Brechtian and ‘Democracy’ examples – c’mon, just one to go.

  16. 16  Niko  May 1, 2007, 2:29 pm 

    Er, I’m not Johann, as Alex H who has met me will attest. I noticed that Johann had linked to you and thought it was worth bringing up. I knew Johann often links to critical articles, so after seeing it on technorati I checked and, yes, tehre was a link there. A slightly convoluted story, so I said I’d followed the link to make my point.

    Steven, I’m not attacking you. I just think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick here. Did you check out those links?

    You are assuming Hari dismisses Zizek at “first blush” but you don’t know that, as you admit. Alex has said Johann has read Zizek. I’d be very surprised if he wrote an article without a lot of research, given that I know he usually does vast amounts. (I don’t know about what he did in this case).

    Doesn’t somebody praising Chairman Mao’s indifference to mass murder, saying his ideal political system would have “a taste of terror”, and so on and on, set your alarm bells ringing? I’d be amazed if it didn’t, given the good work you’ve done on lots of these subjects.

    Leniad, I stick by all the examples. I note you avoid the point that Zizek himself says he is not joking when he makes these points, which rather undermines your argument that he is.

    The “Democracy” line is actually from Alain Badiou, quoted approvingly by Zizek (according to Hari, I admit I haven’t seen the passage where he does so), who holds up maoist China as the best model to follow. It means what it appears to mean, that democracy is an enemy.

  17. 17  Leinad  May 1, 2007, 2:48 pm 

    Right, so you’re still holding on to three context-divorced passages that don’t particularly resound with praise for Mao and Stalin put forward by a man who himself hasn’t actually read much Zizek. Not that I have either, my entire exposure to the guy being that surreal YouTube clip. I’m just curious why you think this is enough to declare the guy a Philsoph0r of Eeeeevil.

  18. 18  Niko  May 1, 2007, 3:05 pm 

    What are you basing your claim that hari hasn’t read much Zizek on?

    (1) The quote about Democracy is indeed an attack on democracy as currently practiced anywhere in the world. It was written by an openly Maoist writer. Mao – you remember, the guy who killed 70 million people and hated democracy?

    (2) The description of Brecht. He reacts to a man who lauded a Stalinist assault on protesting democrats with praise. Unequivocal praise.

    (3) He describes his political philosophy as “egalitarianism with a taste of terror”, and insists his praise for Stalin is not a joke.

    (4) I see no evidence the praise for Mussolini is “ironic”. It is written, I discovered by googling around, in a book whose whole purpose is to deny there is such a thing as “totalitarianism” that is bad.

    (As for being “context-divorced”, what’s the good context in which to say “I love Mussolini”, I would like to be head of the secret police, I’m not joking when I praise Stalin, etc etc?)

  19. 19  Steven  May 1, 2007, 3:31 pm 

    Need I point out that “reactionary anti-intellectual” does not necessarily imply any particular place on the hoary old left-right political spectrum? One can easily be a “progressive” reactionary anti-intellectual, as for example was Mao Zedong, and as the column under scrutiny also handily illustrates.

    As it happens, I think Alain Badiou is a much more egregious offender in the Mao-lovin’ stakes, though he has other interesting things to say.

  20. 20  Leinad  May 1, 2007, 3:40 pm 

    Niko: I’ve ironically endorsed tonnes of disgusting dictators, so count me skeptical on that front (ps- you still haven’t explained how loving Benny makes you a commie). And the Brecht passage of itself makes no endorsement of the ‘passion of the real’. If Zizek does use it as an endorsement, then sure that’s reprehensible, but that’s far from apparent in that paragraph alone. Likewise for the democracy comment.

    I’ve got no particular stake myself but your first post was far from convincing on the topic.

    pps: If Zizek is so incomprehensible that no one but academic wanker-types read his books, what’s the big deal if he is a closet Bolshie? He’s hardly alone in that regards; some pundits and academics on the Right and Decent Left are so vehement and teleological they wouldn’t be out of place in a 1936 politburo session, indeed some just replaced ‘free market’ with ‘historical dialectic’ and went on unhindered.

  21. 21  Leinad  May 1, 2007, 5:13 pm 

    “some just replaced ‘free market’ with ‘historical dialectic’ and went on unhindered.”

    d’oh. vice versa, obviously.

  22. 22  Richard  May 1, 2007, 5:30 pm 

    Just a thought: has anyone ever happily accepted the label of ‘postmodernist?’ Or is it just something you throw at your enemies?

  23. 23  lamentreat  May 1, 2007, 6:20 pm 

    Niko…
    here’s a clue: There is big “D” at the beginning of the word “democracy”. Does that maybe suggest to you that Zizek is maybe, just maybe, writing about the manipulation and reification of the notion of democracy?

    And here’s a question: what does Zizek mean by the “passion of the real”? I hardly think you can begin to judge the Brecht statement without having established that.

    Maybe you’d like to read the book about totalitarianism before commenting on it. Reading a book is generally seen as a more respectable intellectual practice than “googling around”, though no doubt that involves less work.

    I’m not a big fan of Zizek – I’ve seen him twice, playing to the adoring crowd of pseudo-radical young US academics, always wanting to have his dialectical cake and eat it, ducking in and out of his paradoxes (and yes, flirting with a rhetoric of political violence in a sort of Rasputin-thrilling-the-ladies way), and scratching his armpits repeatedly – but your shallow, half-witted critique is making me warm to the thought of the guy.

  24. 24  Steven  May 1, 2007, 6:59 pm 

    The line re “Democracy”, with, as lamentreat notices, its giveaway majuscule, is actually from Badiou, cf Zizek’s discussion of it over two of the infinitesimally thin pages of The Parallax View, 319-320.

  25. 25  Steven  May 1, 2007, 7:22 pm 

    In exciting news, the cudgels of anti-anti-anti-intellectualism or whatever have been taken up by Ophelia Benson, scourge of what she is pleased to call “fashionable nonsense”, who takes me, mystifyingly, to be saying It is forbidden to criticize Zizek. Oh well. I suppose she was not sufficiently delighted with my review of her recent book.

  26. 26  Nosemonkey  May 1, 2007, 7:47 pm 

    Richard @ 5 and Thom @ 8 – I don’t suppose Hari’s rather brief description of Zizek as splicing Marx and Lacan could be because his principle research was from Zizek’s own academic bio page, which states that “aside from Lacan he was strongly influenced by Marx”? (Hari doesn’t mention the other names on that page – Hegel (how can someone influenced by Marx NOT be influenced by Hegel?), Schelling, Kojeve – but surely not because he hasn’t heard of them?)

    No idea. I gave up reading Hari ages ago (nothing to do with his politics, entirely thanks to his style and apparent obsessions), and am not overly familiar with Zizek either, for that matter.

  27. 27  Alex Higgins  May 1, 2007, 7:48 pm 

    “Need I point out that “reactionary anti-intellectual” does not necessarily imply any particular place on the hoary old left-right political spectrum? One can easily be a “progressive” reactionary anti-intellectual…”

    True enough, but I’d venture to argue that Johann is neither a progressive reactionary anti-intellectual, nor a reactionary reactionary anti-intellectual (I really can’t stand those ones).

    “Oh, don’t worry about my inferiority complex. ;) I meant only that I would not immediately dismiss them as stupid if I did not at first blush understand them.”

    I give lessons, or more usually help give lessons, to six-to-ten year-olds. A mischievious part of me thinks that if they find one of my more brilliant lessons boring, confusing or seemingly meaningless, I should write on their reports something like, “Brianna is not performing to her usual standard of good work with fractions this term. Her disinterest does not in my view reflect on my teaching, but on her disappointing reactionary anti-intellectualism that she has no doubt picked up from “rap” music and American television.”

    Of course fractions are meaningful, and if I can’t get that across effectively, then I’m not very useful to her. (And that’s without starting the lesson by ‘ironically’ praising state terrorism in China. A lot.)

