After I debunked Molly Klein’s baseless claim that Žižek was the editor of the Ljubljana student zine Tribuna when it printed a translation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a few of her dimwitted supporters kept saying that I was focusing too much on this one claim and ignoring the mountain of other “evidence” she’d compiled regarding the Slovenian philosopher. So I figured I’d have a crack at another of her outrageous claims.
By the way, I swear to god this is the last one of these things I’m going to write. Klein’s modus operandi seems to go something like this:
- Make as many ridiculous and poorly researched, half-literate claims as possible.
- If anyone disputes one of your claims or clearly demonstrates that it’s incorrect, either ignore him/her or
- accuse them of ignoring all the other “legitimate” criticisms she’s advanced.
- simply continue making same ridiculous claims despite direct evidence disproving them.
For bonus points, call everyone a “fascist” or suggest that they’re a “psyop.” Žižek doesn’t really need my help. Still, it’s fun to beat up on feeble-minded frauds like Klein. Enjoy the carnage below.
Another spurious claim Molly has repeatedly made is that Žižek deliberately conflated a pair of quotes by two quite distinct individuals. Namely, the Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, and the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci. It so happens that the quote in question is one of Žižek’s favorites. He likes to use it a lot. So it appears in several of his texts, not just the article he wrote for New Left Review. At any rate, the quote Žižek attributes to Gramsci runs as follows: “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.”
Klein is convinced for some unknown reason that Žižek is in fact quoting Goebbels, with slight modifications added to throw readers off the scent. She laid it all out in a blog post a few years back. “Needless to say,” remarked Klein, “Gramsci said no such thing.” Following this there is a long quotation from the original Italian, though only one line from it was relevant: La crisi consiste appunto nel fatto che il vecchio muore e il nuovo non può nascere: in questo interregno si verificano i fenomeni morbosi piú svariati. Rendered more literally into English, as the 1971 International Publishers edition does, it reads: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born, in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
Indeed, from this it would seem that Žižek either translated Gramsci very loosely, or is substituting a different quote for Gramsci’s entirely. Where could Žižek have gotten it from? Naturally, Klein’s first instinct is to look for some source in the annals of Nazism that resembles the one Žižek supposedly put in the mouth of Gramsci. A few keyword searches on Google and there you have it — gold, jackpot, Goebbels! “We know today that the old world is dying and that we are seeing the struggle for a new world,” the propaganda minister wrote in 1939, a few months before his country plunged Europe into war. Somewhat similar, sure. “Old world” and “new world” vs. “the old” and “the new.” Klein concludes: “that is Goebbels via Žižek passed off as Gramsci.”
Here is Klein’s gloss on these respective renderings, compressed from a Twitter rant spread out over several Tweets. I’ll try to translate her social media gibberish into English:
“Now is the time of monsters” is not an “interpretation” of the Gramsci passage. It’s a substitution. If NLR readers are ready to insist that Gramsci called anarchism a “monster” and that Stalin boasted of his will to mass murder, then Žižek’s been successful. But there’s more. He is selling Goebbel’s vision (Old World dying, New World struggling to be born) and exhorting his audience to admire and embrace those glamorous monsters (Thatcher of the Left, Adolf Hitler who’s violent enough) to bring it about. In the context of his oeuvre, what he’s doing is obvious and his sources too.
It makes me crazy. Gramsci wrote in “The Crisis of Authority”: “The crisis [of authority] is happening because the old [authority] is dying and the new one can’t be born. In this interregnum we see a great variety of extreme phenomena.” Goebbels wrote: “The old world is dying and we are seeing the struggle for the New World…[Molly fails to mention that this next line comes several paragraphs later]…The 2000 year old Christian age is dying and a new National Socialist world under Adolph Hitler is being born.” Žižek ended his NLR piece, right after traducing Stalin, with the fake quote “The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.”
Who is he repeating? Obviously it’s Goebbels and the Nazi myth. It has nothing in common at all with Gramsci’s remarks. Nothing. The meaning as well as the vocabulary is Goebbels’. The only thing Žižek changes of Goebbels’ is that instead of “Adolph Hitler” he writes “monsters.” The sense of his contentions, to the degree they have one, is the same Hitlerian revival he is always advocating, now is the time for the Thatcher of the Left, for the Hitler who is violent enough. For the “terrifyingly wonderful” solution for “warriors” who have to exterminate people that Himmler found in the Baghavad Gita: “just do it.” The slightest acquaintance with Gramsci is sufficient to know he did not reproduce this Nazi mythological grandiosity.
Really? Do the Nazis have some sort of monopoly over the symbolism of an “old world” dying and a “new world” being born? Not if you’ve read John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World (of course Molly hasn’t), in which he has Zinoviev saying in 1918: “There is no force in the world which can put out the fire of the Revolution! The old world crumbles down, the new world begins…” Or take this speech by Lenin in December 1921: “Unfortunately, there are now two worlds: the old world of capitalism that is in a state of confusion but which will never surrender voluntarily, and the rising new world, which is still very weak, but which will grow, for it is invincible.”
Clearly this “vocabulary” was widespread enough for figures as different as Goebbels and Lenin to both employ it. And Lenin obviously first. The source of Klein’s confusion is far more banal than this, however. If she had bothered to even just read the Italian Wikipedia entry on Gramsci — though this would require that she know Italian, which she doesn’t — she would know that Žižek either freely translated from a famous French mistranslation of Gramsci or copied someone else’s free English translation from the same. From the Wikipedia:
Antonio Gramsci a défini la crise par la célèbre citation : « La crise consiste justement dans le fait que l’ancien meurt et que le nouveau ne peut pas naître : pendant cet interrègne on observe les phénomènes morbides les plus variés » (dans la traduction française des Cahiers de prison parue aux Éditions Gallimard sous la responsabilité de Robert Paris: Cahier 3, §34, p. 283). La seconde partie de la citation est souvent traduite de manière imprécise par « Le vieux monde se meurt, le nouveau monde tarde à apparaître et dans ce clair-obscur surgissent les monstres ». Le texte original en italien est «in questo interregno si verificano i fenomeni morbosi più svariati». La traduction « poétique » n’est pas référée : ce n’est ni la traduction des éditions Gallimard, ni celle des Éditions sociales.
Le vieux monde se meurt, le nouveau monde tarde à apparaître et dans ce clair-obscur surgissent les monstres = The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.
Pretty much an exact translation into English of the faulty French translation of the Italian. Žižek doesn’t know Italian, as far as I’m aware, but since he cites untranslated French works I assume he does know French. Anyway, the more “poetic” French rendering of this passage has since become so famous that it’s even been translated back into Italian. Do a search for Il vecchio mondo sta morendo. Quello nuovo tarda a comparire. E in questo chiaroscuro nascono i mostri. You’ll get hits.
I know what you’re thinking. What if the French seized on Žižek’s own spurious translation of “Gramsci” into English and translated it back into French. That Žižek destroys kids in every living language. Oh wait, nevermind. Here’s an old French article from 2006 that uses the phrase. And a book by totally different author, from 2003, which uses “Le vieux monde se meurt, le nouveau monde tarde à apparaître et dans ce clair-obscur surgissent les monstres.” Look, there’s a bogpost written by Kamal Ahlbib’s blog in 2008.
Next thing you know Klein will be saying that these full French quotes were retroactively inserted and backdated to discredit her discovery of Žizek’s “Goebbelsian” translation motives.
So no, Žižek didn’t try to pass off Goebbels as Gramsci. Molly Klein is just an idiot.