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Slavoj Žižek at Liverpool John Moores University. February 2008
21 March 1949|
Slovenia, then part of Yugoslavia
|Era||20th- Wp→ / 21st-century philosophy Wp→|
|Region||Western philosophy Wp→|
|School||Hegelianism · Psychoanalysis Wp→ · Marxism|
|Main interests||Ontology Wp→ · Film theory Wp→ · Psychoanalysis Wp→ · Ideology · Theology Wp→ · Marxism|
Slavoj Žižek (pronounced [ˈslavoj ˈʒiʒɛk]; born 21 March 1949) is a Slovenian philosopher Wp→ and cultural critic working in the traditions of Hegelianism, Marxism and Lacanian Wp→ psychoanalysis Wp→. He has made contributions to political theory, film theory Wp→, and theoretical psychoanalysis Wp→.
Žižek is a senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana Wp→, Slovenia, and a professor at the European Graduate School Wp→. He has been a visiting professor at, among others, the University of Chicago, Columbia University, London Consortium Wp→, Princeton, New York University Wp→, The New School, the University of Minnesota Wp→, the University of California, Irvine Wp→ and the University of Michigan Wp→. He is currently the International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at [[Birkbeck, University of London}} and president of the Society for Theoretical Psychoanalysis, Ljubljana Wp→.
Žižek uses examples from popular culture to explain the theory of Jacques Lacan Wp→ and uses Lacanian psychoanalysis Wp→, Hegelian philosophy and Marxist economic criticism to interpret and speak extensively on immediately current social phenomena, including the current ongoing global financial crisis. In a 2008 interview with Amy Goodman on the New York City radio show Democracy Now! he described himself as a "communist in a qualified sense" and in another appearance on the show in October 2009 he described himself as a "radical leftist".
It was not until the 1989 publication of his first book written in English, The Sublime Object of Ideology, that Žižek achieved international recognition as a social theorist. Since then, he has continued to develop his status as a confrontational intellectual.
He writes on many topics including subjectivity Wp→, ideology, capitalism, fundamentalism, racism, tolerance, multiculturalism, human rights, ecology, globalization, the Iraq War, revolution, utopianism, totalitarianism, postmodernism, pop culture Wp→, opera Wp→, cinema Wp→, political theology, and religion.
- 1 Life
- 2 Thought
- 3 Critiques
- 4 Award
- 5 Bibliography
- 6 Critical introductions to Žižek
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Žižek was born in Ljubljana Wp→, Socialist Republic of Slovenia, Yugoslavia, to a middle-class family. His father Jože Žižek was an economist and civil servant from the region of Prekmurje Wp→ in eastern Slovenia. His mother Vesna, native of the Brda Wp→ region in the Slovenian Littoral Wp→, was an accountant in a state enterprise. He spent most of his childhood in the coastal town of Portorož Wp→. The family moved back to Ljubljana when Slavoj was a teenager. His parents were both atheists. Žižek attended the prestigious Bežigrad High School Wp→. In 1967, he enrolled at the University of Ljubljana Wp→, where he studied philosophy and sociology. He received a Doctor of Arts Wp→ in Philosophy from the University of Ljubljana Wp→ and studied psychoanalysis Wp→ at the University of Paris VIII Wp→ with Jacques-Alain Miller Wp→ and François Regnault Wp→.
Žižek's early career was hampered by the political environment of 1970s Yugoslavia. He started his studies in an era of relative liberalization of the Communist regime. Among his early influences was the Slovenian Marxist philosopher Božidar Debenjak who introduced the thought of the Frankfurt School to Slovenia. Debenjak taught the philosophy of German idealism at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ljubljana, and his reading of Marx's Das Kapital from the perspective of Hegel's Phenomenology of the Mind influenced many future Slovenian philosophers, including Žižek.
Žižek frequented the circles of dissident intellectuals, including the Heideggerian philosophers Tine Hribar and Ivo Urbančič, and published articles in alternative magazines, such as Praxis, Tribuna and Problemi, of which he was also an editor. In 1971, he was given employment at the University of Ljubljana as an assistant researcher with the promise of tenure. In 1973, after Josip Broz Tito and Stane Dolanc removed the reformist Slovenian leadership and the regime's policies toughened again, he was dismissed after his Master's thesis was explicitly accused of being "non-Marxist". He spent the next few years undertaking national service in the Yugoslav army in Karlovac.
After four years of unemployment, Žižek gained a job as a recording clerk at the Slovenian Marxist Center. At the same time, he became involved with a group of Slovene scholars, among whom were Mladen Dolar and Rastko Močnik, whose theoretical focus was on the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan. In 1979, he was hired as a researcher at the Institute of Sociology of the University of Ljubljana with the help of philosopher Ivan Urbančič. In the early 1980s, he published his first books, focusing on the interpretation of Hegelian and Marxist philosophy from the perspective of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. He became one of the foremost members of the so-called Ljubljana school of psychoanalysis. Within its editorial and institutional framework, Žižek edited numerous translations of works by Lacan, Sigmund Freud and Althusser to Slovene (during that period he also became an active member of the Slovenian Association of Literary Translators). In addition, he wrote the introduction to Slovene translations of G. K. Chesterton's and John Le Carre's detective novels. In 1988, he published his first book dedicated entirely to film theory.