    Johann’s argument about intellectual figures like Zizek, Foucault and those he labels postmodernists is that they are disempowering and fundamentally anti-democratic in the way they seek to discuss not especially complicated issues with convoluted jargon. Chomsky makes a similar argument, as did the radical educationalist John Holt and many others.

    Who exactly Zizek is writing for and what does he hope people will gain from his writing? Is he offering real insight into capitalism, our lack of real freedom, consumerism or popular culture that might help people make better sense of the lives they live? How does he actually do that? (I haven’t read enough to give an answer – perhaps someone can help out)

    As an exercise though, try reading a bit of one of Zizek’s books. Put it down and read anything by Thomas Paine – a brilliant, witty and passionate social critic who wrote for a wide audience on diverse issues and got their attention. Then pick up Zizek again. I think it makes Johann’s point.

  28. 28  abb1  May 1, 2007, 8:31 pm 

    I think he wrote somewhere that perhaps a young suicide bomber had a richer, fuller life than someone who lived to be 90 by constantly watching cholesterol. So, does this make him a terrorist?

    In fact, I would argue that the kind of criticism exemplified by Niko here is exactly what you would expect to hear from a Stalinist or some other highly dogmatic person. Four legs good – two legs bad. Democracy good – Lenin bad.

  29. 29  Richard  May 1, 2007, 9:17 pm 

    Alex Higgins: yes. Thank you.

    FWIW I don’t think Zizek (or Bhabha, or Spivak, or Butler) are doing anything dangerous or revolutionary that might get picked up in the broader political sphere – they can like Mao if they want (or be ironic about liking him, or whatever) because the politicians are making up their own rules, mostly following principles that date from the 18th or 19th century anyway, and the public judges them on grounds that are pretty opaque when viewed through the lenses Zizek et al have at their disposal.

    Where they are (IMHO) fantastically destructive is in the academy, where they constitute a massive part of the whole undertaking, apparently exclusively for personal benefit, and where they are able to get their pustulent claws into many fine young brains. The chief problem they pose there is not that they might convince anyone to follow Mao or Stalin (they’re dead, and anyway, ‘the kids’ need no such encouragement) but that they support the idea that it’s OK to do what they do and call it academic enquiry, when it’s perhaps better described as creative writing, or poetry, or performance art.

    So I’m a bit puzzled by Steven’s continental leanings (within an analytic frame), but not too much, because frankly the continental thing is unavoidable in academe. I do not mean to say that I think Steven has bits of claw lodged in his brain – and I don’t mean there’s nothing of value in any non-analytic work… but he’s a much more patient man that I am if he can be bothered to trawl Zizek for insights, and I, in my turn, think he’s too canny by half to really fall for the sort of discursive/power trap that I see Zizek et al engaged in.

  30. 30  Niko  May 1, 2007, 10:04 pm 

    Richard puts it much better than me… I totally agree.

  31. 31  Steven  May 1, 2007, 10:38 pm 

    “Pustulent claws” is nice. Hey, if it’s bad for the kids I might change my mind on this whole thing…

    Johann’s argument about intellectual figures like Zizek, Foucault and those he labels postmodernists is that they are disempowering and fundamentally anti-democratic in the way they seek to discuss not especially complicated issues with convoluted jargon.

    Is that his argument? Well, one has two options when reading Zizek. One can say to oneself: “Why is he using such convoluted jargon [when it is in fact jargony, which is by no means all the time] to discuss this not-especially-complicated issue? We all know what democracy or Democracy is”, etc, and get hot under the collar; or one can suspend judgment, follow the argument, and thereby allow oneself to be asked whether the issue in question might perhaps be more complicated than one thought, and whether it might therefore stand a little more sophisticated terminological interrogation than one is used to from one’s everyday readings of Nick Cohen and the like. I don’t always answer “yes” to the second question myself, but I don’t never answer “yes” either, which is why I’m not inclined to dismiss him.

    As an exercise though, try reading a bit of one of Zizek’s books. Put it down and read anything by Thomas Paine – a brilliant, witty and passionate social critic who wrote for a wide audience on diverse issues and got their attention. Then pick up Zizek again. I think it makes Johann’s point.

    I just did that. It was fun. They’re both very skilled polemicists. Was that the point?

  32. 32  Steven  May 1, 2007, 10:41 pm 

    Richard @ 22: that’s an excellent question, to which I don’t know the answer off the top of my head. Anyone?

  33. 33  Alex Higgins  May 1, 2007, 10:59 pm 

    “Is that his argument?”

    Not in that article so much, but more generally, yeah.

    Incidentally, I think Foucault is worth the effort despite the flaws. He was dragged into this partly because of his style and partly because of his silliness over the Iranian revolution. But his books are worth getting acquainted with and I fully intend to complete one of them one day.

    “…one can suspend judgment, follow the argument, and thereby allow oneself to be asked whether the issue in question might perhaps be more complicated than one thought, and whether it might therefore stand a little more sophisticated terminological interrogation than one is used to from one’s everyday readings of Nick Cohen and the like.”

    Sure, I’m all in favour of suspending judgment and demanding more terminological sophistication from Nick Cohen, but I don’t feel that anyone here has successfully defended the value of the works of the various writers we are discussing yet.

    Or defended Zizek’s political outlook. Or even defined it.

    “I just did that. It was fun. They’re both very skilled polemicists. Was that the point?”

    Not really, but I’m glad you enjoyed it…

    What was the Zizek you read?

  34. 34  Steven  May 1, 2007, 11:13 pm 

    I don’t feel that anyone here has successfully defended the value of the works of the various writers we are discussing yet.

    Well, I don’t think anyone here has successfully attacked their value, either. ;) I linked to my most recent review of Zizek, which I fear is very short, but tries to give some flavour of why I enjoy him. I don’t really know how to answer your previous question, so functionalist was it:

    Is he offering real insight into capitalism, our lack of real freedom, consumerism or popular culture that might help people make better sense of the lives they live?

    Depends on the people in question, doesn’t it? On the other hand, if some people find that he isn’t doing that, does that make his books worthless? I guess it depends on what they expect from books. Takes all sorts.

    What was the Zizek you read?

    The Parallax View.

  35. 35  lamentreat  May 1, 2007, 11:28 pm 

    Why is Foucault being accused of poor style? He’s rarely a user of “convoluted jargon” – normally he writes lucidly and precisely, and often quite beautifully. The subjects of his books (the long and convoluted histories of madness, sexuality and power, changes in ideas about the self) are hardly “not especially complicated”, which makes his lucidity all the more admirable.

  36. 36  Steven  May 1, 2007, 11:58 pm 

    Ah, Adam Kotsko was modest enough not to link to his fine piece here, but I suspect it might have some relevance to this discussion too.

  37. 37  Kevin  May 2, 2007, 12:08 am 

    Young, obviously ignorant of Zizek and naturally skeptical of Hari’s opinions, I arrived at this post with genuine desire to hear a defense of Zizek. Alas, in neither the post, nor its comments is it shown where exactly Hari is all wrong, but ample time is spent highlighting why Hari is all wrong.

    Instead, all this post enables me to intuit is that to read Zizek comprehensively is to know that Hari is wrong, but to remain reluctant to explain why.

  38. 38  Lee Ward  May 2, 2007, 12:21 am 

    I thought this essay said it all.

    http://www.davidbordwell.net/essays/zizek.php

    I confess I haven’t read any Zizek, nor am I likely to. But that may just be my own narrow-mindedness.

    Steven, I would have a thought a writer dedicated to a sharp reading of texts and their meanings would be rather more critical of Derrida, Lacan, Baudrillard et al than you seem to be? (I apologise in advance if you have been elsewhere) Haven’t we established that wiful opacity, while not always a sign that the writer can’t really string two thoughts together, at least has a strong correlation with flim-flam?

    Didn’t “Politics and the English Language” teach us anything?

