More Zizek


Looks like it’s Zizek all the way these days: Apocalyptic Times.

There’s a variety of reactions to Zizek’s appearance on HardTalk. Some are interesting, some are silly. I was particularly disappointed by comments like this:

It is sometimes too easy for us to think that Zizek was misunderstood or stitched up but we are still presented with a very real problem: if Zizek cannot get across his views in an interview like this what chance do his views have in their potential to make change? Precisely who is Zizek for? And by feeding into increasingly obtuse readings do we not simply make ourselves obsolete from the political scene? This is where I see a kind of reverse disavowal: we too are opting out creating a ‘faux-communism’ whose definition has become, and I’m being honest here, pretty damn obscure.

Sorry, Paul, but this is very likely the most ridiculous comment in the history of commenting – one might not agree with Zizek, but to say that he is in any way obtuse or cannot get his views across in the form of sound bites is to reveal an amazing ignorance of all things Zizek. Plus, the idea that only simple and presentable views can “make change” is just odd – there go Hegel and Marx, apparently their utter inability to be presentable doomed them to obscurity…

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42 thoughts on “More Zizek

  1. If there was ever good evidence of the object-oriented blogosphere’s unwillingness to entertain a politics that isn’t a dressed up form of liberalism, this would be it.

    • I don’t know if I would go that far, but there’s certainly something rather childish in such hasty evaluations of everything based on some rather unrepresentative footage of Zizek. The guy interviewing him was a total dick, I know they like them that way on TV but still…

  2. Comparing Zizek to Badiou’s horribly inexpressive, exclusionary and retreative interview on the SAME show points out just how different these two thinkers are.

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/03/27/hearing-alain-badiou-on-hardtalk-the-bashful-maoist/

    Badiou was ridiculous and didn’t make a single substantive point, while in even the first 3 minutes Zizek laps him several times. If Zizke is obtuse in this interview, Badiou was academic mumbler and a flop.

      • Hmm, not sure if I ever said Zizek wasn’t railroaded… but to say Zizek and Badiou handled the interview equally, I definitely have to disagree. Badiou’s was a disaster.

    • Watch a few of the interviews with Badiou in French and he’s a much more agile speaker. He got railroaded by the HARDtalk asshole speaking in a language he learned very late in life.

      • I disagree, not in terms of his French, but in terms of his English and being “railroaded”. His vocabulary in English was perfecty suitable to express any of the substantive positions he could have taken, and he was no more “railroaded” than Zizek was. The idea that Badiou was railroaded and Zizek wasn’t, well, let’s just say, someone is cheering for the home team.

        Go Communists Go!

    • Actually Zizek was amazing, even though his answers were well-rehearsed ground. Zizek even expressed the genuine attempt to actually find agreement with his interlocutor urging him to assent, especially at the end. Even if this is purely rhetorical, it is precisely what is needed to be read as communicating and sincere.

  3. @bryan: I *am* a liberal so I’m not dressing up anything.

    I was perhaps a little unfair in that comment but mostly I’m just fascinated by the fact that Zizek and Badiou are on Hardtalk at all. Nonetheless I think Zizek did not perform well and if he is unable to get his message across clearly here then precisely who is the message for? If the message is for other intellectuals than that is fine but I presume the communist message will eventually need to leap outside the academy. At that point one cannot rely on a Hegelian-Lacanian-Leninist flood of jargon.

    Nor am I basing this solely on this interview. Like everyone else I’ve read Zizek, watched his lectures on Youtube, and even seen the movie. Like Gray I cannot help but wonder whether he has become a kind of ‘media’ in his own right. Zizek himself seems acutely aware of this (in the movie when he hints at a suicide of his public-joker persona).

    ”Plus, the idea that only simple and presentable views can “make change” is just odd – there go Hegel and Marx, apparently their utter inability to be presentable doomed them to obscurity…”

    I don’t think it is even possible to compare Zizek to Hegel-Marx. Our situation is radically different nor do I think that Zizek is doomed to obscurity (he is after all on the BBC!). It’s a simple case of bafflement as to how people think one gets from Zizek’s theory to the people he intends to reach provided that his audience is more than people seeking “high-end entertainment” as Gray put it. I see little evidence that contradicts that assessment.

