Slavoj Žižek 1949-
(Also transliterated as Slavoj Zizek) Slovenian critic, essayist, and editor.
The following entry presents an overview of Žižek's career through 2003.
Žižek has distinguished himself as one of the world's leading cultural theorists. He has earned international notoriety for his numerous volumes of cultural analysis that apply psychoanalytic theory and modern philosophy to American popular culture from a post-Marxist Leftist perspective. Žižek's work has been particularly noted for its explications of the psychoanalytic theories of Jacques Lacan and their significance to cultural and political theory. Žižek's writing style, though challenging and rife with difficult theoretical concepts, has been characterized as both quirky and entertaining, informed by the author's rigorous theoretical analysis and a commitment to political relevance. His sense of absurdity in formulating theoretical approaches to cultural criticism is evidenced in the titles of some of his best known works, such as Enjoy Your Symptom!: Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out (1992), Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock) (1992), and The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology (1999). However, despite his often amusing digressions into popular culture, Žižek has displayed a firm concern with the social and political realities of life at the turn of the millennium in such works as NATO as the Left Hand of God (2000), Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?: Five Interventions in the Mis(use) of a Notion (2001), and Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates (2002).
Žižek was born on March 21, 1949, in Ljubljana, the capital of communist Yugoslavia. He received a B.A. in philosophy and sociology from the University of Ljubljana in 1971 and an M.A. degree in 1975. Unable to obtain a teaching post due to political reasons, Žižek worked as a translator of German philosophy. In 1977 he took a position at the Central Committee of the League of Slovene Communists, writing political propaganda speeches. During this period, he also continued to write philosophy papers and attend academic conferences. In 1979 Žižek acquired a position as a researcher at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Ljubljana. Žižek traveled to Paris in 1981, where he studied psychoanalysis at the Universite de Paris, and earned a Ph.D. in 1985. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Republic of Slovenia emerged from regions of the former Yugoslavia as a democratic nation with Ljubljana as its capital. In 1990 Žižek ran as a pro-reform candidate for the newly formed four-member collective presidency of Slovenia but was not elected. While maintaining his post at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Ljubljana, which provides him with freedom to write and publish without additional responsibilities, Žižek spends a portion of each year as a guest professor at various colleges and universities throughout the United States. He has taught at several universities around the world, including the State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of Minnesota, Tulane, Columbia University, Princeton University, the New School for Social Research, and the University of Michigan.
Žižek's writings all concern some aspect of the interface between psychoanalytic theory and political philosophy, as applied to various aspects of culture and politics in the late twentieth century and at the turn of the millennium. His interest in popular culture extends to the exploration of the relationship between psychoanalytic theories of pleasure and Marxist theories of ideology. Lacanian psychoanalytic theory remains the foundation of all Žižek's concepts, and many of his publications attempt to both explain and grapple with the significance of Lacanian theory to post-Marxist cultural theory. The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989) provides an introduction to Lacanian theory and includes discussion of concepts from Freudian psychoanalytic theory, the modern philosophy of Jürgen Habermas, the political philosophy of Karl Marx, and the poststructuralist theories of Jacques Derrida. Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture (1991) presents the reader with the basic theoretical concepts of Lacan via discussion of such popular culture texts as Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories and the novels of Stephen King. Enjoy Your Symptom! places the theories of Lacan, Freud, Marx, Socrates, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, and Kierkegaard within a dialogue of the films of such auteur directors such as Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Roberto Rossellini, and David Lynch. Žižek served as the editor of Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock), a collection of essays drawn primarily from the academic film journal Cahiers du Cinema. The various authors included in this volume discuss Lacanian theory as applied to a number of Hitchcock films, including Suspicion, Rear Window, and The Wrong Man, among others. The Plague of Fantasies (1997) provides theoretical discussion of the relationship between fantasy and ideology, as manifested in popular culture in the age of cyber-technology. The work evaluates the concept of fetishism, in both Freudian and Marxian terms, to analyze such cultural phenomena as cybersex and toilet design. The Ticklish Subject probes issues of subjectivity in terms of three different theoretical frameworks—German Idealism, post-Althusserian political philosophy, and the poststructuralist gender theory put forth by Judith Butler. Several of Žižek's later works address more direct questions of political action in the context of contemporary culture and ideology within a postcolonial, post-industrial global economy. Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? examines the cultural and ideological use of the concept of totalitarianism along five different lines of development. Žižek asserts that the very term “totalitarianism” has been used as a “stopgap” of liberal-democratic thinking that ultimately limits and contains the possibility of subversive political ideologies by labeling them as “totalitarian.” Welcome to the Desert of the Real provides commentary on the cultural and ideological implications of the terrorist attacks on the United States that took place on September 11, 2001, while Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle (2004) focuses on the continuing American war on terror and occupation of Iraq.