In the late 1980s, he came to public attention as a columnist for the alternative youth magazine Mladina, which assumed a critical stance towards the Titoist regime, criticizing several aspects of Yugoslav politics, especially the militarization of society. Žižek was member of the Communist Party of Slovenia until October 1988, when he quit in protest against the JBTZ-trial together with 32 other Slovenian public intellectuals. Between 1988 and 1990, he was actively involved in several political and civil society movements which fought for the democratization of Slovenia, most notably the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights. In the first free elections in 1990, he ran as candidate for Presidency of the Republic of Slovenia (an auxiliary institution abolished in the constitution of 1991) for the Liberal Democratic Party. In a 2008 interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, he described himself as a "communist in a qualified sense," and in another appearance in October 2009 he described himself as a "radical leftist".
It was not until the 1989 publication of his first book written in English, The Sublime Object of Ideology, that Žižek achieved international recognition as a social theorist. Since then, he has continued to develop his status as a confrontational intellectual. One of Žižek's most widely discussed books, The Ticklish Subject (1999), explicitly positions itself against Deconstructionists, Heideggerians, Habermasians, cognitive scientists, and what Žižek describes as New Age "obscurantists".
Ian Parker claims that there is no "Žižekian" system of philosophy because Žižek, with all his inconsistencies, is trying to make us think much harder about what we are willing to believe and accept from a single writer (Parker, 2004). Indeed, Žižek himself defends Jacques Lacan for constantly updating his theories, arguing that it is not the task of the philosopher to act as the Big Other who tells us about the world but rather to challenge our own ideological presuppositions. The philosopher, for Žižek, is more someone engaged in critique than someone who tries to answer questions.
However, this claim about the role of the philosopher/theorist is complicated by how Žižek frequently derides the consumerist fashionability of postmodern cultural criticism while affirming his universal emancipatory stance and love for "grand explanations" (Žižek, 2008). In contrast to Parker, Adrian Johnston's book Zizek's Ontology: A Transcendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity argues against the position that Žižek's thought has no consistency or underlying project. Specifically, Johnston claims in his Preface that beneath "what could be called 'the cultural studies Žižek'" is a singular "philosophical trajectory that runs like a continuous, bisecting diagonal line through the entire span of his writing (i.e. the retroactive Lacanian reconstruction of the chain Kant-Schelling-Hegel)." Žižek's affirmation of this claim suggests that like his predecessor Hegel, Žižek's work is better described as rigorous in the sense of systematic rather than as comprising a single, all-encompassing "system."
Žižek wrote text to accompany Bruce Weber photos in a catalog for Abercrombie & Fitch. Questioned as to the seemliness of a major intellectual writing ad copy, Žižek told the Boston Globe: "If I were asked to choose between doing things like this to earn money and becoming fully employed as an American academic, kissing ass to get a tenured post, I would with pleasure choose writing for such journals!" He is widely regardedby whom? as a fiery and colorful lecturer who does not shy away from controversial remarks. His three-part documentary The Pervert's Guide to Cinema was broadcast on British television by the More4 channel in July 2006 and is available on DVD. Žižek has been publishing on a regular basis in journals such as Lacanian Ink and In These Times in the United States, the New Left Review and The London Review of Books in the United Kingdom, and with the Slovenian left liberal magazine Mladina and newspapers Dnevnik and Delo. He co-operates also with the influential Polish leftist magazine Krytyka Polityczna, regional South-East European left-wing journal Novi Plamen, and serves on the editorial board of the psychoanalytical journal Problemi.
He is a fluent speaker of Slovene, Serbo-Croatian, English, French and German. He also has basic knowledge of Italian. He was formerly married to Slovenian philosopher Renata Salecl and to Argentine model Analia Hounie.
Astra Taylor's 2005 documentary Žižek! documented its title subject, and Žižek also appeared in her 2008 Examined Life. The International Journal of Žižek Studies was launched in 2007, and since 2005, Žižek has been an associate member of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.
Žižek appropriates various ontologies as critical tools for his investigations. In doing so, Žižek does not posit his own ontology, rather he refigures discordant disciplines through their application to a topic of relevant interest and their differential relationship to one another. This radical approach results in a critique of such uses as misinterpretations. While Žižek posits a return to the category of the Cartesian subject, a return to The German Ideology, and a return to Lacan, he does so in a way that undercuts their foundations and re-energizes their potential.