    I’d like to end by noting that I was also impressed by Zizek’s attitude in the interview. Despite being set-on by the interviewer he got in some good points (especially on Afghanistan) and did not get overly upset despite being constantly called ‘perverse’ (I’m sure you guys must have got a kick out of that), and dealt quite well with the selective quotation. Compared to Badiou he did a good job.

    Anyway I hope that clarifies a thing or two. The last thing I want to suggest is that Zizek=pointless nonsense. What I really wanted to get at was the strangeness of Zizek and Badiou turning up on Hardtalk at all and what exactly this means: is it possible that the BBC recognises their ‘entertainment value’? Or are they being taken seriously?

    • I don’t mean to be rude, Paul, but have you read read much Zizek or are you mostly relying on his popular brochures and media appearances?

      No one is comparing him to Hegel-Marx (two names in a sentence do not constitute a comparison), all I said what that if you judge the message’s supposed effectiveness and ability to change political/social situations by whether it is “clear and simple” or whether it is “my brain hurts, I need a break” then Hegel-Marx should have been an example of utter failure with their message and they weren’t. That is to say, no everyone wants their revolutionary thought in sounds bites and neat metaphors.

      P.S. How exactly is our situation “radically different” that of Hegel/Marx?

    • I couldn’t care a lick about Zizek, or HArdtalk, but I thought I would point out an interesting phenomenon (one which actually underwrites an entire sub-discipline of media studies, the ‘critique of the political economy of media’): in emphasizing the sound-bite qualities of clarity and simplicity one actually makes any kind of serious analysis, engagement, discussion, and debate impossible. It simply takes up too much time (this is the simplicity requirement at its most basic) to present enough factual information to undertake any form of analysis, just as it takes too much time to actually make an argument. SO all you can get, once ‘simplicity’ is invoked, is a statement of position. If you’re position is critical it will always appear to be unfounded, precisely because you can’t even explain it, let alone defend it. Then there’s also the post-production editing, which can make even the best speaker look incoherent.

      So much for simplicity, what about clarity? Clarity is context and speaker sensitive (even in philosophy: I’ve been places, where one must formulate everything in predicate calculus in order to be considered clear. i doubt that would work on TV), and it shouldn’t be confused with simplification (science reporting is ‘clear’ because it finds neat ways to simplify complex material, and we let scientists have a certain kind of authority; if one simplifies a political point, one doesn’t get a clear position, one gets ‘you’re either with us, or with the terrorists’). So again, the criteria of clarity and simplicity work to undermine the possibility of any real kind of engagement. And loud, conservative shows like HArdtalk work very hard to make people sound verbose and unfocused (it’s part of the blue-collar attitude that helps fool people into thinking that neo-liberal economics somehow helps them… cuz it’s against the big bad, arrogant left).

      Anyway, for what it’s worth, we should at least questions the ‘conditions of media communication’ in order to see whether someone like Badiou or Zizek, or whomever, can actually look good before we start critiquing a particular position. So far as I see it, intellectuals always look like pompous twits on TV. And that’s led to a surfeit of partisan hackery and name called that masquerades as “debate.” or “critical engagement.”

  4. I thought I’d point out that Paul’s hero of clarity and simplicity just shot out this nonsensical and delusional post about “Eli” (who he claims is Kevin, who is still recovering from Harman’s awesome unmasking of him) – the man is mad and has such childish projection issues that I think he might need help at some point.

    On the other hand, it’s good to see all that “searching for Harman” on PE didn’t go to waste. He explodes about “likes and dislikes” in this babble:

    http://doctorzamalek2.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/some-disingenuous-claims/

    And yet quickly recovers and claims that he’s fine with “likes and dislikes” here:

    http://doctorzamalek2.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/speaking-of-likes-and-dislikes/

    So Eli/Kevin are idiots for saying he likes things (and don’t like anything themselves), but they are also geniuses for pointing out that critique really should be.