  39. 39  Niko  May 2, 2007, 10:12 am 

    I agree with Alex and appreciate Steven’s tone on this, but I think there’s an element Alex is failing to higlight. It’s not just Zizek’s style that Johann is objecting to, but the content of what he says.

    If Zizek is indeed an exponent of “egalitarianism with a taste of terror”, a defender of Lenin and Mao, etc, that makes him utterly monstrous. That, surely, is the most important point of Hari’s article. I haven’t seen anybody answer it here, but surely it’s pretty crucial?

  40. 40  Steven  May 2, 2007, 10:16 am 

    I would have a thought a writer dedicated to a sharp reading of texts and their meanings would be rather more critical of Derrida

    Eh, but “dedicated to a sharp reading of texts and their meanings” is quite a good description of Derrida himself. I was once critical of him to his face, but he avoided the question so elegantly I couldn’t hold it against him. Anyway, Unspeak is nothing if not an exercise in tricking people into swallowing Deconstruction without realizing it.

    David Bordwell’s essay is interesting, and just the kind of criticism of Zizek that Hari’s isn’t.

  41. 41  Chris  May 2, 2007, 10:25 am 

    Richard@22 – Off the top of my head Keith Jenkins, although he doesn’t think it’s a choice and that we’re all living in conditions of postmodernity so we’re all postmodernists. At any rate, surely any postmodernist worth his salt would be careful to stick quote marks around the word if self-applying.

    I used to think we could learn a lot from “Politics and the English Language”. But there have been a not inconsiderable number of people who have helped me to see the light. Geoffrey Pullum of Language Log, for instance, approvingly quotes the Merriam-Webster dictionary: ‘Bryant 1962 reports three statistical studies of passive versus active sentences in various periodicals; the highest incidence of passive constructions was 13 percent. Orwell runs to a little over 20 percent in “Politics and the English Language.”‘

  42. 42  Steven  May 2, 2007, 10:43 am 

    egalitarianism with a taste of terror

    Hmm, let’s see. Contemporary Britain and America, with due lip-service paid to “democracy” and economic “equality of opportunity”, but also Asbos, control orders, long-term imprisonment without trial, a terroristic tendency to threaten violence against other countries… In fact, even the most well-functioning liberal democracy with a police force could be so described. Perhaps Zizek is expressing his satisfaction with the western status quo, and observing amusedly how offended people get when things are redescribed to them in taboo terms. In which case, to be annoying, the outraged responses of Hari and Niko rather prove his point.

  43. 43  lamentreat  May 2, 2007, 11:22 am 

    Did Derrida ever have a go at “Politics and the English Language”? He would have had great sport with the last of Orwell’s list of rules: “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

  44. 44  Thom  May 2, 2007, 12:35 pm 

    Further to my earlier comment, an example of Hari’s reluctance to investigate issues too deeply before wading in, and coming to some quite weird assumptions:

    http://eurasiablog.wordpress.c.....alks-shit/

    (not my own blog)

  45. 45  Cian  May 2, 2007, 12:35 pm 

    Steve,
    I think you were probably way to kind to Ophelia Benson. To see if the book was worth reading, I skimmed to see what they said about people I was familiar with. I checked out the section on Bruno Latour, saw that they had totally misunderstood him (and seemingly had either not read him at all relying on Sokal et al, or had only skimmed his work) and lost all interest. Given that you think they misunderstood Derrida, I suspect that the book is arguing with figments of their fevered imagination. Which is true of most critics of continental philosophy (which is hardly the homogenous mass they believe it to be, but never mind).

    Somebody asked what the value of Zizek was. I’m probably not the person to answer this, as I’ve only read a little and am not particularly keen on the man’s work. However, while I tend to disagree with him, its a productive disagreement that forced me to reconsider (and reframe) many of the values/ideas that I held (which is part of the point of philosophy). I also like the way that he tends to reframe taboo subjects, or taboo ideas (e.g. totalitarianism, or that Democracy might not be GOOD).After all, wasn’t the point of the enlightenment that thinkers challenged the status quo. The reactionary position in the modern world is Johann Hari’s – to condemn Zizek merely for questioning our deeply held beliefs, without bothering to engage with his arguments. Hari’s predecessors would have done the same thing to athiestic and democratic thinkers. Merely posing the idea was heresy – modern heresy is to state that democracy might not be all that.

  46. 46  Niko  May 2, 2007, 12:51 pm 

    Er, but Steven he wasn’t. The full quote, when asked what he believes in, is “Communism! Egalitarianism with a taste of terror.”

    He was describing communist police-states, which he repeatedly praises throughout his work, and says he isn’t joking about.

    I’m genuinely surprised by the slipperiness of your reply. You’re surely not saying the current system in Britain is as bad as Maoist China or Leninist Russia?

    Cian, are you seriously saying it is in the spirit of the Enlightenment democratic thinkers to praise regimes who would have sent them to a gulag?

  47. 47  Cian  May 2, 2007, 12:58 pm 

    Lee:
    “Haven’t we established that wiful opacity, while not always a sign that the writer can’t really string two thoughts together, at least has a strong correlation with flim-flam?”

    Possibly so, but what makes you so sure that Derrida is wilfully opaque? Have you considered the possibilities that maybe it is opaque to you because you are not familiar with the tradition in which Derrida is operating, or because the ideas Derrida is exploring are not easily communicated through language. Late Wittgenstein is difficult, obscure and hard work. Does that render him valueless, and if so why? (and why do many philosophers in the anglo tradition not agree with you).

    Alex, while your example of teaching fractions is cute, it doesn’t really demonstrate what you think it does. Would you argue that a teacher who failed to explain differential equations to your charges was a failure, that his ideas were valueless? Might it simply be that your students lacked sufficient grounding in mathematics to be ready for this, that some ideas are harder and require greater knowledge/sophistication to be understood. Why do you expect this to be different in any other field?

    This teacher might be attempting to impress inferiority on his students if he knew they weren’t up to it, but then I’d not noticed that Zizek (or any other continental philospher) forcing people to read them. If you don’t understand some of these thinkers, it might be because you lack sufficient background in this field. Every field has jargon, not to mystify the novice (what would be the point in doing that), but because ordinary language is imprecise and confusing, and most fields use ideas in ways different to everyday conversation/discourse. Its eases communication between experts. Analytical philosophy uses plenty of jargon, and assumes familiarity with ideas/concepts from within the field, just as much as continental philosophy. Plenty of important thinkers in all fields do not write particularly well, while many more good writers’ ideas are mediocre, inconsistent and derrivative.

  48. 48  Steven  May 2, 2007, 1:10 pm 

    He was describing communist police-states, which he repeatedly praises throughout his work

    You mean like here?

    The ultimate dimension of the irony of such a convoluted situation – that of being reduced to a prisoner building monuments to oneslef – is nonetheless something that is inherent to Stalinism, in contrast to Fascism: only in Stalinism are people enslaved on behalf of the ideology which claims that all power is theirs. The first thing that strikes us about Stalinist discourse is its contagious nature: the way (almost) everyone likes to mockingly imitate it, use its terms in different political contexts, and so on, in clear contrast to Fascism. [...]

    Stalinism is not prohibited in the same way as Nazism: even if we are fully aware of its monstrous aspects, we find Ostalgie acceptable: “Goodbye Lenin” is tolerated, “Goodbye Hitler” is not – why? [The Parallax View pp 288-9]

    It is not so simple, if one bothers to read what Zizek has written. And I take the view that in glossing “Communism” as “egalitarianism with a taste of terror” he very possibly was inviting his audience to confront the relevance of that description to their own fetishized Democracy.

    You’re surely not saying the current system in Britain is as bad as Maoist China or Leninist Russia?

    Don’t be silly.

  49. 49  Cian  May 2, 2007, 1:14 pm 

    “Cian, are you seriously saying it is in the spirit of the Enlightenment democratic thinkers to praise regimes who would have sent them to a gulag? “

    No, I’m saying that the spirit of the enlightment (in so much as there is any such thing, which is highly debatable) is skepticism about everything, particularly those things taken for granted. Making certain concepts beyond criticism/analysis is hardly in the spirit of the enlightenment, is it, whether those ideas are Democracy or the existence of God.