- The defense of the category of the subject involves first a vindication of the notion of subjectivity for an adequate descriptive political theory. Žižek argues that hegemonic regimes function by interpellating individuals into social roles and mandates within a given polity: we cannot understand how power functions without some account of the psychology of political subjects. Secondly, there is the vindication of the "category of the subject". Following Lacan, Žižek contends that subjectivity corresponds to a lack (manque) that always resists full inscription into the mandates prescribed to individuals by hegemonic regimes.
- In his deployment of the category of "ideology", Žižek finds the notions of ideology in Karl Marx "The German Ideology"—which center on the notion of "false consciousness"—to be irrelevant in a period of unprecedented subjective reflexivity and cynicism as to the motives and workings of those in authority (see The Sublime Object of Ideology). It can be argued however that Žižek's most original aspect comes from its insistence that a Lacanian model of the barred or split subject, because of its stipulation that individuals' deepest motives are unconscious, can be used to demonstrate that ideology has less become irrelevant today than revealed its deeper truth (see Matthew Sharpe, Slavoj Žižek.)
- In a contentious extension of the referential scope of ideology, Žižek maintains that dominant ideologies wholly structure the subject's senses of reality. Yet, The Real is not equivalent to the reality experienced by the subjects as a meaningfully ordered totality. To him, the Real names points within the ontological fabric knitted by the hegemonic systems of representation and reproduction that nevertheless resist full inscription into its terms, and which may as such attempt to generate sites of active political resistance.
In The Parallax View (2006), Žižek stages confrontations between idealist and materialist understandings of various aspects of ontology. One such confrontation between idealism and materialism is expressed in Lacanian terms between an idealism's purported ability to theorize the All versus a Materialism's understanding that an apparent All is really a non-All. His penchant for staging a confrontation between idealism and materialism leads him to describe his work in such paradoxical terms as a "materialist theology." Žižek offers that reality is fundamentally open and a materialist "minimal difference"—the gap that appears in reality between a reductionist description of physical process and one's experience of existence—is the real of human life and the crucial domain that an ontology must attempt to theorize. Žižek equates the gap with the Freudian death drive, as the negative and mortifying "thing that thinks." Although biological psychology might one day be able to completely model a person's brain, there would still be something left over that could not be explained. This "remainder" formally corresponds precisely to the Freudian death drive and Schellingian/Hegelian self-reflecting negativity or "Night of the World," all of which Žižek formulates as the zero-level of subjectivity. It is death drive which takes this role, not the limit-function to pleasure called the pleasure principle, thus it is the negative aspect of consciousness that breaks and offers judgment on the unrepresentable totality. Žižek points to the fact that consciousness is opaque. Taking his cue from Descartes' problem of the possible automaton in hat & coat and the Husserlian failure to fully account for the selfhood of the other (through resort to the metaphor of "empathy"), Žižek claims a primary characteristic of consciousness is that one cannot ever know if an apparently conscious being is truly conscious or merely an effective mime.
Žižek's metaphysics are, to a certain extent an anti-metaphysics, because he believes it is absurd to theorize the All, because something will always remain untheorized. This can be explained in Lacanian terms, in terms of the relationship between the Symbolic and the Real. For Žižek, we can view a person in several ways, but these ways are mutually exclusive. For example, we can see a person as either an ethical being with free will or a determined biological creature but not both. These are the Symbolic interpretations of the Real, ways of using language to understand that which is non-All, that which cannot be totally understood by description. For Žižek, however, the Real is not a thing which is understood in different ways depending on how you decide to look at it (person as ethical being versus person as biological being); the Real is instead the movement from one vantage point to another—the "parallax view". Žižek tries to sidestep relativism by claiming that there is a diagonal ontological cut across apparently incommensurable discourses, which points to their intersubjectivity. This means that although there are multiple Symbolic interpretations of the Real, they are not all relatively "true." Žižek identifies two instances of the Real; the abject Real, which cannot be symbolized, and the symbolic Real (see On Belief), a set of signifiers that can never be properly integrated into the horizon of sense of a subject. The truth is revealed in the process of transiting the contradictions; or the real is a "minimal difference", the gap between the infinite judgement of a reductionist materialism and experience as lived.
The formation of the subject
Žižek argues that Descartes' cogito is the basis of the subject. However, whereas most thinkers read the cogito as a substantial, transparent and fully self-conscious "I" which is in complete command of its destiny, Žižek proposes that the cogito is an empty space, what is left when the rest of the world is expelled from itself. The Symbolic Order is what substitutes for the loss of the immediacy of the world and it is where the void of the subject is filled in by the process of subjectivization. The latter is where the subject is given an identity and where that identity is altered by the Self.
