Et tu, Slavoj? Must Žižek really be “destroyed”?

Continuing its proud tradition of accepting literally every panel proposal submitted to it, no matter how poorly written or conceived, this year’s Left Forum at Pace University brings you “Žižek delenda est” [Latin for “Žižek must be destroyed”]. I’m not kidding. Here’s the panel description, with solecisms left in for dramatic effect:

Is Slavoj Zizek a US propaganda psyop? I want to ask my comrades on the left to consider the possibility. After years of research, I have come to the conclusion that Zizek is a charlatan posing as a “Stalinist” to both discredit communists by performing a caricature Bolshevik and simultaneously, to smuggle fascist ideas including old fashioned Aryan supremacism and 19th century race theory, back into public discourse disguised as radical left critique of liberalism. I will focus on how he exploits his radical left image to spread imperialist propaganda and disinformation. I’ll trace the origins of the Zizek Industry to his first anointing by the New Left Review, then edited by Quentin Hoare and Branka Magas, Croatian Nationalists and Tudjman supporters and founders of the Bosnian Institute, as the Balkan Leftist who would initiate, in 1990, the dominant strain of imperialist propaganda about Yugoslavia, and yet further back to his career as an antiMarxist, antiCommunist “dissident” and Slovene ethnic nationalist. I will discuss the way he has influenced a generation to the point where now right wing and reactionary ideas as well as pure white house disinformation and propaganda are routinely packaged as hip “lefty” and “radical” thought.

My god, pure idiocy.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if this lunacy tarnishes the Left Forum’s good name, if only for the fact that there’s no good name to tarnish. The annual gathering already has the character of a circus — a “Renaissance fair of the Left,” as a comrade once put it — so this is really just one more scene in its extended slapstick routine. All the old corpses come out for this fin de semana de los muertos: aging hippies, dinosaur sects barely clinging to life, the Friends of the People of the Soviet Union. So in a way, panels like “Žižek delenda est” are strangely refreshing. It’s a fresh flavor of paranoid fantasy, our generation’s version of the show trials. Finally, a new term of reproach to replace those great epithets of old. Used to be “Trotskyist wreckers” or “British imperialist agents,” then later COINTELPRO. Now it’s Slavoj Žižek, deep cover CIA operative.

So who’s on this panel, anyway?

Well, for starters, there’s Molly Klein — known on the internet as RedKahina, MrHermsprong, Qlipoth, and Alphonse van Worden, her masculine noms de plume. Unfortunately she’s no George Sand, so she’s not doing this venerable gender-bending practice any favors. Most of the time, Klein spends her evenings online denouncing anyone who dares to challenge the happy “pluralism” of the contemporary scene. Offenders are almost invariably denounced as “fascist.” You name it, it’s fascist: Žižek, the US government, Michelle Golberg, etc. Her one and only credited article, The Spectre of ‘Multiculturalism’,” was published by MRZine, the web wing of Monthly Review, a little over a year ago. There she passingly refers to Žižek as a “celebrity fascoid intellectual”; this attests well enough to her compulsive verbal tic. A few months ago, during the whole “Vampire Castle” debacle — i.e., the flurry of polemics that followed the publication of Mark Fisher’s piece, “Exiting the Vampire Castle” — Klein began to tirelessly troll a fine article written by Michael Rectenwald, someone who I greatly respect. Her posts in the comment thread attached to his article were replete with accusations of “racism,” “chauvinism,” and “white cis male privilege.” Klein is, of course, a withered goblin who has nothing better to do with her time than check other people’s privilege — despite the fact that she’s a wealthy white heiress to the fortune of a former NBC exec and founder of PlayboyTV, her dad.

Next up on the list of esteemed esteemed speakers is John Steppling, a minor playwright and filmmaker whose main claim to public fame is having produced “Elmore Leonard’s favorite adaptation.” Yes, that’s actually listed in his bio. He’s written for Dissident Voice and a couple of other publications, and maintains a fairly elegant blog. Steppling’s vituperations against the Žiž are much like Klein’s, unsurprising considering that they’re pretty much BFF. (Klein has interviewed Steppling on a number of occasions). A couple typical asides lifted from his blog: “Žižek’s openly racist clown show,” “crypto-fascists like Laurie Penny, most of Jacobin, and Žižek,” or the splendid reasoning that “when Žižek makes jokes about race, he is joking from the position of a privileged white class…about Roma, or Africans, or Asians; when Dieudonné makes anti semitic jokes, it is the voice of the racaille.” (Of course, the apologetics for Dieudonné are nothing new on the Left. Richard Seymour recently cross-posted a translation that took a similar view of the French comedian). Still, it goes to show how simplistic all this shit is. It’s rote underdog-ism, sticking up for “the little guy” no matter how reactionary. Just the latest rewriting of Christian morality, assured that “the meek shall inherit the earth.” Little wonder they’d hate Nietzsche.