Žižek has been widely acknowledged as a leading scholar of leftist cultural criticism and one of the greatest modern proponents of Lacanian theory. Many critics have regarded him as a brilliant academic mind on the cutting edge of cultural theory. Lois McNay has asserted that Žižek is “one of the most innovative and exciting contemporary thinkers of the Left.” Clayton Crockett has likewise described him as “one of the most creative and original thinkers on the contemporary scene.” Many reviewers have acknowledged Žižek's ability to formulate broad-ranging but incisive theoretical analyses of everyday life in the contemporary world. However, some feminist cultural theorists have taken issue with Žižek's works of criticism. For example, Žižek has maintained a friendly ongoing public dialogue with gender-theorist Judith Butler, with each party respectfully acknowledging but ardently refuting the others' premises. Butler has argued that Žižek's concept of the individual subject, based as it is on psychoanalytic theory, is ahistorical, while Žižek argues that Butler's metanarrative of the gendered subject is itself ahistorical. Some reviewers have also questioned the value of Žižek's prolific output—publishing as many as two or three books a year. Certain critics, such as Alex Callinicos, have countered this assertion. Callinicos has noted: “[p]erhaps it is a mistake to think of these as separate books rather than chapters in a single vast and continuing philosophical roman fleuve in which Žižek overwhelms his readers with jokes, arguments, film criticism and political polemic.”
The Sublime Object of Ideology (criticism) 1989
For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor (criticism) 1991
Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture (criticism) 1991
Enjoy Your Symptom!: Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out (criticism) 1992
Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock) [editor] (essays and criticism) 1992
Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology (criticism) 1993
Mapping Ideology [editor] (essays and criticism) 1994
The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and Causality (essays and criticism) 1994
Gaze and Voice as Love Objects [editor; with Renata Salecl] (essays and criticism) 1996
The Indivisible Remainder: An Essay on Schelling and Related Matters (essays and criticism) 1996
*The Abyss of Freedom/Ages of the World [with F. W. J. von Schelling] (essays and criticism) 1997
The Plague of Fantasies (criticism) 1997
Cogito and the Unconscious [editor] (essays and criticism) 1998
The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology (essays and criticism) 1999
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SOURCE: Kurzweil, Edith. Review of Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture, by Slavoj Žižek. American Journal of Sociology 97, no. 6 (May 1992): 1786-88.
[In the following review, Kurzweil asserts that Looking Awry is a work of postmodern theory and faults Žižek for assuming that his readers are already familiar with the theories and concepts of Jacques Lacan.]
Slavoj Zizek is gifted and versatile: he was a researcher at the Institute of Sociology in Ljubjana, and had run as a proreform candidate for the presidency of the republic of Slovenia, before writing Looking Awry—a book he “conceived as a kind of introduction to Lacanian ‘dogmatics,’ … as an excuse for indulging in the idiotic enjoyment of popular culture” (pp. vii-viii). He took time off from his political commitments in order to indulge in “post-deconstructionism”—his strictly Lacanian reading of the “Real” (in relation to the “Symbolic” and the “Imaginary”).
Zizek assumes that his readers are conversant with all of Lacan's works, that they are as taken up with Lacanian psychoanalysis and its roots in linguistic theory as he is himself. This means, also, that the child is primarily conceptualized as both by having been born into its language and by the ambivalence deriving from the dual (and coexisting and inseparable) nature of signs and...
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SOURCE: Žižek, Slavoj, and Peter Canning. “The Sublime Theorist of Slovenia.” Artforum International 31, no. 7 (March 1993): 84-9.
[In the following interview, Žižek discusses his political philosophy in relation to the political situation in the former Yugoslavia.]
Jacques Lacan is responsible for saying, “there is no sexual relation.” This should not make lovers too upset, for in fact, Love is what we have to make up for the Relation that is missing. Eros would be the potential of supreme Good, for harmony uniting men and women, women and women, men and men. But why did Sigmund Freud have to ruin everything by saying, It is always possible to bond together in love, as long as someone is left out to hate? Lacan and Freud are pessimists, right? For Love is all-inclusive—at least it can't depend on exclusion and hatred for its condition! Or else, with a yawn and a wink, we resign ourselves to taking advantage of whatever trust remains in human nature.