    Incidentally, Hari’s article was bad not because Zizek is beyond criticism (I largely disagree with him, and have very little tolerance of Lacanian, or indeed any post-freudian, analysis. What’s wrong with Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, eh), but because he failed to engage with any of Zizek’s ideas, he showed no evidence that he’d read much of the guy’s work and most of his argument seemed to consist of essentially saying “This man communist, therefore He Bad Man”, or taking ironic/self-ironicising statements of Zizek’s in a documentary absolutely seriously. As an intellectual assault it was sophomoric.

    I haven’t had time to read Bordwell’s paper properly (I plan to), but having skimmed it I suspect I agree with many, and possibly all, of his criticisms.

  50. 50  Steven  May 2, 2007, 1:19 pm 

    Incidentally, Hari’s article was bad not because Zizek is beyond criticism [...] but because he failed to engage with any of Zizek’s ideas, he showed no evidence that he’d read much of the guy’s work and most of his argument seemed to consist of essentially saying “This man communist, therefore He Bad Man”, or taking ironic/self-ironicising statements of Zizek’s in a documentary absolutely seriously.

    This is what I have been trying to say all along, but you put it better and more succinctly. ;)

  51. 51  John M  May 2, 2007, 1:40 pm 

    “Late Wittgenstein is difficult, obscure and hard work”

    The ideas are, but the language, the way in which the ideas are expressed is, generally, beautifully lucid. Nobody has ever accused Derrida of that.

  52. 52  Steven  May 2, 2007, 1:47 pm 

    Actually, they have.

  53. 53  Niko  May 2, 2007, 3:20 pm 

    But the problem with your thesis is that Zizek explictly says in the documentary, according to Hari’s report of it, that he is not joking about being a Stalinist.

    You are premising your criticism of Hari on the idea that he (Hari) takes joking or ironic references seriously. But Zizek himself says we should take them seriously. Is it so gauche and “anti-intellectual” to therefore assume he means what he says?

    You say Hari’s view can be summarised as: “This man communist, therefore He Bad Man”. Well, how about, “This man praises Mao and Stalin, and insists he’s not joking, therefore there’s something very, very seriously wrong with his philosophy and approach to life, and we should handle his work with great scepticism”?

    Steven, you say, “I take the view that in glossing “Communism” as “egalitarianism with a taste of terror” he very possibly was inviting his audience to confront the relevance of that description to their own fetishized Democracy.”

    But what are you basing that claim on? In practice Zizek repeatedly praises Mao, Stalin, Lenin, Mussolini at al. They are not metaphors. They were real people, with real victims, some of whom are still alive.

  54. 54  Niko  May 2, 2007, 3:22 pm 

    Forgot to add, Zizek has also written apropos Satlin, “there is something great and bold about the political idea of a general purge”.

    Am I missing the irony Zizek insists isn’t there, yet again?

  55. 55  Steven  May 2, 2007, 3:47 pm 

    Forgot to add, Zizek has also written apropos Satlin, “there is something great and bold about the political idea of a general purge”.

    There’s not much point arguing with you if you can’t even trawl Google correctly in your search for dodgy Zizek quotations, much less read any of his books. It was Bukharin who wrote this in a 1937 letter to Stalin.

  56. 56  dsquared  May 2, 2007, 4:10 pm 

    I realise that this is off-topic for Zizek, but unqualified references to Foucault supporting the Ayatollah Khomeini (you would often think that Foucault’s obituary would read “born; supported the Ayatollah; died”) are something of a *red flag* indicator for me of someone who doesn’t necessarily know what he or she is talking about.

    In related news, it irritates me more than somewhat when the self-appointed guardians of the purity of empiricism nevertheless laud to the skies the work of physicists and geneticists which they also don’t understand (because they can’t be bothered to learn the maths).

  57. 57  dsquared  May 2, 2007, 4:28 pm 

    hey wow by the way Steven! Nick Cohen has just showed up in the Butterflies and Sneers comments section to pour a bucket of something nasty over you and cited Louis Proyect in order to do so! I actually quite like LP (and wonder how he feels about being quoted by Nick Cohen!) but if a man is judged by his enemies, your stock is surely rising!

  58. 58  Jon O.  May 2, 2007, 5:04 pm 

    From having read and heard a smattering of Zizek (one book, another on the go, several articles and a few interviews), it hardly seems clear to me that he’s an enthusiastic proponent of Stalinism or Maoism. He describes the Stalinist Lukashenko regime in Belarus in no uncertain terms as ‘obscene’. In a long essay on Mao he describes the Cultural Revolution as a failure because it was concerned with destruction rather than genuine renewal. He also wrote an interesting review of John Keane’s biography of Vaclav Havel for the London Review of Books, where he praises the younger, dissident Havel and writes admiringly about Havel’s insights into late Stalinism. BTW, this piece is worth reading for those who think Zizek’s writing style is opaque and overly terminological – in fact, this criticism is generally rather misplaced in relation to Zizek: his work may be difficult, but I’d say it’s never as wilfully obscure as people have suggested. (Compare Zizek with Deleuze, or Lacan himself.)

    In regard to his justifications for keeping the poster of Stalin, it’s a shame that so many, including the usually perceptive Hari, have missed his point: the poster does not indicate that Zizek subscribes to the terroristic aspects of Stalinism or indeed that he is actually a Stalinist; rather it reflects his view that there is something worthwhile, something recuperable, in the communist project, despite the monstrous failure of its actual implementation. As he goes on to say, there are possibilities of forms of ‘collectivity’ etc that would not be totalitarian or coercive. Surely these points are valid, if unfashionable. Moreover, by keeping a poster of Stalin specifically (as opposed to one of, say, Che Guevara), one could say that Zizek is actually facing up to communism’s monstrous historical record, rather than sweeping it under the carpet.

    The reference to Brecht is not really about communism at all, but involves the specifically Lacanian concept of the ‘real’, i.e. that which is beyond language or ‘symbolisation’. For Zizek, Brecht was impressed by the tanks not because the Soviet response to the demonstrations was justifiable, but because the naked display of physical force had a kind of visceral power that could not be expressed in words.

  59. 59  Richard  May 2, 2007, 5:40 pm 

    are you seriously saying it is in the spirit of the Enlightenment democratic thinkers to praise regimes who would have sent them to a gulag?

    Hobbes? ;)
    BTW: nice use of the state as a person, there.

  60. 60  abb1  May 2, 2007, 8:58 pm 

    Btw, what is this “cold, bloody Leninism”? I mean, is it cold and bloody in contrast with the soft and fuzzy garden variety revolutionary Marxism?

  61. 61  Niko  May 2, 2007, 9:00 pm 

    It seems, therefore, the crux of the disagreement is about whether Zizek does indeed unironically praises Stalin/Mao/Lenin. (He wrote an entire book, which I bought this afternoon in Foyles, dedicated towards rehabilitating Leninism. Haven’t read any more than the first few chapters, but they are explicitly calling for “a return to Lenin”).

    Just out of interest: if a hypothetical philosopher did unironically praise Lenin, Stalin and Mao, and most critics ignotred that fact and praised him, would it not be valid for a writer to write a piece pointing out this strange incongruity? Wouldn’t that be a valuable act?

  62. 62  Steven  May 2, 2007, 9:48 pm 

    dsquared – how exciting! How interesting, too, that Mr Cohen is also incapable of reading and suffers from the fantasy that the line “there is something great and bold about the political idea of a general purge” is a statement from Zizek, rather than one from Bukharin’s “confession” – just as, coincidentally, Niko claimed at #54. Aren’t these people supposed to be defending common sense and empiricism or something?

  63. 63  abb1  May 2, 2007, 10:03 pm 

    So, Niko, do you agree with Zizek’s assessment of Leninism or not? It sounds like you probably don’t, but you haven’t explained why.