Hannah Wolfe of the International Socialist Organization was supposed to be the third interlocutor at this event. For reasons that remain unknown, she seems to have backed out at the last minute. My guess is that she was mortified at the very thought of being associated with these numbskulls, and quit out of sheer embarrassment. Either that or fellow International Socialist Sebastian Budgen, impresario of the Verso-NLRHM publishing empire, scolded her for having assented in the first place. Budgen may well resent how reliant his company — er, his “counterhegemonic apparatus” — is on Žižek, but for now the Slovenian Wunderkind is still his cash cow. Can’t have fellow ISTers running around accusing your biggest seller of being a CIA operative.

Jacob Levich rounds out this rogue’s gallery of dilettantes and pseuds. An occasional contributor to Monthly Review and Counterpunch, Levich also has a book to his name. Sure, it was over ten years ago and even then he was only a contributing editor — but hey, it’s something! Levich was almost certainly the author of the abstract cited above. As one correspondent on the Marxmail listserve  noted, “[the panel description] smacks of the conspiracist mindset that has infected the left for decades now, skullduggery reminiscent of Mad Magazine‘s ‘Spy versus Spy’ cartoons.” Want proof of Levich’s “conspiracist mindset”? Check out “Yes, Tony, there is a Conspiracy,” published (big surprise) by Counterpunch. Or check out his cute little exposé, “The Real Agenda of the Gates Foundation.” Bravo, Jacob, you’ve discovered that big philanthropy is largely a bourgeois undertaking. What a revelation.

Molly Klein doing her best Lawrence of Arabia impersonation

Molly Klein doing her best Lawrence of Arabia impersonation

Regarding Žižek: For the record, I’m not really even a fan of his oeuvre. I admire his lucidity and sense of humor, despite the repetitiveness of some of his jokes. (Hey, when you get as much exposure as the Žiž, it’s difficult to come up with new material for every occasion). Anyway, once you get past the clowning and the jokes he’s capable of some surprisingly sophisticated insights into, say, German Idealism, the history of liberalism, the ideological character of postmodernism and its pop cultural correlate, multiculturalism. But he’s far too structuralist for my tastes. Even though his reading of Althusser and Lacan comes by way of Hegel, thus challenging the anti-Hegelian posture of the former, the inverse is also true: his reading of Hegel is deeply informed by his encounter with Althusser and Lacan. And on the question of subjectivity, with the “ontological gap” that he describes, with its vanishing mediator (i.e., disappearing causal nexus), he ends up being more of a Schellingean than a Hegelian. He doesn’t think consciousness or subjectivity are really that important to the Marxist project. Needless to say, I disagree with him quite emphatically on this score. There’s  his weird support for SYRIZA, as well, something I frankly don’t understand. I’m also sometimes annoyed when I come across the same recycled passage in more than one of his books.

Still, I’m not about to accuse him of being some kind of covert agent, a Yugoslavian nationalist who’s infiltrated the post-mortem Left. And I’m not going to moralize about Žižek’s caustic one-liners  about his students, American universities, or whatever else either. Many were scandalized to read his disdainful remark about students in the classes he’s taught, to whom he reportedly said: “If you don’t give me any of your shitty papers, you get an A.” Good for Žižek, though, I say. Most celebrity profs will pretend to take their teaching gigs seriously and say they’ll read students’ papers. But you know they never will. It’s to Žižek’s credit that he’s at least open about the contempt in which he holds his students, readers, and most of humanity. “Humanity is OK,” he conceded a couple years ago, “but 99% of people are boring idiots.” Does anyone seriously disagree with that? Note: More pertinently, does no one reading this have a sense of humor? Žižek is clearly being ironic here; there’s a performative contradiction from one statement to the next. I don’t think it should be taken seriously as part of his theory, not when it comes to “class consciousness” or anything else.

This doesn’t even take into account one of his most glorious rejoinders, written in response to critics of his decision to write a back-to-school catalogue for Abercrombie & Fitch in 2003:

If I were asked to choose between doing things like this to earn money and becoming fully employed as an American academic, kissing ass to get a tenured post, I would with pleasure choose writing for such journals!

Can you really blame him? I can’t.

36 thoughts on “Et tu, Slavoj? Must Žižek really be “destroyed”?

  1. Yr critique of the critics may be appropriate, but in this case they are almost certainly correct. Do you find it hard to believe that intel’ operatives occupy this space? Or that Slavoj the Clown is one of them? The evidence in support of the former is incontrovertible and definitive (Chalmers Johnson and dozens of others). The question is which celebrity intellectuals are spooks and which are not. The Slovenian song and dance man gets my vote.

  2. Whoosh! What will think of next? That’s crazy… yea, I’ve always seen Zizek in the tradition of Jaroslav and the literary hoaxers… we know even in his home country he played a hoax on certain ultra leftist by faking a book attacking himself… it was a parody article, but the next day people were asking bookstores for the book by the ton. With his bent on poking holes in ideological crap from the get go we have to see his earthy jokes and his humor in this light… as well as his use of the dialectic which most perceive not in its true light but seem to cast as always as obscurantist blather. Zizek is without doubt a provocateur, so challenges our perceptions, makes us wake up out of our zombie minds and irritates or disrupts our usual expectations. Whether we agree or disagree with him this new initiative is as you say: pure idiocy!