Once the Lacanian concepts of the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real are grasped, Žižek, in philosophical writings such as his discussion of Schelling, always interprets the work of other philosophers in terms of those concepts. This is so because "the core of my entire work is the endeavour to use Lacan as a privileged intellectual tool to reactualize German idealism". (See The Žižek Reader) The reason Žižek thinks German idealism (the work of Hegel, Kant, Fichte and Schelling) needs reactualizing is that we are thought to understand it in one way, whereas the truth of it is something else. The term "reactualizing" refers to the fact that there are different possible ways to interpret German idealism, and Žižek wishes to make "actual" one of those possibilities in distinction to the way it is currently realized. At its most basic, German idealism believes that the truth of something could be found in itself. For Žižek, the fundamental insight of German idealism is that the truth of something is always outside it. So the truth of our experience lies outside ourselves, in the Symbolic and the Real, rather than being buried deep within us. We cannot look into our selves and find out who we truly are, because who we truly are is always elsewhere.
Our selves are somewhere else in the Symbolic formations which always precede us and in the Real which we have to disavow if we are to enter the Symbolic order.
To Žižek, Lacan's proposition that self-identity is impossible becomes central in structuration of the subject. The identity of something, its singularity or "oneness", is always split. There is always too much of something, an indivisible remainder, or a bit left-over which means that it cannot be self-identical (e.g., the meaning of a word can never be found in the word itself, but rather in other words; its meaning therefore is not self-identical). This principle of the impossibility of self-identity is what informs Žižek's reading of the German idealists. In reading Schelling, for example, the Beginning is not actually the beginning at all—the truth of the Beginning lies elsewhere, it is split or not identical to itself.
How, precisely, does the Word discharge the tension of the rotary motion, how does it mediate the antagonism between the contractive and the expansive force? The Word is a contraction in the guise of its very opposite of an expansion—that is, in pronouncing a word, the subject contracts his being outside himself; he "coagulates" the core of his being in an external sign. In the (verbal) sign, I—as it were—find myself outside myself, I posit my unity outside myself, in a signifier which represents me ("The Indivisible Remainder: An Essay on Schelling and Related Matters").
The subject of enunciation is the "I" who speaks, the individual doing the speaking; the subject of the enunciated is the "I" of the sentence. "I" is not identical to itself—it is split between the individual "I" (the subject of enunciation) and the grammatical "I" (the subject of the enunciated). Although we may experience them as unified, this is merely an Imaginary illusion, for the pronoun "I" is actually a substitute for the "I" of the subject. It does not account for me in my full specificity; it is, rather, a general term I share with everyone else. In order to do so, my empirical reality must be annihilated or, as Lacan avers, "the symbol manifests itself first of all as the murder of the thing". The subject can only enter language by negating the Real, murdering or substituting the blood-and-sinew reality of self for the concept of self expressed in words. For Lacan and Žižek, every word is a gravestone, marking the absence or corpse of the thing it represents and standing in for it. It is partly in the light of this that Lacan is able to refashion Descartes' maxim "I think, therefore I am" as "I think where I am not, therefore I am where I think not".
The "I think" here is the subject of the enunciated (the Symbolic subject) whereas the "I am" is the subject of the enunciation (the Real subject). What Lacan aims to disclose by rewriting the Cartesian cogito in this way is that the subject is irrevocably split, torn asunder by language
The concept of vanishing mediator is one that Žižek has consistently employed since For They Know Not What They Do. A vanishing mediator is a concept which somehow negotiates and settles—hence mediating—the transition between two opposed concepts and thereafter disappears. Žižek draws attention to the fact that a vanishing mediator is produced by an asymmetry of content and form. As with Marx's analysis of revolution, form lags behind content, in the sense that content changes within the parameters of an existing form, until the logic of that content works its way out of the latter and throws off its husk, revealing a new form in its stead. "The passage from feudalism to Protestantism is not of the same nature as the passage from Protestantism to bourgeois everyday life with its privatized religion. The first passage concerns "content" (under the guise of preserving the religious form or even its strengthening, the crucial shift—the assertion of the ascetic acquisitive stance in economic activity as the domain of manifestation of Grace—takes place), whereas the second passage is a purely formal act, a change of form (as soon as Protestantism is realized as the ascetic acquisitive stance, it can fall off as form)" (For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor).
Žižek sees in this process evidence of Hegel's "negation of the negation", the third moment of the dialectic. The first negation is the mutation of the content within and in the name of the old form. The second negation is the obsolescence of the form itself. In this way, something becomes the opposite of itself, paradoxically, by seeming to strengthen itself. In the case of Protestantism, the universalization of religious attitudes ultimately led to its being sidelined as a matter of private contemplation. Which is to say that Protestantism, as a negation of feudalism, was itself negated by capitalism.
The Real is not only opposed to the imaginary but is also located beyond the symbolic.
Unlike the latter, which is constituted in terms of oppositions such as "presence" and "absence," there is no absence in the real. The symbolic opposition between "presence" and "absence" implies the possibility that something may be missing from the symbolic, the real is "always in its place: it carries it glued to its heel, ignorant of what might exile it from there." If the symbolic is a set of differentiated signifiers, the real is in itself undifferentiated: "it is without fissure." The symbolic introduces "a cut in the real," in the process of signification: "it is the world of words that creates the world of things." Thus the real emerges as that which is outside language: "it is that which resists symbolization absolutely." The real is impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order. This character of impossibility and resistance to symbolization lends the real its traumatic quality.