  64. 64  DMS  May 3, 2007, 5:19 am 

    ‘One can easily be a “progressive” reactionary anti-intellectual…’

    And one can also find that words have lost their meaning.

  65. 65  Lee Ward  May 3, 2007, 6:25 am 

    Whereas this is a model of good sense and lucidity:

    “However, no matter how manipulative this scene is, no matter how contradicted it was by the arbitrary harshness of the actual “revolutionary justice,” it nonetheless provided the spectators with new ethical standards by which reality is to be measured – the shocking outcome of this exercise of the revolutionary justice, the unexpected resignification of “severity” into severity towards social circumstances and generosity towards people, cannot but produce a sublime effect. In short, what we have here is an exemplary case of what Lacan called the “quilting point [point de capiton],” of an intervention that changes the coordinates of the very field of meaning: instead of pleading for generous tolerance against severe justice, the old Bolshevik redefines the meaning of “severe justice” itself in terms of excessive forgiveness and generosity.”

  66. 66  dsquared  May 3, 2007, 7:46 am 

    Poor Johann, by the way: to my knowledge in the last couple of years, he has been accused of talking about books without reading them (or at least, of using second-hand quotes to pretend to be more familiar with books than he really is) more than once (“Empire by Hardt & Negri, The Political Economy of Human Rights by Noam Chomsky and now this). He has the most terrible luck.

    In general, ill-starred intellectual coincidences tend to abound when the Decent Left gets to grips with French theory. In their respective published comments on the subject, Francis Wheen, Nick Cohen, Ophelia Benson and Johann Hari have again and again had the appalling bad luck in the course of their research to happen upon exactly the same quotations as each other, and to end up using them in their books (perhaps they all go to the same library and one of them naughtily used a highlighter on the library’s copy of Spivak).

    Not only that, but quite a few of these quotes are also ones that have appeared in past newspaper and magazine pieces and are available online. This is most unfortunate, of course, as it gives the no doubt entirely erroneous impression that we are dealing with a small clique of hacks taking in one another’s washing and cobbling things together from secondary sources, rather than an impressive array of independent minds.

    (FWIW, my current understanding is that Jeremy Stangroom has read Foucault and possibly Derrida too and the rest are for the most part poncing off him).

  67. 67  Steven  May 3, 2007, 9:09 am 

    Jon O., thanks for your thoughtful #58. I fear, though, that (given the response to my #48) you can take the horse to water, etc. No amount of citation or explication of what Zizek has actually written will be allowed as counter-evidence by the righteous.

    DMS: I was alluding to my previous argument that “progressive” itself doesn’t mean much in the first place.

  68. 68  Lee Ward  May 3, 2007, 9:20 am 

    Dquared – if someone says something moronic, just as if they say something clever, it’s gonna get quoted. So why is it their bad luck to come across these quotes – unless you’re saying that we’ve collectively missed the context that would explain the quotes marshalled by Sokal et al?

    And Steven, I provided a short excerpt from Zizek above, which seems to perfectly encapsulate his style, if that’s what we have to call it. You have to read it twice to make any sense of it; at which point you realise that you didn’t want to read it once.

  69. 69  Steven  May 3, 2007, 9:26 am 

    I don’t see what is so abstruse about #65. But perhaps you prefer the passage I quoted at #48 – why doesn’t that “perfectly encapsulate his style”? The fact is that Zizek writes in a variety of registers: to pretend that he is always jargony, impenetrable etc is just false.

  70. 70  Lee Ward  May 3, 2007, 9:53 am 

    Passage #48 seems to me to be demonstrably false (at best), but that’s outside the scope of the discussion; you’re right to say the passage is understandable enough. I can’t help feeling that if someone can write that clearly (clear as far as it goes), there’s little excuse for the opacity of #65.

    To find nothing abstruse about that passage, you would have to generously skirt round the quesionable grammar of the first sentence, and pass over the unexplained references to ‘quilting points’ and the like. I’m not remotely saying there isn’t some sense here; rather an abdication of the responsibility to transmit meaning to a reader.

    But then again, this was rather your original point: That we had better tread carefully when encountering this kind of writing (since it’s evidently too much to ask that the writer write carefully in the first place). Fair enough.

    I’ll just never understand why someone who can so inelagantly can be described as a superstar philosopher, while someone like Daniel Dennett, who can communicate deep insight into consciousness and free will, never is. But that’s off topic…

  71. 71  Steven  May 3, 2007, 10:00 am 

    Oh, Dennett is pretty famous too. I agree that he’s a brilliant writer, though not always persuasive to me. As it happens, Zizek writes about Dennett (largely in sympathy, and lucidly) in Chapter 4 of The Parallax View.

  72. 72  lamentreat  May 3, 2007, 10:15 am 

    Lee, is #65 the best you can come up with to confirm your prejudices (“It’s unreadable and I bloody well won’t read it!!”)? All you’re doing is proving your inability to read, as you have already demonstrated your difficulties with writing. (Using clichés (“have we learned nothing…?” as plaintive closing cry in #38) is perhaps not the best way to invoke Orwell’s attack on cliché.)
    There’s nothing particularly difficult or opaque about the passage. You might argue that the two sentences might be better broken into four, but that’s a matter of punctuation – full stops over dash and colon. Zizek explains what is meant by “quilting point” in the next clause.

  73. 73  pete  May 3, 2007, 11:23 am 

    why all this fuss over opacity anyway? i’ll always prefer reading deleuze to something like dennet, if only on an aesthetic level.

    anything which introduces some mystery and confusion to the world can only be a good thing as far as i’m concerned.

  74. 74  Lee Ward  May 3, 2007, 11:31 am 

    Jeez, you try and enter into civilised discussion, and this is what you get…

    I’m sure I could find similar passages of murk – if you’d read what I wrote, I said that the passage was understandable but pointlessly inelegant (that, at least, was my intention. Not being able to read or write can make effective communication difficult).

    Yes he did explain it in the next clause, you’re absolutely right. It’s an “intervention that changes the coordinates of the very field of meaning”. Naturally.

    I’m liking your suggestion that an ability to punctuate is merely an adjunct to style, clarity, intelligibility. If only I’d thought to use that argument in school.

    And if you’re going to quote from a previous post and call it a cliche, at least get the quote right. I said “Didn’t “Politics and the English Language” teach us anything?” If you want to call that a cliche, be my guest.

    Is “Be my guest” a cliche too? Apologies in advance.

    Steven – Thanks for the book suggestion. I’m not so mired in prejudice that I’m not going to read a book I suspect I’m going to have quarrels with. That’s sort of the point, after all…

  75. 75  Steven  May 3, 2007, 11:34 am 

    I’m glad you think so. My copy of The Parallax View is richly defaced with incredulous quarrelling marginalia. ;)

  76. 76  Niko  May 3, 2007, 12:04 pm 

    I posted something earlier that didn’t appear, I don’t know if it was a computer error.

    This disagreement seems to focus, in the end, on a point Steven is trying very hard not to address: is Zizek an apologist for tyrannical regimes? Is that a fact that makes him worth condemning, and condemning harshly?

    Some commenters have already said it is “red-baiting” to even ask, but Steven hasn’t commented.

    Let’s set aside the substance of this claim to ask: if a hypothetical philosopher was indeed a defender of Lenin/Mao, and argued unironically for “a return to Lenin”, and most critics simply ignored this fact and praised his “wit” and “humour”, would it be worthwhile for somebody to write an article pointing out how shocking this was? Would it be good for him to advise people to handle his philosophy with great care?

  77. 77  Niko  May 3, 2007, 12:09 pm 

    Oops, sorry, just saw it did appear – but you are all avoiding answering it.

    Please answer this point Steven, I’m genuinely perplexed as to why you are straining so hard not to see it. Zizek himself expliclty says he is not joking when he talks about being a Stalinist – another fact you all keep politely ignoring – but please do answer this hypothetical before we get onto the substance of Zizek’s beliefs.

