May 28, 2012

The myth of infatuated Žižekians

If you don't like Slavoj Žižek, there's a very good chance that part of what you say you don't like is how other people do like him. They, you think, are slavish droolers. Fawning idiots. Adoring ditto machines too obsessed with trends and fads to question, even for a moment, the absolute buffoonery that is the culture-munching joke-monger who hails from Ljubljana.

That's what you say if you don't like Žižek.

In one of the more famous critiques, for example, the critique of Žižek at moments is transformed into a critique of the Žižek "phenomena," which is, when it comes down to it, a critique of people who listen to him.

Adam Kirsch, calling Žižek The Deadly Jester, writes,
The curious thing about the Žižek phenomenon is that the louder he applauds violence and terror—especially the terror of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, whose "lost causes" Žižek takes up in another new book, In Defense of Lost Causes—the more indulgently he is received by the academic left, which has elevated him into a celebrity and the center of a cult.
Another critic, in an ostensible review of the documentary Žižek!, writes about "hating the academics who take this non-thought seriously," the "academic world's small population of postmodernists" who have made the "shambling, rambling Slovenian philosopher" into a "folk hero."

It's not too hard to multiply examples of this. A particularly colorful one to add to the point I'm making here: "I don’t read or pay attention to much of anything Zizek says anymore, he’s more of a clown to me, albeit a predatory clown surrounded by a bunch of wannabe fanboys."

Leaving aside the question of the truth of the accusations against Žižek, not even bothering to defend him, can we just ask who are these supposed fanboys? Are there specific leftists and academics being referred to here?

Can we get even one name?

If there's a cult of Žižek, who exactly is in it?

I know a fair share of academic leftists. I've known my own small population of postmodernists. I'm not sure what a wannabe fanboy is and how that's different from just a regular fanboy, but fine, why not. Them too. More to the point, I've known and read and talked to people who take Žižek seriously. Lots of them. People who read him, write about him, listen to clips of crazy stuff he said on youtube, and even go to hear him in person. And I can't think of one person who takes him seriously like that.

I couldn't name even one orthodox Žižekian. One really dogmatic one. One good apologist for or public proclaimer of true Žižekism.

Rather, what one finds is an almost ritual distancing and disowning.

Talk about Žižek is regularly prefaced with disclaimers. One has to apparently deny, first, any affiliation with a broader Žižek project, deny buying into a big Žižek system of thought, deny going too far, or accepting all of it, or not being critical enough. One has to start with a little ritual reiteration about how of course he's wrong, but there's some salvageable aspect in spite of all that.

If Žižek has followers, they're all Peter right before the cock crows that third time.

"Of course," they say, "I don't agree with everything ...."

Or they say, "I am not an idiot, I know Žižek is ridiculous ...."

Or, "There are some things, obviously, that can't be taken seriously ...."

If there is a true Žižekism, it must be a betrayal of Žižekism in the name of Žižekism's subversive core (an m.o. developed by Žižek, after all). 

Examples: 1) "I, as a fan, also have many hesitations about Žižek." 2) "He's a grafter, just as we should be grafters." 3) "I strongly doubt that Žižek agrees with everything Žižek says. However, what he does is to spin your head round a few times so that you are jolted into thinking about things you normally take for granted" & "Note: this isn’t an endorsement of Žižek."

Such is the "cult" as I've found it.

Maybe the more interesting question: why. Why is there this myth of infatuated Žižekians?

Surely there are plenty of grounds on which to criticize the Slovenian philosopher without having to invent a band of idiot followers?