There are also three modalities of the real:
- The "symbolic real": the signifier reduced to a meaningless formula like quantum physics which can only be understood by normal people by using simplistic metaphores.
- The "imaginary real": a horrific thing, that which conveys the sense of horror in horror films
- The "real real": an unfathomable something that permeates things as a trace of the sublime. This form of the real becomes perceptible in the film The Full Monty, for instance, in the fact that in disrobing the unemployed protagonists completely; in other words, through this extra gesture of "voluntary" degradation, something else, of the order of the sublime, becomes visible. Zizek also used the film the sound of music as example, where the "invaded" austrians are depicted more like provincial fascists (blond, beautifull, historic dresses), while the nazis are managers, burocrats, etc, quote: "like cosmopolitan decadent corrupted jews". So the movie has a hidden pro-fascist message that is not directly seen but embedded in the texture of the movie.
Although the Symbolic is an essentially linguistic dimension, Lacan does not simply equate the symbolic with language, since the latter is involved also in the imaginary and the real. The symbolic dimension of language is that of the signifier, in which elements have no positive existence but are constituted by virtue of their mutual differences. It is the realm of radical alterity: the Other. The unconscious is the discourse of the Other and thus belongs to the symbolic order. It is also the realm of the Law that regulates desire in the Oedipus complex. The symbolic is both the "pleasure principle" that regulates the distance from das Ding, and the "death drive" which goes beyond the pleasure principle by means of repetition: "the death drive is only the mask of the symbolic order." This register is determinant of subjectivity; for Lacan the symbolic is characterized by the absence of any fixed relations between signifier and signified. 
The basis of the Imaginary order is the formation of the ego in the "mirror stage". Since the ego is formed by identifying with the counterpart or specular image, "identification" is an important aspect of the imaginary. The relationship whereby the ego is constituted by identification is a locus of "alienation", which is another feature of the imaginary, and is fundamentally narcissistic. The imaginary, a realm of surface appearances which are deceptive, is structured by the symbolic order. It also involves a linguistic dimension: whereas the signifier is the foundation of the symbolic, the "signified" and "signification" belong to the imaginary. Thus language has both symbolic and imaginary aspects. Based on the specular image, the imaginary is rooted in the subject's relationship to the body (the image of the body).
Žižek's understanding of the postmodern can be characterized as an over-proximity of the Real. Žižek identifies various manifestations of this in postmodern culture, such as the technique of "filling in the gaps." (See Žižek's analysis). By way of "filling in the gaps" and "telling it all", what we retreat from is the void as such, which is ultimately none other than the void of subjectivity (the Lacanian "barred subject"). (See The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieslowski between Theory and Post-Theory.)
For Žižek, present society, or postmodernity, is based upon the demise in the authority of the big Other (see Jacques Lacan). Continuing the theorists of the contemporary risk society, who advocate the personal freedoms of choice or reflexivity, which have replaced this authority, Žižek argues that these theorists ignore the reflexivity at the heart of the subject. For Žižek, lacking the prohibitions of the big Other, in these conditions, the subject's inherent reflexivity manifests itself in attachments to forms of subjection, paranoia and narcissism. In order to ameliorate these pathologies, Žižek proposes the need for a political act or revolution—one that will alter the conditions of possibility of postmodernity (which he identifies as capitalism) and so give birth to a new type of Symbolic Order in which a new breed of subject can exist.
- The Law. Žižek refers to the law throughout his work. The term "the law" signifies the principles upon which society is based, designating a mode of collective conduct based upon a set of prohibitions. However, for Žižek, the rule of the law reveals the act of creation of The Law as the ultimate act if that which it seeks to establish on order upon - the real crime is the act of law itself which reduces all other crime to banal and impossible to be fully realised as criminal via the establishment of the law itself as an always already mediating force; nullifying crime itself. (See For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor.)
- The Demise of the big Other. One key aspect of the universalization of reflexivity is the resulting disintegration of the big Other, the communal network of social institutions, customs and laws. For Žižek, the big Other was always dead, in the sense that it never existed in the first place as a material thing. All it ever was (and is) is a purely symbolic order. It means that we all engage in a minimum of idealization, disavowing the brute fact of the Real in favor of another Symbolic world behind it. Žižek expresses this disavowal in terms of an "as if". In order to coexist with our neighbors we act "as if" they do not smell bad or look ridiculous. The big Other is then a kind of collective lie to which we all individually subscribe. (See Jacques Lacan on other/Other and Žižek's For They Know Not What They Do.)
