No, Žižek did not attribute a Goebbels quote to Gramsci

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:

  1. Make as many ridiculous and poorly researched, half-literate claims as possible.
  2. If anyone disputes one of your claims or clearly demonstrates that it’s incorrect, either ignore him/her or
    1. accuse them of ignoring all the other “legitimate” criticisms she’s advanced.
    2. simply continue making same ridiculous claims despite direct evidence disproving them.
  3. Repeat.

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.”

Recent photo of myself alongside fellow Twitter proles doing battle with Molly Klein the foul monster pictured at the top

Recent photo of myself alongside other nameless Twitter proles doing battle with Molly Klein the grotesque monster pictured at the top

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.

29 thoughts on “No, Žižek did not attribute a Goebbels quote to Gramsci

  1. Let me add the 1905 preamble to the constitution of the IWW: ‘We are building the new society in the shell of the old’. No monsters other than capitalism, but the general idea was probably around the revolutionary socialist movement in all its manifestations a long time before, as the IWW was just a thread in the rope when it was founded.

  2. Ross this is quite the same as to say that conspiracy theorists who believe in the Illuminati DON’T HAVE A POINT. You can of course critisize them for using conspiracies to complain about the abuses of the mighty, but that doesn’t mean that they’re wrong about the fact that the mighty are abusing the poor.

    In similar fashion, Kahina is probably amiss about some linkages between fascism and Zizek, but one can pretty reliably and with factographic evidence demonstrate his Eurocentric patriotism which coincided UNPLEASANTLY with all these fasho-flavored themes like the Slovenian secession and the criminal denial of rights to non-Slovenian citizens. I mean Lesb’angela Merkel’s policy at the moment is not OVERTLY Nazi, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t strongly Nazi-flavored.

    It’s time you said your HISTORIC NO to Zizek, young man.

    Speaking of which, I have to enlighten your readers some more.

    Historic NO is the Serbian specialty, as we are one of the few non-pusillanimous nations in Eastern Lesb’ania, surrounded by pussy-whipped cuntries like Poland but keeping our cool under treemendous pressure. We said NO to the world order when Princip shot Ferdinand in 1914, then we said NO to Nazi occupation in the 1940s, and finally we said NO to the Hawks in Rambouillet 1999.

    Not counting Tito in, because he was doing it for the sake of appeasing the West.

    Now the historic NO is not everyone’s cup of tea, my dear Ross. Every time we said it, we got pulverized so badly that it took years to recover, and we never really did.

    But on the other hand, as I just philosophized on Twatter, it seems to me it’s also ECONOMICALLY logical that at some point in time, one needs to take that plunge into an act – whether it’s Badiou’s Act, the psychoanalytic Drive, or the Communist revolution – that is purely for goods, instead of commodities.

    In other words without that plunge into the unknown, I think no growth is possible, Ross dear; and the crisis of neoliberalism shows it best, for the system is stuck in vampiric self-reproduction.

    So while all these Eastern Euro pussies like Poland think that they can BARGAIN endlessly, now Greece is showing them that the bargain accomplishes nothing. There’s only a limited time you can delay the moment when shit hits the fan, and the Russian bear awakens.

    I think it;s time somebody at least FINED Comrade Agata PRCZYK for publishing herself as the face of Greek resistance, precisely for the reason I stated in the previous paragraph.

  3. All I can add in a general sense is that poor Molly is representative of a small, and withering, cohort of frothing at the mouth frustrated self-proclaimed revolutionaries who are clinging to the flotsam of a viable international proletarian revolutionary movement which, tragically for humanity’s future, sank down into the abyss of irrelevance in the face of the intractable economic, technological and military power and control of late global capitalism and, ultimately, its march into environmental collapse (whew, I ran out of breath there).

    Truth be told, Zizek himself in his more intelligent, less belligerent and more measured, if sometimes glib, manner of writing is not so far removed from this cohort himself.

    As for “Parody Center’s screed”, if that is parody then it is at the same level as the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, both crude and juvenile. No one delights more in slang references to genitalia than a pre-teen boy or girl.

    • I cannot understand how you went from entirely wrong premises into a sound conclusion. Other than by thinking you take ‘slang references’ in themselves as some childishness to shed off from ourselves. Of course in this instance you are correct, Pardoy Center is not far off from the Hebdo parody as rhetoric. But you just got lucky. Got the right the result by doing the wrong calculation, as they say.

      It appears to me the process you went through was something akin this:

      1. Parody Center is saying something fascist, I don’t care if he means it or not, my little contribution will have to prove how true this is.
      2. So I proceed to muddle the water of what is meant by “fascism”, enlargerning it. By muddling, I get my premise, which will serve to prove Parody Center is fascist. And yet, strangely, I decide to muddle it so much as to include its most vociferous opponents, to the extent that Zizek or Molly are reduced to be saying the “same” thing. I could have just extended it that little bit that was sufficient to
      show the (rather evident) juvenility and cruelty of Parody Center, but I got carried away.
      3. And in the end, I get the right result, thinking that this proves the premise too, and all I have included in it. But it only proves what we knew already.

