Noam Yuran of a Ha’aretz gamely interviews Slavoj Zizek on the occasion of his visit to Israel. I planned to stay away from theorists like him, but I’ll bite when he steps out to speak to the reading public of a leftist Israeli newspaper. Arguably, being published by Alexander Cockburn’s Verso also counts as more of a political gambit than an academic one, but one look at The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology will convince you otherwise.
As background, Boynton’s Lingua Franca article on Zizek is here, which partly misrepresents him as a wackier version of Hans Magnus Enzensberger, but offers Zizek’s great account of his botched psychoanalysis:
In addition to being Zizek’s teacher, adviser, and sponsor, Jacques-Alain Miller became his analyst as well. While familiarity between analyst and analysand is discouraged by Freudians, it was not unusual for Lacanians to socialize with their patients…Lacan’s sessions ended the moment he sensed the patient had uttered an important word or phrase–a break that might occur in fifteen minutes or less. Miller had fine-tuned the logic of therapy to the point that few sessions lasted more than ten minutes…As the head of the main Lacanian publishing house, Miller was in a position to turn Zizek’s doctoral dissertation into a book. So, when not presenting his fabricated dreams and fantasies, Zizek would transform his sessions into de facto academic seminars to impress Miller with his keen intellect. Although Zizek successfully defended his dissertation in front of Miller, he learned after the defense that Miller did not intend to publish his thesis in book form.
But how does he speak to the public? Yuran says:
Zizek’s prose style has a rebellious and highly compelling side that brushes up against the most critical intellectual trends of our day like cultural studies, contemporary feminism, post-colonialism, and post-modernism.
When filtered down for the common man, here’s what it sounds like:
What fascinates me about disaster films is how circumstances of vast catastrophe suddenly bring about social cooperation. Even racial tensions vanish. It’s important at the end of Independence Day that everyone pulls together – Jews, Arabs, blacks. Disaster films might be the only optimistic social genre that remains today, and that’s a sad reflection of our desperate state.
I think what’s going on today in the name of a war on terrorism shows that liberal democracy is not the transparent, simple political system is it often understood to be.
We should summon our courage and ask the fundamental question – `what is democracy today?’ What are we really deciding? You in Israel, perhaps you are lucky in that on some level you still have a real choice to make. Perhaps a more radical version of a solution for the Palestinian problem would have meaning.
The sad result of this collapse is that we have returned to the concept of history as fate. Globalization is fate. You join it, or you’re out of the game. In any event, there’s no way to influence it.
I’m not saying that there are answers – I’m just saying there will be huge problems. And then maybe we’ll find the answers. Or we won’t.
There’s not much to say about the quotes; I don’t like them. My point is that Zizek, being a mischievous sort of person, is celebratory of the fact that his self-involvement has led to considerable personal success, but when presented with a popular platform, he can’t say anything. I don’t mean that he doesn’t try to make points; I mean that he concertedly avoids saying anything even remotely germane to Israel (the third quote above and his comments on Nazism not excepted). This sets him a far ways off from Edward Said and Stanley Aronowitz, theorists with more readable soapboxes. His mention of American disaster movies in an Israeli newspaper is absurd, but he doesn’t seem to be able to help himself.
So Zizek relegates himself, happily it seems, to the status of entertaining clown. His most popular analogues seem to be Charlie Kaufman (for building fluffy Escher castles in the sky) and Dave Eggers (for shameless shamefulness). But since he gives the game away so baldly, maybe that’s his intent.