Monday, December 01, 2008

Unfortunately, the celebrity philosopher craze did not end with the death of Jacques Derrida. The latest raves are for academic bullshit artist, Slavoj Zizek, from Slovenia, who is every bit of the bill. (I'm reading one of his collections now.) He knows how to be 'outrageous' for the sake of drawing attention, careful to mix his declarations about Heidegger, Freud, Hegel et al with allusions to the latest Hollywood movie hit.

According to Adam Kirsch, the same crowd in American academia is as happy to suck up to Zizek as it was to Derrida:

The curious thing about the Zizek phenomenon is that the louder he applauds violence and terror--especially the terror of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, whose "lost causes" Zizek takes up in another new book, In Defense of Lost Causes--the more indulgently he is received by the academic left, which has elevated him into a celebrity and the center of a cult. A glance at the blurbs on his books provides a vivid illustration of the power of repressive tolerance. In Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle, Zizek claims, "Better the worst Stalinist terror than the most liberal capitalist democracy"; but on the back cover of the book we are told that Zizek is "a stimulating writer" who "will entertain and offend, but never bore." In The Fragile Absolute, he writes that "the way to fight ethnic hatred effectively is not through its immediate counterpart, ethnic tolerance; on the contrary, what we need is even more hatred, but proper political hatred"; but this is an example of his "typical brio and boldness." And In Defense of Lost Causes, where Zizek remarks that "Heidegger is 'great' not in spite of, but because of his Nazi engagement," and that "crazy, tasteless even, as it may sound, the problem with Hitler was that he was not violent enough, that his violence was not 'essential' enough"; but this book, its publisher informs us, is "a witty, adrenalinfueled manifesto for universal values."

In the same witty book Zizek laments that "this is how the establishment likes its 'subversive' theorists: harmless gadflies who sting us and thus awaken us to the inconsistencies and imperfections of our democratic enterprise--God forbid that they might take the project seriously and try to live it." How is it, then, that Slavoj Zizek, who wants not to correct democracy but to destroy it, has been turned into one of the establishment's pet subversives, who "tries to live" the revolution most completely as a jet-setting professor at the European Graduate School, a senior researcher at the University of Ljubljana's Institute of Sociology, and the International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities?

What's unfortunate about Zizek is, if he wasn't so caught up with performing cartwheels for the intelligentsia, some of his points about the importance of the religions of the West would be better taken. You can't help feeling he adopts the role of poseur precisely because he senses how little patience there is on the Left for anything substantive about religion.

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