    Somebody asks above, “So, Niko, do you agree with Zizek’s assessment of Leninism or not? It sounds like you probably don’t, but you haven’t explained why. “

    I think arguing for “a return” to a man who built a vicious police state, massacred protestors, errected total rule, etc, is disgusting. (I speak as somebody whose grandfather fled Stalinist Russia, which developed logically from Leninist Russia. And no, he doesn’t see the irony.) I think it’s pretty incredible you have to ask. Would you ask me why I oppose Pol Pot, or Benito Mussolini (another man Zizek boasts he “loves”)?

  78. 78  Steven  May 3, 2007, 12:28 pm 

    Er, I addressed your earlier version of it in #48 and #55, by taking the trouble to type out a passage of Zizek’s about the “monstrous” aspect of Stalinism, and correcting your false attribution of a statement about purges to Zizek. Now, interestingly, you appear to have abandoned the claim that Z is a supporter of Stalin, claiming instead that he is a supporter of “Lenin/Mao”. Leaving aside the question of what sort of fabulous beast is a “Lenin/Mao”, and noting in passing that Zizek is rightly critical – as Badiou is not – of Mao’s “Cultural Revolution”, I see that you further claim that Zizek “argues unironically for ‘a return to Lenin’”. Since you apparently can’t be bothered to do the work yourself, I am again obliged to help you out by quoting what he actually writes:

    The idea is not to return to Lenin, but to REPEAT him in the Kierkegaardian sense: to retrieve the same impulse in today’s constellation. The return to Lenin aims neither at nostalgically reenacting the “good old revolutionary times,” nor at the opportunistic-pragmatic adjustment of the old program to “new conditions,” but at repeating, in the present world-wide conditions, the Leninist gesture of reinventing the revolutionary project in the conditions of imperialism and colonialism [...] What Lenin did for 1914, we should do for 1990. “Lenin” stands for the compelling FREEDOM to suspend the stale existing (post)ideological coordinates, the debilitating Denkverbot in which we live — it simply means that we are allowed to think again.

    So your claim as to what he argues for is false, whatever one thinks of what he is actually saying. In your second comment you refer to “Stalinist Russia, which developed logically from Leninist Russia”. Um, Zizek agrees with you there:

    The moment of truth in this reproach is that one cannot separate the unique constellation which enabled the revolutionary takeover in October 1917 from its later “Stalinist” turn: the very constellation that rendered the revolution possible (peasants’ dissatisfaction, a well-organized revolutionary elite, etc.) led to the “Stalinist” turn in its aftermath — therein resides the proper Leninist tragedy.

    Zizek’s Unspeaky use of “tragedy” is notable, but if this makes Zizek actually “an apologist for tyrannical regimes” in your eyes, then whatever.

  79. 79  Steven  May 3, 2007, 12:38 pm 

    But by all means carry on running to Ophelia Benson’s thread to whine that you are being ignored here.

  80. 80  abb1  May 3, 2007, 12:50 pm 

    …Stalinist Russia, which developed logically from Leninist Russia…

    Actually, in the book I read (The Puppet and the Dwarf) he says that Lenin is the exact opposite of Stalin.

    For Stalin, he says, it’s all about finding the median between right- and left-deviations and following it. For Lenin, he says, anything is fine but this median: from war-communism to NEP, from ‘all power to the soviets’ to ‘forget the soviets’, etc.

    I thought it was good.

    So, from Zizek’s angle what you said there in 77 would seem to be a rather ridiculous statement.

  81. 81  lamentreat  May 3, 2007, 1:05 pm 

    Lee @74, you’re right – my post @72 was a bit bad-tempered, and getting the quote wrong didn’t exactly help my case..;o) I guess I’m frustrated at the glaring absence of good faith among those, here and on the other site, who are determined to see no good in Zizek, without making the slightest effort to seriously engage with him. That seems a particularly ignoble intellectual practice, unworthy of the Enlightenment they so glibly invoke. My apologies if I wrongly included you in that group.

    On the punctuation – of course I don’t think punctuation is unimportant, just that in the example you give, it’s a matter of opinion whether it should be two sentences or four – two extra full stops would make the passage slightly smoother, but would also lose some of the causality lightly implied by the colon and the dash.

    If anyone is seriously interested in Zizek’s politics, there’s an early (mid-90s, or so) interview here which provides some interesting tasters about what he got up to in Slovenia:
    http://www.ntticc.or.jp/pub/ic.....zek_e.html

  82. 82  Niko  May 3, 2007, 1:40 pm 

    Steven, thanks for your reply.

    If Zizek is in favour of “compelling FREEDOM to suspend the stale existing (post)ideological coordinates”, why choose the example of a person who errected a horrific police state that destroyed all freedom?

    Why say you “love” Mussolini, that you are in favour of “egalitarianism with a taste of terror”, why say you “love” a politician who is the “Slovene Stalin” (and who really is abusing freedoms), and insist you are not being ironic?

    Hari argued that Zizek is contradictory, and says directly contradictory things all the time. You seem to be reinforcing his point.

    (You are still ignoring the fact that he says he’s not entirely joking, by the way).

  83. 83  Steven  May 3, 2007, 2:29 pm 

    You are having trouble with quite elementary issues of comprehension. If someone says he is not “simply” joking, that means he is joking somewhat, but also doing something else.

    Similarly, Swift was not “simply” joking when he wrote A Modest Proposal, but he was joking somewhat, ie he didn’t think people should really eat babies. (I don’t mean that Zizek is as good as Swift, of course. This is just an example.)

    Having cleared that up, I’m not inclined to do any more of your homework for you. It’s interesting, though, why the perpetrators of frivolous attacks seem to think that their frivolous attacks are owed careful, scholarly replies, and stamp when they don’t get them; or, if they do get them, immediately shift the goalposts. It reminds me a bit of Inhofe’s campaign of harrassment of climate scientists, demanding mountains of notes, datasets etc, without actually being interested in any of the answers, just hoping to bully the targets into silence.

  84. 84  Niko  May 3, 2007, 4:03 pm 

    Yes, that’s right, people who query the advocates of “egalitarianism with a taste of terror” are on a par with people who deny global warming because they are in hock to oil companies.

    Your circumlocutions to deny Zizek is making the points he makes are genuinely bizarre.

    Imagine this scenario – a person who says he wants to recapture the spirit of Adolf Hitler.

    Q. Are you serious? Are you really a Nazi?
    A. “I am not simply joking, there is clearly something to it.”

    What would you conclude about that person? Would you say that like Swift they are wonderful satirists, especially if they repeatedly quote Goebbels, Mussolini, Eichmann et al approvingly and say there are valuable historical insights in their works of philosophy?

    I had quite a high opinion of you after reading your book Unspeak. I even bought it for a friend. i’m afraid my opinion of you has plummetted since you showed yourself to be snippy, evasive and frankly fucking rude.

    Lenin is not a floating signifier, a symbol of “anti-imperialism”. He was an actual person, who murdered millions more actual people, and Zizek, if his work means anything at all, is very obviously praising him.

  85. 85  Steven  May 3, 2007, 4:20 pm 

    I am sorry for your disappointment. If each time I bother to refute one of your vague frivolous attacks by citing what Zizek actually writes, I am still to be accused of being “evasive” or circumlocutory, then, as promised at #83, I shall no longer bother.

  86. 86  Leinad  May 3, 2007, 4:24 pm 

    Steven: “It reminds me a bit of Inhofe’s campaign of harrassment of climate scientists, demanding mountains of notes, datasets etc, without actually being interested in any of the answers, just hoping to bully the targets into silence.”

    Niko:”Yes, that’s right, people who query the advocates of “egalitarianism with a taste of terror” are on a par with people who deny global warming because they are in hock to oil companies.”

    QED.