- The Return of the big Other. Paradoxically, then, Žižek argues that the typical postmodern subject is one who displays an outright cynicism towards official institutions, yet at the same time believes in the existence of conspiracies and an unseen Other pulling the strings. This apparently contradictory coupling of cynicism and belief is strictly correlative to the demise of the big Other. Its disappearance causes us to construct an Other of the Other in order to escape the unbearable freedom its loss encumbers us with. (See Looking Awry: an Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture.)
Žižek follows Louis Althusser in jettisoning the Marxist equation: "ideology equals false consciousness." Ideology, to all intents and purposes, is consciousness. Ideology does not "mask" the real—one cannot achieve true consciousness. This being the case, post-ideological postmodern "knowingness"—the cynicism and irony of postmodern cultural production—does not reveal the truth, the real, the hard kernel. Knowing that we are being "lied" to is hardly the stuff of revolution when ideology is not, and never has been, simply a matter of consciousness, of subject positions, but is the very stuff of everyday praxis itself. The cynics and ironists, not to mention the deconstructionists et al., may know that reality is an "ideological construction"—some have even read their Lacan and Derrida—but in their daily practice, caught up in an apparently unalterable world of exchange-values (capital), they do their part to sustain that construction in any case. As Marx would say, it is their very life process that is ideological, what they know, or what they think they know, being neither here nor there. The postmodern cultural artifact—the "critique," the "incredulity"—is itself merely a symptom/commodity fetish. Thus has capital commodified even the cynicism that purports to unmask its "reality," to "emancipate."
Today, in the aftermath of the "end of ideology", Žižek is critical of the way political decisions are justified; the way, for example, reductions in social programs are sometimes presented as an apparently 'objective' necessity, though this is no longer a valid basis for political discourse. He sees the current "talk about greater citizen involvement" or "political goals circumscribed within the rubric of the cultural" as having little effectiveness as long as no substantial measures are devised for the long run. But measures such as the "limitation of the freedom of capital" and the "subordination of the manufacturing processes to a mechanism of social control"—these Žižek calls a "radical de-politicization of the economy" (A Plea for Intolerance).
So at present Slavoj Žižek is arguing for a politicization of the economy. For indeed the "tolerant" multicultural impulse, as the dogma of today's liberal society, suppresses the crucial question: How can we reintroduce into the current conditions of globalization the genuine space of the political? He also argues in favor of a "politicization of politics" as a counter balance to post-politics. In the area of political decision making in a democratic context he criticizes the two-party system that is dominant in some countries as a political form of a "post-political era", as a manifestation of a possibility of choice that in reality does not exist.
Politicization is thus for him present whenever "a particular demand begins to function as a representative of the impossible universal". Žižek sees class struggle not as localized objective determinations, as a social position vis-à-vis capital but rather as lying in a "radically subjective" position: the proletariat is the living, "embodied contradiction". Only through particularism in the political struggle can any universalism emerge. Fighting for workers interests often appears discredited today ("indeed in this domain the workers themselves only wish to implement their own interests, they fight only for themselves and not for the whole"). The problem is how to foster a politicizing politics in the age of post-politics. Particular demands, acting as a "metaphorical condensation", would thus aim at something that transcends those particular demands, a genuine reconstruction of the social framework. Žižek, following Jacques Ranciere, sees the real political conflict as being that between an ordered structure of society and those without a place in it, the "part that has no part" in anything but nonetheless causes the structure to falter, because it refers to—i.e. embodies—an "empty principle" of the "universal".
The very fact that a society is not easily divided into classes, that there is no "simple structural trait" for it, that for instance the "middle class" is also intensely fought over by a populism of the right, is a sign of this struggle. Otherwise "class antagonism would be completely symbolized" and no longer both impossible and real at the same time ("impossible/real"). His solution to capitalism is a rapid repoliticization of the economy.
Žižek is an atheist. He has said he does not consider religion an enemy but rather one of the fields of struggle. He has also referred to himself as a "Christian materialist". Žižek believes the universalist aspect of Christianity should be secularized into militant egalitarianism, against the "pagan notion of destiny". This universalism he derives from what he perceives as the alleged Christian death of God: God died on the cross and lives on as the "Holy Spirit", that is, in human community.
In 2006, Žižek wrote an opinion piece published in the New York Times calling atheism a great legacy of Europe, and voiced his support for the propagation of atheism in the continent. He has written many pieces on the reinterpretation of the religious and the theological such as The Puppet and the Dwarf, On Belief and The Fragile Absolute.
Slavoj Žižek's notoriety in academic circles has increased rapidly, especially since he began publishing widely in English. Many hundreds of academics have addressed aspects of Žižek's work in professional papers.
Žižek's style is a matter of some debate:
Critiques include Harpham (2003) and O'Neill (2001). Both agree that Žižek flouts standards of reasoned argument. Harpham calls Žižek's style "a stream of nonconsecutive units arranged in arbitrary sequences that solicit a sporadic and discontinuous attention." O'Neill concurs: "a dizzying array of wildly entertaining and often quite maddening rhetorical strategies are deployed in order to beguile, browbeat, dumbfound, dazzle, confuse, mislead, overwhelm, and generally subdue the reader into acceptance."