    I am going to enjoy (i.e. like very much) this one. I think we have our very own Sarah Palin of the blogosphere now.

    P.S. If blogosphere is a “republic” then we might do something about these self-proclaimed “friends of the people” next time elections come around.

    • Yawn.

      If Harman would explain what he means by critique and affirmation, then maybe we could say something sensible about his remarks. As it stands, I think he’s simply trying to re-semanticize ‘critique’ as ‘what unintelligent people do in the absence of ideas.’ Funny that. I know of no model of critique that isn’t productive or affirmative. There’s bad or failed criticism, to be sure, but it would be a specious principle of data selection that allows one to focus exclusively on ‘bad criticism’. Hey, anyone notice the need for an adjective here? How about we be philosophical, and actually introduce a a distinction, which, among other things would be marked by adjectives… Especially since what Harman really wants to say is that unintelligent folks engage in ‘naive critique’ — Contradiction much? — but can’t. So three cheers for sloppy thinking.

      Since I’m at it, I might as well say that ‘naive realism’ is a coherent position that some pretty smart folks have held. Sometimes, people call it ‘direct realism.’ JL Austin held this view, and anyone who thinks that our sensory modalities deliver reliable information about ‘what is’ hold the view too. Yawn.

    • Lou: “I thought I’d point out that Paul’s hero of clarity and simplicity just shot out this nonsensical and delusional post about “Eli” (who he claims is Kevin, who is still recovering from Harman’s awesome unmasking of him) – the man is mad and has such childish projection issues that I think he might need help at some point.”

      Kvond: I love it. I wish I could write like Eli in summation of Harman’s difficulties. I guess I take it as a compliment. Eli was spot on, but I can confirm, at least to the least paranoid, I am not “Eli”. (Sorry Graham.)

      • Well, at least admit that you have been crying for days after your unmasking, that you are still recovering from that awesome blow of Harman’s crazed vengeance (at least he’s honest enough to call it “retaliation” – I wonder when the officials at AUC finally notice that one of their high-ranking administrators is making a complete ass of himself by “retaliating” against people who criticize him by digging up personal information about them and posting it online).

  5. ”I don’t mean to be rude, Paul, but have you read read much Zizek or are you mostly relying on his popular brochures and media appearances?”

    Yes I have. I’m no Zizek expert but like most people these days I’ve read The Sublime Object of Ideology, On Belief, The Parallax View etc etc. All that good stuff. I haven’t read everything and I doubt many have.

    ”all I said what that if you judge the message’s supposed effectiveness and ability to change political/social situations by whether it is “clear and simple” or whether it is “my brain hurts, I need a break” then Hegel-Marx should have been an example of utter failure with their message and they weren’t. That is to say, no everyone wants their revolutionary thought in sounds bites and neat metaphors.”

    I’m not suggesting Zizek needs to make his work simpler and clearer when writing books or engaging audiences at lecture halls. However if Zizek is going to start popping up on the BBC then the debate is no longer going to be on such soft terms. The average Zizek audience already agrees with him. In this sense a little bit of translation might be neccessary.

    It might be time to create some sound bites and metaphors to get his message across to people who don’t have time to read Hegel-Lacan-Marx i.e. the majority of people who are watching him on the BBC.

    ”Anyway, for what it’s worth, we should at least questions the ‘conditions of media communication’ in order to see whether someone like Badiou or Zizek, or whomever, can actually look good before we start critiquing a particular position. So far as I see it, intellectuals always look like pompous twits on TV. And that’s led to a surfeit of partisan hackery and name called that masquerades as “debate.” or “critical engagement.”

    Exactly!