  4. And one could just as easily source this kinda perfectly commonplace apocalypticism from Alexander Herzen in “From the Other Shore;”

    “The world in which we live is dying – that is the forms in which life manifests itself; no medicine will have any more effect on its decayed body. In order that the heirs may breathe freely, the body should be interred, but people insist on trying to cure it and delay its death.”

    Here too is an undead (monstrous) body designating an historical juncture; maybe this is a dodgy metaphor but it’s altogether too timely to claim for any one ideology, no?

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  6. All of this seem to be rather one sided and harsh, and possibly a bit in bad faith. I haven’t read Molly’s work and it may be not very much sophisticated but I can see also her point in the full block quote. I guess her point that would need stressing is one that is at odds with the very title of this piece: The fact is, what we’re left with is, in the end, a Zizek who did not attribute a Goebbels quote to Gramsci, thereby what we find neglected is, at the same time, any sense of equidistance from the case, which would tells us that the stuff Zizek’s theory is — and has always been and probably always will be — made of sits in that very ambiguity, whereby the impossibility-or-possibility of reference (maybe we could call it an “unconscious” reference, at best, in the sense that what is at stake is not who he intends to refer to per se but what is evoked) being made to Goebbels seems (if “refutable”) at least plausible.

    What the figure of Zizek evokes is probably some third kind of gesture, neither properly referencing the original source in Gramsci [do we really think a prison work that calls for reader’s attention to be paid to the ‘rhythm of thought in motion more than single staccato quotations’ can be read nonchalantly without looking into the minunest, most of byzantine of details, in its written language that is still non-national.. without thinking it may be one of the examples of *symptomatic misreadings* Zizek loves to talk about and extend-and-pretend the idea that he’s not deliberately doing it… that does not really lead us very far in the case of Zizek… and that in Gramsci, if we can leave aside authorial postmortems, there may be indeed something tied to its precise articulation…?], neither is Zizek easily dissociable from its [organic!] ties with right-wing propaganda.

    And so, if Molly indeed forced a point in a rather pedantic way, it remains that — a bit like the squibbles over Count Ugolino, whether he ended up eating his children or dying out of hunger [*Poscia, più che ‘l dolor poté ‘l digiuno*] — between the two possible alternative choices there is no necessary *one* choice to be made *between* the two, for which we can think of Zizek to be referring to, but to hold onto one option does not require to relinquish the other. To understand that to open up the possibility that Zizek is both referring and not-referring to Goebbels (or, that Zizek is both referring and not-referring to Gramsci) does not amount to conspiracy theory, this is not difficult. It’s sufficient that this exercise is thinkable (the exercise that this blog piece engaged in, at least in the implicit premise). If Molly really thinks that mistranslations are counter-productive, then she’s wrong. But looking at the substance imo it certainly gives a different idea what Gramsci himself said with “morboso”, “morbo”, it’s a disease (like Pott’s disease — il morbo di Pott — in Gramsci’s case), it’s not the monsters that come up from nowhere, from the sky down, it’s the whole social or however else we want to call it body that is affected, it’s a pathological time… Well ok, monsters, yes. It is the time of monsters. But the point is to see *who are* the monsters.

      • Disagree, you’re such a fraud. You pretend to disagree and are just reproducing the same logic. You literally copied out the argument that already Borges made about Count Ugolino, that are included in his few non-fiction works. And we know where Borges stands. Or don’t we? Yes, Borges, who for all his criticisms of Peron, ended up after his exile getting its directorship at the national library in Buenos Aires, had very dodgy connections. But, as the blacks students said for the occasion of the Columbia conference, in 1968: “We shall not be moved.”

  7. On the article itself, I cannot but point to the pomposity in the claim made in the final part of the mini-intro: “it’s fun to beat up on feeble-minded frauds like Klein. Enjoy the carnage below.” I dont dispute it may indeed be fun, though the bar is set too high at the start, and you disappointed your readers in the end. I mean, all I saw after that were “full French quotes […] inserted to discredit [!] her discovery of Žizek’s “Goebbelsian” translation motives” (thanks for that, maybe you can pass over some more gems), saying no much more than the obviety that many Anglophones rely on translated French-speaking theory. What a discovery..! But you forgot to add that knowing only language, the dominant one, is often a sign of imperialism.

      • The fact that I’m aware of it doesn’t take away from the fact it’s not a contest. So as to avoid the writing of a blog piece on how Molly Klein is rips off from Zizek the idea that it is not set into stone who gets to define what “English” is (hence she too is fascist), I cannot but indicate that it is still the particular language of a nation/ people that is passed off as being the Europeanly/globally validated lingua franca.

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    • Impersonation is a form of narration through which speakers come to coincide with the given character insofar as they assume their words, facial expressions, postures and attitudes. The use of impersonation confers greater immediacy and spontaneity, however its function is important even in the morphology and syntax, insofar as it signals the thematic roles through the direction of the gaze, posture and facial expressions. I am all for impersonation.

    • How’s that Playboy TV money treating you, you fraud? And don’t you dare do the anti-Semite accusation you usually do when people point out your background. I’m Jewish and people who do that as a way to shut down others is sickening.

  9. Found another one:

    “Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
    The other powerless to be born”

    – Matthew Arnold, Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse, ~1850

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