While criticizing Žižek's style in general, David Bordwell criticizes his humor as an "academic humor" and in Bordwell's words academic humor is to humor what "military intelligence is to intelligence." Supporters such as R. Butler argue that such critiques miss the point and instead support Žižek's thinking: "As Žižek says, it is our very desire to look for mistakes and inconsistencies in the Other that testifies to the fact that we still transfer on to them...."
John Holbo of the National University of Singapore has criticized Žižek for his alleged refusal to lay out what social formation he would replace the existing order with. Holbo argues that Žižek's "irrational" approach to thought disregards the ontic benefits brought about by late capital, specifically in its liberal-democratic form. A similar criticism, from a scholar akin to Žižek, is made by Ernesto Laclau in Contingency, Hegemony, Universality. In his "Response to Žižek", Laclau claims that Žižek's political thought is dogmatically Marxist, and often out of keeping with his psychoanalytic theories. Noting that "all of Žižek's Marxist concepts come from either Marx himself or from the Russian Revolution", Laclau asserts that "Žižek uses class as a sort of deus ex machina to play the role of the good guy against the multicultural devils. Laclau concludes that Žižek's political thought suffers from "'combined and uneven development'" and that "while his Lacanian tools, combined with his insight have allowed him to make considerable progress in the understanding of ideological processes in contemporary societies, his strictly political thought... remains fixed in traditional categories".
Alleged misreading of Lacan and Hegel
Ian Parker, a Lacanian psychoanalyst, complains that Žižek "delights in the most extreme formulations of what the end of psychoanalysis might entail" (Ian Parker, Slavoj Žižek: A Critical Introduction, Pluto Press: London and Sterling, 2004; p. 78). For Parker, this is particularly difficult when Žižek attempts to carry over concepts from Lacan's teachings into the sphere of political and social theory. Parker notes that Lacan's seminars were originally addressed to an audience of psychoanalysts for use in their clinical practice rather than for philosophers such as Žižek to produce new theories of political action. This is particularly true, claims Parker, of Žižek's appropriation of Lacan's discussion of Antigone in his 1959/1960 seminar, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. In this seminar, Lacan uses Antigone to defend the claim that "the only thing of which one can be guilty is of having given ground relative to one's desire" (Slavoj Žižek, The Metastases of Enjoyment, Verso: London, 1994; p. 69). However, as Parker notes, Antigone's act (burying her dead brother in the knowledge that she will be buried alive) was never intended to effect a revolutionary change in the political status quo; yet, despite this, Žižek frequently cites Antigone as a paradigm of ethico-political action. Parker concludes that carrying over concepts from Lacanian psychoanalysis "into other spheres requires something a little less hasty and less dramatic than what we find in Žižek" (Parker, p. 80).
Noah Horwitz's essay "Contra the Slovenians: Returning to Lacan and away from Hegel" (Philosophy Today, Spring 2005, pp. 24–32) is a critique of Žižek's reading of Hegel. Horwitz claims that Žižek mistakenly conflates Lacan's unconscious with Hegel's unconscious. Horwitz notes that "the 'it' one is meant to identify with in [Lacanian] psychoanalysis is not some inert, substance irreducible to one, but rather the radically other scene where thinking occurs" (Horwitz, p. 30). According to Horwitz, the Lacanian unconscious and the Hegelian unconscious are two totally different mechanisms. If we take speech, Lacan's unconscious reveals itself to us in the slip-of-the-tongue or parapraxis we are therefore alienated from language through the revelation of our desire (even if that desire originated with the Other, as Lacan claims, it remains peculiar to us). In Hegel's unconscious, however, we are alienated from language whenever we attempt to articulate a particular and end up articulating a universal (so if I say 'the dog is with me', although I am trying to say something about this particular dog at this particular time, I actually produce the universal category 'dog').
Other works cited
- Canning, P. "The Sublime Theorist of Slovenia: Peter Canning Interviews Slavoj Žižek" in Artforum, Issue 31, March 1993, pp. 84–9.
Critical introductions to Žižek
- Christopher Hanlon, "Psychoanalysis and the Post-Political: An Interview with Slavoj Žižek." New Literary History 32 (Winter, 2001).
- Tony Myers, Slavoj Žižek (London: Routledge, 2003).
- Sarah Kay, Žižek: A Critical Introduction (Cambridge: Polity, 2003).
- Ian Parker, Slavoj Žižek: A Critical Introduction (London: Pluto Press, 2004).
- Matthew Sharpe, Slavoj Žižek, a little piece of the Real (London: Ashgate, 2004).
- Rex Butler, "Slavoj Žižek: Live Theory" (London: Continuum, 2005).
