Lately I’ve been perplexed by the seemingly unstoppable popularity of Slavoj Zizek. Not only does his incomprehensible rhetoric annoy me (that would hardly make him special), but his actual positions are puerile when he finally gets around to articulating them. Nonetheless, I actually sort of like him despite his best efforts to be monstrous. He’s said similar things about Jesus – and Stalin, too.

Because that’s what Zizek does. He plays on our preconceptions (Hitler was evil; Jesus was good)) and turns them against us (Hitler was less evil than Stalin; Jesus was a monster), which isn’t always a bad way to make a point. I just wish he could do it without all that Lacanian-Derridean-derived jargon that gets in the way of everything. I found a review of Zizek! by Johann Hari which gets it right:

When you peel back the patina of postmodernism, there is old-fashioned philo-tyrannical nonsense here. At some level, Zizek knows that this is preposterous – he lived under Soviet tyranny, and even joined the opposition. Simply by putting a camera in front of him and leaving it running, Taylor sees his facade and his ideas crumble.

Hari came under fire for this review. Ophelia Benson defended him. There was a massive comment-volley on Butterflies and Wheels (Benson’s site) which is worth reading. Essentially, Hari was attacked for not having read and thoroughly considered the whole of Zizeks’ work (this was back in 2007 by the way), as if that were necessary for a film review. Hari wrote in plain English, and for this he was called a “reactionary anti-intellectual.” He was lambasted for “denouncing” Slavoj Zizek.

Does any of this sound familiar?

On Not Reading Slavoj Zizek

I’ve never actually read anything substantial by Žižek, which is of course essential before dismissing him entirely. I admit it’s even possible that his critics have taken him out of context (O beloved zizekian word!) in order to make him appear a “reckless” intellectual. Adam Kirsch’s well-known attack on the controversial counterculture guru (in the New Republic)  seems strangely to have disappeared from the internet. All links to the article – including my own –  lead to a “page not found” page. Is the zizekian secret police out to erase Adam Kirsch from existence?

Thankfully, Dissent has a brand-new skewering of Žižek by Alan Johnson. And The Magnificent Slavoj has ardent defenders as well. But you’ll have to subscribe to read it, because Dissent is not the NY Times.