    • You’re right only in the sense that if Zizek wants to get the masses on board or get his message across, he needs to create sound bites and metaphors (of which he created many, thus my question whether you’ve read him, again, no offense, but he’s got a new slogan in every book) – but the masses are dumb (that’s why they are the masses) even if the people that ultimately constitute “the masses” are separately quite intelligent. It is precisely by presenting the task as “Be simple and clear or masses will reject you” that we create these dumb masses. There are two banalities here: a) people are smarter than we give them credit for, and b) intellectuals should do all the work in make things clearer and simpler, we (the people) should be able to get it, otherwise we’ll not support it.

      Concerning a): people are not dumber or smarter than they are. It is up to the speaker to create his audience – if you go into a discussion thinking that your audience is dumb and needs to be spoon-fed, it will be dumb. If you take Zizek, then he’s got a fairly simple sound bite that he’s repeating everywhere these days: “Capitalism fucked you and will continue to do so, try to imagine a different world” – can you say it easier? The problem then is that you take it as true or you take it as false, but no real philosophical engagement (“likes and dislikes” instead of a real conversation, if you will) – if Zizek was all slogans (and to some extent I think he is), then it’s just a matter of catering to the masses and I think popular culture will always do a better job at it because its goal is to give you what you want, not what you need.

      Concerning b): intellectuals can do whatever they want, even if they claim to be public intellectuals, if they are not accessible enough, people will stop listening to them. People seems to be excited about Zizek’s ideas – yes, maybe his audiences are made entirely of graduate students and fellow academics, but so what? Other academics don’t get such crowds, so there must be some popular appeal. Where do all of these norms concerning what intellectuals should and shouldn’t do come from? So Zizek appears on Hardtalk, so what? He appeared on Democracy Now in the US and had a grand time on a show that’s also made for the masses, he was given time to make his points, he was not interrupted and so on. The most eloquent speaker would fail on Hardtalk with that dickish host. My original point was that you deduced a whole lot about Zizek and public intellectuals from a 25 minute clip and you’re not alone in doing that sort of thing.

      • Mikhail, I think we posted at about the same time, but your point:

        “It is precisely by presenting the task as “Be simple and clear or masses will reject you” that we create these dumb masses.”

        Is basically my entire post…

      • Next time, Bryan, you can just send me your long and complicated rant and I will reduce it to a nice sound bite so that the masses can get it. I am also very good at diagrams, you know? Nothing complicated, just the stuff you can draw with the most primitive Word table and arrows…

      • Yes, but putting it in a decontextualized table makes it that much easier to argue, since you can interpret it like an inkblot.

        By the way, what’s with this recent meme about how critique is “neutral,” “distant,” etc.? Kpunk said it on his Twitter, and now Graham is stupidly repeating it on his stupid blog. Have any of us ever claimed to be “neutral”? It’s an absurd strawman, and immediately sets the reader up to favor the argument being made against it based on the use of these obviously disingenuous adjectives. Maybe I will come right out and AFFIRM that my critiques are absolutely not neutral.

    • This whole spirit of “simplicity” is totally wrong-headed and utterly misses the point, and if you’ve ready any Zizek it would be perfectly obvious why. At some point or another, Zizek remarks that he isn’t trying to convince people on philosophical points A, B, or C, or even political programmes, X, Y, Z.

      To invoke a Zizekian way of talking, he would say that if you lose the theoretical medium through which you communicate the message, you lose the message itself. Zizek’s whole point is that, even if you disagree with certain ideas, as long as he can get you to begin speaking Lacanian, he has in some sense already won the debate (this is why he spends quite a bit of time in *The Parallax View* pointing out how certain ideas in Badiou’s *Logiques des mondes* come directly from Lacan, etc.).

      Now, as to the question of whether it’s possible to get ordinary people to speak Lacanian, one need only turn to the Slovenia of the late 1980s, where the Slovenian Lacanians actually did manage to popularize Lacan to the extent that major debates had to use Lacanian terms (the 4 way election for Slovenian presidency that Zizek ran for, as well as TV news shows on Slovenia using terms like “Master Signifier” {cf. “Zizek!” the movie}).