- Jodi Dean, Žižek's Politics (London: Routledge, 2006).
- Adam Kotsko, Žižek and Theology (New York: T & T Clark, 2008).
- Marcus Pound, Žižek: A (Very) Critical Introduction (Interventions) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).
- Adrian Johnston, Žižek's Ontology: A Transcendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2008).
- Adrian Johnston, Badiou, Žižek, and Political Transformations: The Cadence of Change (Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 2009).
- Dominik Finkelde, Slavoj Žižek zwischen Lacan und Hegel. Politische Philosophie, Metapsychologie, Ethik (Wien: Turia + Kant, 2009).
- Paul A. Taylor, Žižek And The Media (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010).
- Raoul Moati (ed.), Autour de S., Žižek, Psychanalyse, Marxisme, Idéalisme Allemand, Paris, PUF, "Actuel Marx", 2010
- Fabio Vighi, On Žižek’s Dialectics: Surplus, Subtraction, Sublimation, (Continuum, 2010).
- International Journal of Žižek Studies, home page. URL accessed on December 27, 2011.
- Slavoj Zizek Faculty Page at European Graduate School Wp→ (Biography, bibliography and video lectures). European Graduate School Wp→. URL accessed on 2010-09-23.
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- Democracy Now! television program online transcript, 11 March 2008.
- Slovenian Philosopher Slavoj Zizek on Capitalism, Healthcare, Latin American "Populism" and the "Farcical" Financial Crisis. Democracynow.org. URL accessed on 2010-08-13.
- Slovenski biografski leksikon (Ljubljana: SAZU Wp→, 1991), XV. edition
- Tednik, številka 42, Slavoj Žižek. Mladina.Si. URL accessed on 2010-08-13.
- Slovenska pomlad: Slavoj Žižek (Webpage run by the National Museum of Modern History in Ljubljana). Slovenskapomlad.si. URL accessed on 2011-06-04.
- Delavsko-punkerska univerza. Dpu.mirovni-institut.si. URL accessed on 2010-08-13.
- Tednik, številka 04, Dr. Božidar Debenjak, filozof. Mladina.Si. URL accessed on 2010-08-13.
- Žižek's response to the article "Če sem v kaj resnično zaljubljena, sem v življenje (Sobotna priloga Dela, p. 37 (19.1. 2008)
- "Chronology: Slavoj Žižek, His Life." From. Lacan.com. URL accessed on 2011-06-04.
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- Butler, Rex and Scott Stephens. "Play Fuckin' Loud: Žižek Versus the Left." The Symptom, Online Journal for Lacan.com.
- Glenn, Joshua. "The Examined Life: Enjoy Your Chinos!" Boston Globe. 6 July 2003. H2.
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- Acting Up. – Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Britannica.com. URL accessed on 2010-08-13.
- SASA members. Sazu.si. URL accessed on 2011-06-04.
- , accessed 21 October 2010
- Today Liberty Plaza had a Visit from Slavoj Zizek. occupywallst.org. URL accessed on 2011-10-12.
- I am a Fighting Atheist: Interview with Slavoj Zizek, Bad Subjects, February 2002.
- Zizek, Slavoj. Atheism is a legacy worth fighting for. New York Times. March 13, 2006.
- Google Scholar search for Zizek. Scholar.google.com. URL accessed on 2011-06-04.
- Harpham "Doing the Impossible: Slavoj Žižek and the End of Knowledge"
- O'Neill "The Last Analysis of Slavoj Žižek"
- David Bordwell's "Slavoj Žižek: Say Anything"
- Butler "Slavoj Žižek: Live Theory"
- Douzinas, Costas Slavoj Žižek: Live Theory: Books: Rex Butler. Amazon.com. URL accessed on 2011-06-04.
- Holbo "Critical Discussion on Žižek and Trilling"
- Butler, Judith, Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Žižek "Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left". Verso. London, New York City 2000. pp. 202–206
- (2009). Intellectuals. Prospect magazine. URL accessed on 11 July 2010.
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- Slavoj Zizek Faculty Page at European Graduate School
- Žižek's entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Žižek's Bibliography at Lacanian Ink Magazine
- Žižek's Archive at Mideastdilemma.com
- RSA Animate: First As Tragedy Then As Farce at The Radical Institute
- Slavoj Žižek: "What does it mean to be a revolutionary today?" - video from the Marxism 2009 conference
- Interview with Slavoj Žižek: "The Discourse of Political Correctness Hides Extreme Violence", Barcelona Metropolis, 2011
- Shin, Sarah, Slavoj Žižek at Occupy Wall Street: “We are not dreamers, we are the awakening from a dream which is turning into a nightmare”, Verso Books blog, 10 October 2011.
- Column archive at The Guardian
- Slavoj Žižek on Charlie Rose Wp→
- Slavoj Žižek at the Internet Movie Database Wp→
- International Journal of Žižek Studies
- Slavoj Žižek at the London Review of Books
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