  87. 87  Niko  May 3, 2007, 4:25 pm 

    Steven, two specific questions:

    (1) Are you really saying that “Lenin” the signifier can be separated from Lenin the person who killed people?

    (2) Are you really saying that somebody who responds to being asked if they are really a supporter of Stalinism by saying, “Of course it’s not as simple as that, that I am simply a Stalinist… But obviously there is something in it, that it’s not simply a joke” is denying it and pointing to satirical intent?

    (3) if a hypothetical philosopher was indeed a defender of Lenin/Mao, and argued unironically for recatptuing the spirit of Lenin, and most critics simply ignored this fact and praised his “wit” and “humour”, would it be worthwhile for somebody to write an article pointing out how shocking this was? Would it be good for him to advise people to handle his philosophy with great care?

    (You haven’t answered this, you have just said the hypothetical doesn’t apply to Zizek).

    Okay, my boss is giving me dirty looks, I had better get back to proper work.

  88. 88  Niko  May 3, 2007, 4:26 pm 

    That should, of course, say three specific questions. Doh!

  89. 89  abb1  May 3, 2007, 4:30 pm 

    …who murdered millions more actual people…

    Now, that’s just not true.

    But let’s talk about some likable, respectableand much admired character. Say, George Washington.
    Orders of George Washington to General John Sullivan, at Head-Quarters May 31, 1779:

    The Expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more.

    I would recommend, that some post in the center of the Indian Country, should be occupied with all expedition, with a sufficient quantity of provisions whence parties should be detached to lay waste all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner, that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed.

    But you will not by any means listen to any overture of peace before the total ruinment of their settlements is effected. Our future security will be in their inability to injure us and in the terror with which the severity of the chastisement they receive will inspire them.

    Winston Churchill:

    I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.

    I can go on.

    What do you think, Niko?

  90. 90  Jon O.  May 3, 2007, 5:04 pm 

    To reiterate: the part of Zizek’s admiration for Stalin that ‘is not simply a joke’ is that aspect of the communist project that is (Zizek believes) still valid. Some of Zizek’s provocations must be seen in the context of recent attempts to equate communism with fascism/Nazism (as in The Black Book of Communism). According to Zizek that equation is false: that is why he says that there is something in the ideals of communism that is not just ‘fascist’. Terry Eagleton makes a similar argument in a review of a book by Todorov, observing for instance that the Nazis never funded Third World liberation movements. It should be noted that Eagleton himself, along with Christopher Hitchens (whom Hari vastly admires), also has good things to say about Lenin.

  91. 91  Niko  May 3, 2007, 5:21 pm 

    abb1, I totally agree with you about Washington and Churchill. I have had many rows about Churchill myself. These points in no way detract from the monstrousness of Lenin though, as you seem to be implying.

    To be more accurate, I should have said that Lenin killed hundreds of thousands of people, and errected a police state that killed millions.

    John O, I know Hari has had a row with Hitchens on this very issue (because I challenged him on it ages ago… I think Alex Higgins was there too… small world…)

    Anyway, I’ll leave those three questions hanging in the air and check out of this conversation – it’s debilitating my work ethnic too much!

    I appreciate you taking the time to respond to some of what I said Steven, and I’ll keep recommending your book Unspeak despite this disagreement…

    Best wishes to all,

    Niko

  92. 92  Adam Kotsko  May 4, 2007, 6:16 pm 

    The amount of righteousness deployed in denouncing a regime that (a) doesn’t exist and on which (b) there’s a broad consensus that it was bad is really astounding to me. What does it cost you to say this? Nothing. I’m not impressed. Here, I can do it too: “Lenin and Stalin killed a lot of fucking people — that’s bad.” Can I be in the club of Right-Thinking Individuals now?

    With Zizek’s employment of Lenin, what I suspect is going on is that he wants to keep open the possibility of radical change (even radical change that takes place at “the wrong time” — which it always is), and at the same time to remind radical intellectuals that there actually is a cost associated with pursuing radical change. He does find genuine liberatory elements in the original Bolshevik project, and I would suggest arguing with those claims on their merits rather than simply denouncing him for daring to say something good about Lenin. His analysis of Stalin and other later figures seems to me to be a way of doing a “dialectic of enlightenment” thing that posits Stalinism as where Enlightenment ends up, rather than Nazism (which is just a negation of Enlightenment, not claiming to be part of it like Stalinism does).

    Maybe someone already said all this; I skipped down from around comment 80.

  93. 93  Steven  May 5, 2007, 1:46 am 

    a “dialectic of enlightenment” thing that posits Stalinism as where Enlightenment ends up

    Yes. Personally I think that is balls, but it also doesn’t make him a champion of totalitarianism, etc.

  94. 94  Leinad  May 5, 2007, 3:57 am 

    Yeah, I’ve noticed that Minderbinder-esque trend in a lot of what counts as ‘right-thinking’ (both senses) these days. It’s almost a ritual to open one’s part in a discussion about democracy, communism, socialism, totalitarianism – whatever, with a reminder that Mao/Lenin (love that: did they merge powers to combat the imperialist running-turtle Gamera?) Stalin were BAD PEOPLE and did BAD THINGS before saying anything useful.

    In this case they’ve become Bogeymen that progressives have to constantly banish from their thoughts and denounce lest they one day find themselves behind a stall at some rally inexplicably dressed in red pyjamas and handing out The Spartacist. Rather than question wether there’s actually a point to denouncing dead dictators and their vanished regimes and trying to root out the last few Maoist quacks (why get rid of them when they’re so amusing?) it’s become the orthodoxy to go along with it and slap each other on the backs for facing the Ghost of Socialism Past. Isn’t there something more productive you should be doing instead of rehashing the arguments you wish you’d made back in ’76, fellas?

    (Full disclaimer: Leinad was an goofy middle-class Trot for a little over a year in his mid-teens (in the late 90s, mind) before he snapped out of it and devoted his life to carping cynicism and general mockery of his intellectual superiors in what has become the greatest intellectual struggle of our age.)

  95. 95  abb1  May 5, 2007, 2:56 pm 

    The thing is, Lenin didn’t even kill a lot of people; people were killed in the extremely brutal 4-year-long civil war, which, of course, would be extremely stupid to blame on Lenin.

    And, incidentally, the post-war regime he created (NEP) wasn’t particularly coercive. Certainly not totalitarian or a police state.

  96. 96  Richard  May 5, 2007, 4:04 pm 

    it’s become the orthodoxy to go along with it and slap each other on the backs for facing the Ghost of Socialism Past.

    Likewise Hitler. Oddly, Pol Pot and others get off lightly these days. It’s even permissible to say soemthing nice about Genghis Khan.

    I find this just tiring, and while I may not object to the text of such discussions, I do object to the subtext, which is that everyone must hold the same set of opinions and express them first in order to be heard. I even suspect that something of the same tiredness actuates Zizek.

    …on the other hand, that seems to be true of many societies: Webb Keane and Terry Turner have devoted whole books to the phenomenon. Why should we be different?

  97. 97  abb1  May 5, 2007, 5:57 pm 

    It’s even permissible to say soemthing nice about Genghis Khan.

    Well, that’s probably because he apparently has about 17 million direct descendants. That’s the kinda mishpacha you don’t want to quarrel with.

  98. 98  Steven  May 6, 2007, 1:23 am 

    Having now had the pleasure myself of seeing Zizek!, I am puzzled by Mr Hari’s remarkably selective and inaccurate quotation of Mr Zizek’s stated opinions in the film. Here is what Hari quotes from Zizek on Stalin:

    It’s not as simple as that – that I am simply a Stalinist. That would be crazy, tasteless, and so on. But obviously there is something in it, that it’s not simply a joke.

    Not simply a joke? Well, what is it? (As Niko has been asking.) In the film, Zizek immediately goes on to explain himself. Here is my transcript:

    It’s not so simple as that, that I’m simply a Stalinist: that would be crazy, tasteless, and so on. But obviously there is something in it that it’s not simply a joke, when I say that the only chance is that the left appropriates fascism and so on and so on – it’s not a cheap joke. The point is to avoid the trap of the standard liberal oppositions, freedom versus totalitarian order, discipline and so on and so on, to rehabilitate notions of discipline, collective order, subordination, sacrifice, all that. I don’t think this is inherently fascist.