      This whole emphasis on “simplicity” I find to be deeply suspicious common sense, and I think it draws a nice boundary between “us” intelligent and educated thinkers who can adequately reason through complex arguments versus “those” people who need watered down spoon-feeding of philosopher’s political and cultural engagements so they don’t have to do any hard thinking. Give me a break!

  6. I think between Mikhail and Bryan’s posts I’ll have to do the honest thing and admit that I don’t have much of a response. Meaning that my post was somewhat over-hasty. My only worry is that I’ll be banned from the internet for not dragging out a debate even when I know I’m wrong.

  7. Thanksgiving going slow – check out this vintage Harman (looks like he hasn’t changed much):

    + From: graham@xxxxxxxxxxxxx (Graham Harman)
    + Date: Sat, 20 Jul 1996 18:29:44 -0500

    The deaths of Deleuze and Levinas in consecutive months last year was a striking coincidence. It leads me to wonder aloud if anyone knows of any work done on these two figures jointly. My guess would be that not much has been said.

    It seems to me that their connection lies in a special relation to Bergson, 20th century continental thought’s forgotten alternative to the phenomenological current that determines the other major figures (see even Foucault’s admission of indebtedness to Heidegger; for Lacan, Derrida, Lyotard, M.-P. Sartre, it’s self-evident from their works alone). In the case of Deleuze there is a refreshingly unique distance from Husserl and Heidegger. The Husserl / Bergson comparison outlined in Cinema I is highly independent and suggestive, murky as it might remain.

    Levinas is a more difficult case, as he is thoroughly steeped inphenomenology himself. Unfortunately, the loose discussions of “the Other” that dominate Levinas studies become detached in a free-floating, facile way from the criticism of Heidegger in which they are grounded. (see De l’Existence a l’Existant. Trans. A. Lingis as “Existence and Existents”,Nijhoff.) But his real achievement would seem to lie in his interpretation of Heidegger’s temporality as HYPOSTASIS. The dialectic of time, with all its paradoxes of concealing/revealing and deferral, is buried in the ambiguous stance of a single instant. There is no genuine principle of novelty in Heidegger, and no real concept of TIME: insofar as the future is only regarded as the futural PROJECTION that outstrips presence-at-hand, not as a real (a.k.a. “vulgar” or “ontic”) future.

    I would anticipate that Bergson is going to make a giant comeback in the next two decades. Deleuze and Levinas seem to be the two contemporary figures with the highest regard for his work.

    Comments?

    Graham Harman
    Philosophy
    DePaul University, Chicago

    That was 1996, my friends! Only 7 more years left for the “giant comeback” of Bergson. Certainly, the man was already quite odd back in the day – look what became of him now!

    p.s. Notice that NO ONE responds/comments after Harman’s message – at least now he has an audience. I hope this awesome find will finally get me on Harman’s hate-radar, I feel left out from his “unmasking” crusade.

    • But remember, that kind of thought definitely has no connection to “speculative” thinking a la speculative finance. Definitely not anything akin to “Get in on Bergson’s stock while it’s low, in the next two decades we’re going to see the Bergson industry skyrocket once people starting uniting Levinas and Deleuze together in unexpected, idiosyncratic ways!”

    • my goodness, how could have others have shrugged off such good financial, errr, I mean philosophical advice. Thanks Lou, it puts in better perspective Harman’s other, more recent thoughts on the stock of philosophers.

      • Disclaimer: to prevent another crazed rant filled with personal details about how hard and thorny Harman’s life was and how he was not and is not an opportunist, I hereby declare the above comment to be a joke or a mockery.

      • I do indeed, seeing how you were crushed with your unmasking (will you ever be the same? will the wound heal?) I’m just not sure I have the strength to endure it. I’d rather be ignored and marginalized.

      • Hmmm. As I understood it, my “real” object was simply hosting the emissary, deputy or vicar of Graham Harman, bejeweled as it was, and I was simply waiting for it to be brushed (or “poked” as you might have it, if I read the theory correctly) with allure.

  8. Pingback: immanence - more on Žižek & nature’s discontents

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