  3. What’s the story on Klein’s NBC connection? Seen this repeated around, but never substantiated.

    She seems to be mostly tweeting as RedKahina these days.

  4. You wrote “He ends up being more of a Schellingean than a Hegelian.” I’m assuming you’re basing this assessment on Less Than Nothing (Zizek’s big book.) Would you be willing where you see the difference between Hegel and Schellingean? Also, your claim that Zizek doesn’t think “consciousness or subjectivity are really that important to the Marxist project” seems wrong to me considering how Zizek has championed a return of Descartes’ Cogito and spends quite a lot of time writing about subjectivity. Maybe you mean something else rather than Cogito when you talk about the subject.

  5. Slavoj is surely provocative. Like a troll. He begs evoking Poe’s law.'s_law

    His misunderstandings of Marxism, even of the economical aspects of it, are so ridiculous, that he does seem to make them on purpose.

    And I strongly disagree that 99% of the people are boring idiots (like mindless drones), at most boring or useful idiots, but hardly both. To believe in that would make me a right winger, since it would imply that class consciousness is an utopia. That 1% of the non idiots are those that can command people and create value, that is, the opposite of marxism.

      • I didn’t write that, but I must admit that I should had made words more clear. Boring are people that are too scared to confront problems directly and useful idiots because they actively support policies that plays against them. But, of course, this is just a play on words to try to be more polite.

        All I wanted to say it is that Zizek is a complete asshole. He is to philosophy what the Twilight movies is to the history of cinema. In both cases, I cannot read (or watch), more than 5 minutes without be completely stunned by his huge inconsistency and idiocy in plot and how that can attract so many fans. His 99% observation is a reflex of how low opinion (and how they manage to get his pride so high) he has on his about his own fans.

      • BTW, in my comparison, he should leave in the small intersection of those groups, which are pretty big by themselves, but not the majority. In the case of Twilight, they are mostly teen girls (at the time of release) and my mother in law, who watches them every damn time they are played on any random channel on cable TV.

  6. Good lord, some of these comments are funny: “pseudo-intellectual” really? I’m not the biggest fan of Zizek but his intellectual credentials are not “pseudo” in any way, shape or form. I just find his intellectual output somewhat problematic.

    That being said, this was an enjoyable article… Even if I do disagree with your comments about Nietzsche––I think Nietzsche is shit in terms of politics and I think so because of non-pseudo intellectual credentials ;-) I also like complaining about “Troskyite wreckers” from time to time, but only in jest.

    Still, the assumption that Zizek is somehow connected to a CIA plot is ludicrous. The first commentator makes no sense; what would any CIA plot get out of this? More people interested in communism and even Lenin? I’ve met a lot of activists who were radicalized because of Zizek, even if now they don’t like all of his analysis.

    My question, though, is why are you so surprised that such a panel is at Left Forum? In the past the Left Forum has had multiple shite panels. I have a hazy recollection of one (last year? two years ago?) where the participants were focused on how the Big Bang theory was idealist because it was somehow “anti-dialectical”… Not a new claim amongst the non-scientific left, but still annoying.

  7. There is also the preposterous ‘reading list’ (13 books for one seminar!) with not one item by Zizek himself (and only one about his work), Sorel’s Reflections on Violence, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion and the Myth of the Twentieth Century…..

  8. At the risk of exposing myself to some ridicule, I had the same thought that is investigated in the forum, even if (I would like to think to my own credit) I am too lazy to really bother with investigating this guy’s life. It’s the positions he takes on issues like the Ukraine that does it. Basically the implication of that is to support an oligarchic regime that intersects with US/EU capitalist interests, blatantly so. Right now the Ukraine is being cracked open for business, with a little help from Slavoj. Yes there are bad guys on the other side as well, but they are just crooks and not austeritarians that want to transform society into a capitalist dystopia.

    It’s stupid too think that the CIA is behind everything, people can obviously be misguided without active guidance. On the other hand, there is the good example of CIA influence in intellectual affairs during the Cold War, and from the other side the influence of USSR agents in the western European peace movements.

    One way or the other, Zizek’s position on Ukraine shows him to be just another lackey of the neoliberal order. Or rather one of its most prominent and adept court jesters.

  9. Enjoyed this, Ross. Also enjoyed how your commentariat here are foaming at the mouth as per usual, even in response to a piece which you seem to have written casually, even as you are then trolling them in the comments. Ijiot’s, as Zizek would say. Wanted to say that he does admit to the influence of Schelling, particularly in The Indivisible Remainder, which you may want to look at if you’re interested in his thoughts as to the importance of subjectivity to Marxism. And it hardly has any pop references.

    • Yes, one of the Žižek books I’ve read, along with For They Know Not What They Do and Living in the End Times. It’s been a while but that’s where I’m getting the whole Schelling angle on Žižek from.

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