Zizek responds to the horrible NYRB review

The Verso Books blog has posted Zizek’s response to John Gray’s incoherent and uncomprehending review, which appeared in the most recent New York Review of Books (along with a shorter response to the stupid Guardian review). He responds in detail to Gray’s claim that Zizek is an anti-Semite, and his answer to the accusation that his philosophy is isomorphic with capitalism is worth quoting:

Anything whatsoever can be proven with such superficial pseudo-Marxist homologies—these homologies, together with Gray’s numerous tendentious distortions, are sad indications of the level of intellectual debate in today’s media. It is Gray’s work which fits perfectly our ideological late-capitalist universe: you ignore totally what the book you are reviewing is about, you renounce any attempt to somehow reconstruct its line of argumentation; instead, you throw together vague text-book generalities, crude distortions of the author’s position, vague analogies, etc.—and, in order to demonstrate your personal engagement, you add to such bric-a-brac of pseudo-deep provocative one-liners the spice of moral indignation (imagine, the author seems to advocate a new holocaust!). Truth doesn’t matter here—what matters is the effect. This is what today’s fast-food intellectual consumers crave for: simple catchy formulas mixed with moral indignation. It amuses you and makes you feel morally good. Gray’s review is not even less than nothing, it is simply a worthless nothing.

I’m on pace to finish the book by the end of the month, at which point I’ll be putting together a review for Global Comment — I think I stand a decent chance of being the first reviewer to actually read the whole thing.

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12 Responses to “Zizek responds to the horrible NYRB review”

  1. Jason Hills Says:

    Adam, for those of us not in the know, exactly what in Zizek’s book is provoking this kind of treatment–if I am to take Zizek at his word?

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I think there’s two factors. First, mainstream publications are always skeptical of high-flown continental philosophy and cultural theory — viz. the fact that more people heard about the Sokal hoax than ever read any of the authors Sokal criticized. Second, Zizek is on the radical left, and there’s something that makes mainstream liberals go nuts when attacked from the left. The fact that he’s so well-known probably makes him a particularly attractive target.

    So there’s nothing in Zizek’s book that’s provoking this, because the reviewers are only scanning the book to verify it fits their preconceptions. He could’ve written the most brilliant and definitive treatment of Hegel in history and it’d be the same.

  3. Jason Hills Says:

    Thanks, Adam.

    I definitely sympathize with the second point, as it seems that even the “left” now-a-days really means “neoliberal,” and they just don’t seem to anticipate harsh leftist and socialist critiques. It’s like the contemporary liberal cosmopolitan who gets accused of racism and is flustered with outrage, while unable to see such complicities, since only the self-and-social narrative of acceptance counts.

  4. Rico Says:

    Hi Adam,

    Can you recommend any books/articles by Zizek or secondary books/articles on Zizek’s view of philosophers/public intellectuals whose sole purpose is to explore his claim that we need philosophy more than ever. That is, I’m interested in any books/articles that explicitly discuss and/or defend theory as Zizek understood it.

    “One is therefore tempted to turn round Marx’s eleventh thesis. The first task today is precisely not to succumb to the temptation to act, to directly intervene and change things (which then inevitably ends in a cul-de-sac of debilitating impossibility: “what can one do against global capital?”). Rather, the task is to question the hegemonic ideological coordinates, or, as Brecht put it in his Me Ti, “Thought is something which precedes action and follows experience.” from Zizek, “Rethinking Marxism”

  5. Mikhail Emelianov Says:

    Is there really a “whole thing”? Are you seeing any unifying motifs emerge? It still reads like a collection of essays, delivered for different occasions. That summary in the opening, promising a “book” is rather misleading. Someone pointed out to me that many of the pieces already appeared in publication under different guises (like Fichte chapter etc etc). Realistically, you could be the first reviewer to actually discover that there is a book to review behind all these observations…

  6. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I was referring to “the whole thing” in the very minimal sense of reading all the stuff between the covers — I would hesitate to make any ontological claims about the printed book’s conceptual status as a proper book.

    I’ll note, however, that academics typically publish portions of forthcoming books in article form. When Zizek does this, it’s somehow sinister — similar to how “emphasizing evidence that supports your argument” becomes highly questionable when Agamben does it.

  7. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Rico, I don’t have any specific recommendations on that question — sorry. I’m not sure there’s anything that would fit the description of what you’re looking for.

  8. Mikhail Emelianov Says:

    I don’t think there is anything “sinister” about it in Zizek. I think usually though there is a section that details where the material that was previously published was previously published.

    It would be nice to hear some ontological claims for once, ontologies are so rare these days.

  9. Adam Kotsko Says:

    See, but it’s not really the same text anymore because the changed context brings out new nuances, etc.

  10. Brad Johnson Says:

    As horrible as I thought the review is, I think Gray’s piece raised an interesting (certainly for conversation) point about the Zizek phenomenon as a late-capitalist phenomenon. It is reasonable in this instance to dismiss, however, as Zizek does here, given that nothing else in the review warranted Gray leading that particular discussion.

  11. Brad Johnson Says:

    And by “Zizek phenomenon” I’m referring more to his reception & popularization than to anything he actually has to say.

  12. adswithoutproducts Says:

    You have to admit there something a little bit funny about Zizek’s response (“you ignore totally what the book you are reviewing is about,”) given his tendency, for instance, to brag that he hasn’t seen the films that he reviews.


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