Who the Heck is Slavoj Žižek?

Who the Heck is Slavoj Žižek? September 7, 2013
Brilliant philosopher or crazy homeless man? You decide.

Who is Slavoj Žižek, I ask?

  • Peter Rollins’s father?
  • A homeless man?
  • The most brilliant Continental philosopher of our day?

I don’t know the answer. I’ve not read more than a essay here and there by Žižek, and watched some videos of him. Surprisingly, watching him lecture and answer questions is even more confusing than reading his writing.

Thankfully, Christian Thorne has written three short essays about Žižek. Here are money quote excerpts:

Žižek’s Argument:

So here, for easy reference, is his animating claim: that every political formation, in addition to generating the law, generates a particular more or less expected way of violating the law. Any set of prohibitions comes with its own accustomed transgressions, a particular way in which Law-in-the-abstract allows itself to be broken. Different laws produce different lawbreakers or different modes of rebellion. And what keeps us attached to a given political order—what makes us loyal to it—is not the law, but the transgression.

Žižek’s Method:

For to call Žižek a Gothic writer is finally to say less about the substance of his arguments than about his way of making those arguments—his philosophical style or Darstellung. It is one thing, I mean, to point out that Žižek gives an account of fear, which we could reflect on and debate at the seminar table and then agree with or not. It is another, rather more interesting thing to observe that Žižek is trying to scare you—not just to explain the uncanny to you, but to raise its pimples in your armflesh.

Žižek’s Stalling:

His thinking is manifestly organized around an opposition—the antithesis of law and transgression. That couplet will reappear in scores of his more local arguments. But what he calls upon us to repudiate, after those many arguments have crystallized out into their overriding political claim and program, is the merger of law and transgression in post-Oedipal capitalism’s culture of compulsory mischief, that historically novel system in which authority accrues to the rule-breaker rather than to the bailiff and in which it has become possible—check your own head—to feel guilty about doing what you’re told or to find the superego calling you to account for being insufficiently insubordinate. We can simplify that last sentence: Žižek repudiates the merger, and this is peculiar because it means that on the schedule of concepts generated squarewise by the antithesis law vs. transgression, it is the perfected term—the fusing of obedience and rebellion—that Left Lacanianism recommends we back away from. Žižek is widely regarded as a dialectical thinker, but it has to be said: He takes the synthesis to be the problem, and that isn’t how the dialectic typically works.

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  • Mike Wood

    A genie tells a man he can have three wishes.
    “First of all,” the man enthuses, “I want to be Slavoj Žižek.”
    “You cretin!” the genie replies. “You already are Slavoj Žižek!”

    (from http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/lacanian-jokes-of-the-day)

  • Carl Gregg

    I found a helpful starting point to be “Zizek and Theology” by Adam Kotsko (http://amzn.to/T00Lp8).

  • toddh

    I’m not even sure it’s him, but I follow @zizek_ebooks on twitter. It’s constantly entertaining. Whoever it is loves to tweet about Stalin, Batman, Hegel, sex, and Kung Fu Panda.

  • Yes, that is an excellent summary.

  • BradC

    Zizek was at PCR3 – the Politics of Love Conference in 2009 hosted by Dr. John Caputo at Syracuse. It is well worth listening or reading his presentation at the conference.
    On a side note one of the most remarkable memories is enjoying an extended visit with Zizek in the Hotel lounge with our entire crew peppering him with question after question – truly an amazing mind.
    Also watch some of the extended video on Children of Men – he has some unique observations.