What exactly is wrong with Zizek’s political commentary lately?

I find it interesting that the dominant mode of critiquing Zizek’s recent political writings from the left is simply to post quotations from him, with dismissive comments. It’s taken to be self-evident what’s wrong with his statements — and presumably also what should be done instead of what he recommends. What’s interesting is that the explicit critique and alternative never seem to appear in this context. Is it just not worth it, because it’s *so* completely obvious? Is it tacky of me to even ask?

I mean, I should already know. And I do, of course, no question — but just to make sure we’re on the same page…

(I also quietly note that this has been the dominant mode of critique by liberal commentators: pull out a quote about Stalin, then rely on everyone to draw the obvious conclusion that he’s dangerous. Or he says something about anti-Semitism, so he must be an anti-Semite, etc.)

16 Responses to “What exactly is wrong with Zizek’s political commentary lately?”

  1. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    OK, when I can carve out a few hours in the midst of 12-16 hour days, I’ll write something up that no one will read and that will not convince the true believers anyway. Sounds like a good use of time.

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I absolve you of that implicit demand. You can write a brief blog comment if you want. Or just write nothing. It’s your life.

  3. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I assume you don’t need too much help with, “A bearded women is not to my taste”? Is it the Leitkultur bit you want people to carefully and painstakingly critique, despite all the ones that already exist when Blair (and then Cameron) and Merkel made the same claims?

  4. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Yes, I get the bearded woman thing. As for “Leitkultur,” the rule is that you can’t reclaim and redefine any signifiers ever? Because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t mean what they mean by the term. Similarly with Europe.

  5. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    This is exactly what I mean by the bad faith of this post. If Zizek wants to reclaim and redefine those terms then he should actually do that. As it is he is just practicing disavowal. Somehow European values are the good versions of things without any of the bad things (though I seem to remember something about a laxative chocolate… ). Somehow Europe isn’t Christian here. And Europe isn’t racial, even though it doesn’t include the Chinese or Japanese.

  6. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Perhaps the reason no one writes patient criticisms of these positions is because what is so bleedingly obvious about them is his utter laziness. Vague appeals to “what the left thinks” as if the mainstream of the parliamentary European left counts as the radical core of leftwing movements is not going to cut it. Nor is vaguely waving at a task that he doesn’t take out in the midst of horribly racist and sexist rhetoric.

  7. Adam Kotsko Says:

    He’s not actually reclaiming and redefining the terms, plus it would be impossible for him to do that anyway. Got it. We just need one more step for the full kettle logic.

  8. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I totally agree on the laziness, and that does seem to be justification for an equally lazy response.

  9. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    That was cheap and inaccurate.

    You claimed that he is trying to reclaim a term, specifically Leitkultur. I pointed out, rather accurately, that he isn’t actually doing that work. It might be generous that he’s making vague appeals to the possibility of such a thing or even some “radical kernel” within the concept. So, yes, he’s not doing the thing you claim. Were he to actually try, as he has with the Christian legacy, then he gets into the task of crafting “good versions”. Something that is, in my view, an impossibility and purely ideological in ways that Zizek himself has unmasked in his early work. Kettle logic, as I understand it, would require I was making a defense of myself as it is part of a practice of disavowal. But I’m not the expert.

  10. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I think such laziness in the face of the greatest humanitarian crisis facing Europe in perhaps sixty years is incredibly unethical and dangerous for such a prominent public intellectual. I honestly don’t get why he deserves your defense on this shit. That sounds harsh, but I just don’t.

  11. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I wish he would just stop writing these political “interventions,” too. I don’t see them as “dangerous,” though, because it’s hard for me to imagine that anyone is going to do anything because Zizek says to (whatever they understand his advice to be). The whole discourse is about passing judgment on Zizek personally, not about the refugee crisis at all. And he’s contributing to that, insofar as he’s striking this pose as the One Man who will Speak the Truth — even though his message is completely garbled and self-indulgently requires you to be a scholar of his work to even derive a coherent sense from it at all.

    But the thing where he says, “Some stuff has come out of Europe, which we on the left all seem to embrace,” and then everyone says, “No, Europe is awful, you fucking racist” — that I just don’t understand. I suspect that, gun to your head, you would concede that the European model, even in its hollowed-out form, is the most preferable actual-existing economic model. And you wouldn’t dismiss people protesting social spending cuts as nostalgic racists defending the indefensible.

  12. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    It’s a rejection of theodicy that this younger generation has with their anger. I get it. I like it. Gun to head, fucking shoot me or don’t, because I’m not going to play the game of saying which form of state violence is better than the other. That doesn’t mean you don’t get out and demand the end to austerity, but someone like Corbyn does that already without having to make theodical appeals to the radical kernel or European identity. Even the way to deal with immigrants who are navigating a different set of sexual norms isn’t to say, “integrate to our norms” while decrying their entire form of life as barbaric and backwards. This is a way to avoid actually dealing with the problem and instead continues to treat refugees as a surplus population to be managed and policed, just like they were in the colonies before our management and policing broke down.

  13. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I’ll stop now though. Just was a clear subpost of some tweets and it set me off. I have said my piece.

  14. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Your retweets yesterday were the occasion for this post, but it is a more widespread phenomenon — for instance, you were retweeting someone else who was doing it.

  15. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I think that was someone who had, until that moment, really liked Zizek and was dismayed by the interview where Zizek says that Europe hasn’t reacted badly to the refugee crisis. There are literally camps in Europe right now.

  16. Ashton Says:

    I am curious what the argument is that he’s trying to redefine Leitkultur. He says that it does not mean for him specifically Christian values, and suggests that he instead means something like liberal individualist values. Now, this is already part of “Leitkultur” as the term is usually used. Indeed, defenses of feminism and gay rights are sometimes taken up opportunistically as cudgels against supposedly “backward” immigrant populations. The “bearded woman” comment, like the reference to Chinese and Japanese tourists, are important not because they’re tasteless but because they show that Zizek’s Leitkultur is *not* just liberal formalism but does include substantive preferences about the cultural sphere. The lack of bearded women, the Chinese, and the Japanese is *also* part of what gives Europe its “distinctiveness.”


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