I’ve recently been invited to write a chapter in a book on Slavoj Zizek and Education. I know some of you who visit here are Zizek nerds like me, so I figured I’d share it for that reason. The title is “The Fantastic Emergence of Narrative: Educational Fantasies in Zizek’s Atheistic Theology.”
For the rest, I present it as an exercise in self-humiliation. It is a perverse proposal, and will be a perverse chapter, in the sense that it is built with outrageously specialized language, produced by the anemic sickness of expression that is typical of most academic jargon. But, alas, I am fluent in a few of these languages and I find that sometimes the quickest route to certain academic projects is to use them.
Also: embedded in the ridiculous prose is a fairly consistent appeal to my approach to understanding philosophers: through their life (bios). All philosophy is biographical to me; I read philosophical texts as confessions, in the style of my beloved Augustine’s Confessions.
Here’s the proposal:
“The Fantastic Emergence of Narrative: Educational Fantasies in Zizek’s Atheistic Theology”
Slavoj Žižek’s thought is not so much complex or disjointed, as critics like to caricature it. It is layered: embedded in deeply personal, biographical concerns he constantly connects between his internal life and external studies—and the performative and intellectual habits that come with them. My reading of Žižek takes his work as purely confessional. Nothing more, nothing less. Even his immense—and also widely criticized—productivity can only be seen, in my view, as someone who has a lot to confess.
This confessional reading of Žižek takes his Lacanian psychoanalytic lens and does to it what one would do in an action movie to someone aggressing with a pistol: force the barrel back toward the antagonist and pull the trigger. The result of this homicide is theology. In fact, it is precisely his suicidal and atheistic reading of the passion of Christ through G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy that warrants this murderous strategy. What we are left with after his theological turn, I will argue, is a reading of Žižek’s own assimilation of Lacan’s critique of narrative as a reflexive, inchoate, confession that displaces his Hegelian philosophical insistence with the pregnant core of his status as an atheist theologian (or materialist theologian): an educational fantasy.
This reading is not principally trying to innovate a way to handle or sythensize Žižek. It is more ambitious than that. I will use Žižek to affirm the psychoanalytic description of education, most notably championed by Deborah Britzman, as happening unconsciously, within the domain of fantasy. However, unlike the Freudian narrativist approach, the value of Žižek to education is precisely in being able to see a performance of fantasy—in his theology—that re-produces the fantastic in a Lacanian way that goes behind narrative and brings us back to the root of the psychic productions of education.
To be more direct: there are two common-sense claims of and about education that this chapter will seek to dismantle: (1) the mistaken idea that education’s philosophical import is primarily an epistemological and/or psychological concern and (2) the narrative, linguistic, or hermeneutic—one can call it whatever what one likes—turn of the previous century that has infected education to the point that it is often considered to be purely narrative. Žižek provides, throughout his work, a serious engagement with the (political) return to ontology in continental philosophy that rejects the epistemological claim and his psychoanalytic method is a drastic contrast to the tyrannical assumptions of contemporary educational psychology. More powerfully, his appropriation of Lacan’s critique of narrativism, most notably in The Plague of Fantasies, only furthers the ontological and psychoanalytic contrast, leaving us with new ways of responding to the fundamental question, “What is education?”
Two questions: Who is Žižek? What is education?