    Hari actually takes a part of this for his last paragraph, when he writes:

    You do not end up hating Zizek, not even when he says with Stalinist relish that he wants to rehabilitate “notions of discipline, collective order, subordination”.

    I’m afraid the “Stalinist relish” is pure invention. Zizek’s “I don’t think this is inherently fascist” is strangely omitted. Anyway, you wouldn’t guess from Hari’s account that Zizek had carried on immediately after that by saying:

    Often friends tell me “But why do you provoke people unnecessarily? Why don’t you simply say what you mean? That of course you are against fascism, but blah blah blah.” I tell them “Yes this is good as an abstract, theoretical – not even theoretical, intellectual, whatever – statement, but it doesn’t work like that. For example concerning Stalinism. My God! I’ve probably written more about Stalinism, about its most horrible aspects, than most of the people who reproach me with Stalinism. And that’s my wager here, that sorry, the only way to get the message – if you say “Of course I’m against fascism, there were just some attitudes which were traditional even more to the left but fascism appropriated them, blah blah blah”, I think it doesn’t have the desired precise political effect. It enables the liberal consensus to reappropriate it. You must say it with this excess.

    For Mr Hari to have seen this and yet still to claim that Zizek “seeks to revive a murderous and discredited ideology”, ie Stalinism, is quite remarkable, and perhaps something more than merely idiotic.

    Elsewhere, Hari writes:

    As he watches his hero Jacques Lacan deliver an incomprehensible lecture on video, Zizek exclaims: “There is nothing behind this obscurity. This is just bluffing.” It is a plain moment of projection, and an unwitting confession of charlatanism.

    Whether from mere sloppiness or for some other reason, this actually manages to be the opposite of what Zizek says. In fact, in the film, Zizek is watching a TV programme presented by Lacan and lamenting Lacan’s stiff gestures and absurd emphases. He says:

    I like philosophy as an anonymous job. Not this kind of – look, the way he moves now, and so on, these gestures. I find this ridiculous. He emphasizes, “One cannot say all the truth, it’s impossible materially“, this ridiculous emphasis, I think it’s pure fake, an empty gesture, as if he makes a deep point there, he does not. I read Lacan in a very classical way, what interests me are his propositions, the underlying logic, not his style. His style is a total fake, I think. I try to forget it, I try to repress it. Maybe it works as a strategy, at a certain point, why not, first you have to seduce people with your statements, but I hate this kind of approach, I’m a total Enlightenment person, I believe in clear statements and so on. And for Lacan – because again, I think, to make it very clear, that, it’s not that Lacan is just bluffing, in the sense that there is nothing behind this obscurity. The whole point of my work is that you can translate Lacan into clear terms.

    Let’s see that again. Hari claims Zizek says:

    There is nothing behind this obscurity. This is just bluffing.

    Zizek actually says:

    It’s not that Lacan is just bluffing, in the sense that there is nothing behind this obscurity.

    Remarkable!

    Oh, and one more thing. Hari writes:

    But gradually, as you pore through Zizek’s words or watch his audiences, whose bemusement is caught on film, you discover that the complex manner in which he expresses himself does not imply that his thought is itself subtle or complex. In fact, he seeks to revive a murderous and discredited ideology.

    Asked by an audience member what his idea of a good social order is, he replies: “Communism! I am absolutely in favour of egalitarianism with a taste of terror.”

    Do you have the impression that this exchange occurs in the film? Well, it doesn’t. Isn’t that interesting? In fact, it was reported in this New Yorker article (which also has two other anecdotes that reappear in Hari’s piece), and here again context is somewhat illuminating:

    An elderly man raised his hand. “What, in your opinion, is a good social order?” he asked. “Communism!” Zizek said, affecting surprise that he could be expected to deliver any other answer. “I am absolutely in favor of egalitarianism with a taste of terror.” There was laughter among the younger generation while the elderly man looked horrified, and stammered, “I’ve seen dictatorships in other countries, and I believe democracy is better than your dictatorships.”
    “I agree,” Zizek said. “But my problem is, what is democracy-today? I am not saying Eastern European socialism is better – my God, I lived there. But take this country. What do you, here, decide at elections? I am just saying that something happened twenty or twenty-five years ago, with the collapse of socialism, and, at the same time, the Western social-democratic worker state losing its power of sustaining political imagination. What disappeared at that point was the belief that humanity, as a collective subject, can actively intervene and somehow steer social development. In the last thirty years, we are again accepting the notion of history as fate. Thirty or forty years ago, there were still debates about what the future will be – Communism, socialism, fascism, liberal capitalism, totalitarian bureaucratic capitalism. The idea was that life would somehow go on on earth, but that there are different possibilities. Now we talk all the time about the end of the world, but it is much easier for us to imagine the end of the world than a small change in the political system. Life on earth maybe will end, but somehow capitalism will go on.”

    But it would be boring for Mr Hari, wouldn’t it, constantly to have to elucidate the context of Zizek’s one-liners? Better to pick them out and parade them alone, pretending that they mean what Zizek himself insists (in the conveniently excluded context) that they don’t mean.

  99. 99  hardindr  May 7, 2007, 1:58 am 

    I am late to this discussion, but I thought I would like to add this commentary by B&W associate Julian Baginni on Zizek, and his thoughts on the recent Hari article.

  100. 100  Steven  May 7, 2007, 11:39 am 

    Thanks for that, I’ve always liked Baggini’s writing. Gosh, look, he says:

    Hari makes the lazy move of labelling Zizek a postmodernist. It’s a catch-all term which is more often than not used, ironically, by people who are against obscurantism to refer with no clarity or precision whatsover to an amorphous, unidentified enemy.

    Which was the point of my original post all those comments ago.

  101. [...] Steven Poole has already written a quite excellent riposte to Johann, which I won’t recap in any real detail. I agree with Steven that Johann shows little sign of understanding what postmodernism is. There is no shame in that – even Alex Callinicos, the Greatest Living Philostopher Known to Mankind, doesn’t understand what postmodernism is. But Žižek isn’t a postmodernist, and cribbing from Francis Wheen’s Mumbo-Jumbo and throwing around “postmodernist” as an all-purpose insult doesn’t really make a case. Likewise, Johann finds Lacan impenetrable. Again, I find Lacan pretty obscure, and that’s with a background in Reichian psychoanalysis. But Lacan’s obscurity doesn’t prove Žižek’s charlatanry, unless you hold to the philistine English view that anything difficult must be smoke and mirrors. [...]

  102. 102  engels  May 17, 2007, 1:07 pm 

    It’s a bit pointless trying to discuss philosophy with people who believe that the first and last word on Zizek is that he should be denounced as a Stalinist. There’s a word for that kind of mindset and it begins with an “S”.

  103. 103  Steven  May 17, 2007, 1:20 pm 

    It’s a bit pointless trying to discuss philosophy with people who believe that the first and last word on Zizek is that he should be denounced as a Stalinist.

    I think if this record-breakingly long (for this blog) thread has demonstrated anything, it has certainly demonstrated that, which gives me a warm feeling inside.

    There’s a word for that kind of mindset and it begins with an “S”.

    Sciolist? Saprogenic? Sadoguic? Sciuroid? Stalinist?

  104. 104  lamentreat  May 17, 2007, 1:45 pm 

    syzygetic, systylous, synoicous, shite.

  105. 105  engels  May 17, 2007, 5:58 pm 

    All strong options, but unfortunately the one I had in mind was the second least original.

  106. [...] ammunition that they could need, while Johann Hari and Nick Cohen climbed aboard. The borrowing and misquotation that ensued should be ample evidence that, through all the criticisms, there was scare critical [...]



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