When Slavoj Žižek says, “There is no social relation,” we react as cynics and Kantian fetishists: I know very well there is no social Harmony prepared in heaven, but that is why we must work it here on earth. But Žižek unveils a new attitude. Social identity is constituted, not on the basis of ideal communication or understanding, but on the condition of persecutory and reactive formations that we all claim the others...
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SOURCE: Thomas, Paul. Review of Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock), edited by Slavoj Žižek. Film Quarterly 47, no. 1 (fall 1993): 46-7.
[In the following review, Thomas argues that the quality of the essays in Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock) varies greatly and that the collection as a whole should have been edited more carefully.]
In Slavoj Žižek's words [in Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock)], “Hitchcock as the theoretical phenomenon we have witnessed in recent decades—the endless flow of books, articles, university courses, conference panels—is a ‘post-modern’ phenomenon par excellence … for true Hitchcock aficionados everything has meaning in his films, the seemingly simplest plot conceals unexpected philosophical delicacies.” He adds that “this book partakes unrestrainedly in such madness.” Indeed it does, to the point of academicizing Hitchcock with a kind of gleeful vengeance. To begin with, much of the Lacanian panoply is out in force—the Imaginary; the Symbolic; the Real; the objet petit a; the “stain”; das Ding; Vorstellung-Repräsentanz; sinthoms; the Unheimlich; the Will-to-Enjoy; and—of course—the Gaze. Nor is this all. The essays that comprise...
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SOURCE: Aoki, Doug. “Readings Awry.” Canadian Literature, no. 147 (winter 1995): 136-37.
[In the following review, Aoki offers a critical comparison of Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture and Christopher Johnson's System and Writing in the Philosophy of Jacques Derrida, noting that Looking Awry presents “the freshest and most radical reading of Lacan in decades.”]
A glance over these titles [Christopher Johnson's System and Writing in the Philosophy of Jacques Derrida and Slavoj Žižek's Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture] would likely light upon the two Jacques, and thereby suppose that Christopher Johnson and Slavoj Zizek are working towards very similar ends—the explication of the thought of one or the other of arguably the two most significant poststructuralist theorists. However, even a little reading proves that each writer is instead more faithful to the differences between their titles. Johnson commits himself to system, and proceeds accordingly to construct a sober argument for a general Derridean theory of writing (écriture), while Zizek only pledges to look at Lacan the “wrong” way. Johnson's scrupulously academic text enlists the usual supporting cast of Hegel, Heidegger, and Freud, while Zizek, casually dismissive of the “academic reception” of Lacan,...
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SOURCE: Herbold, Sarah. “Well-Placed Reflections: (Post)modern Woman as Symptom of (Post)modern Man.” Signs 21, no. 1 (autumn 1995): 83-115.
[In the following essay, Herbold examines Žižek's theory of “woman-as-the-postmodern” from the perspective of feminist cultural theory. Herbold compares the representations of gender and subjectivity in Žižek's essay “Rossellini: Woman as Symptom of Man” with Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions.]
Zanetto, lascia le donne, e studia la matematica. (Johnny, leave women alone and go study mathematics.)
(Zulietta [in Rousseau (1782) 1959, 322])
Whatever they may signify (and this is precisely the question: whether, how, and to whom they signify anything), the terms woman and the feminine figure prominently in contemporary Anglo-American and French poststructuralist theories of literature and culture.1 This concern with woman and the feminine is implicitly linked to ideas of change and liberation: to a desire to be freed from traditional gender roles and representations in the case of feminist thinkers, and from traditional forms of thought, experience, and expression in the case of poststructuralist and psychoanalytic theorists. For better and/or for worse, woman and the feminine are being associated with the current sense of cultural crisis and innovation...
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SOURCE: Gigante, Denise. “Toward a Notion of Critical Self-Creation: Slavoj Žižek and the ‘Vortex of Madness.’” New Literary History 29, no. 1 (winter 1998): 153-68.
[In the following essay, Gigante examines Žižek's theories of identity and subjectivity, contrasting them with the critical theories of F. W. J. von Schelling.]
To examine the process of critical self-creation illustrated by Slavoj Žižek, I am content to begin where he begins: with the problem of Beginning itself. As he observes in The Indivisible Remainder—a reading of F. W. J. von Schelling's unfinished masterpiece on the Creation, The Ages of the World [Die Weltalter]—it is the crucial problem of German Idealism.1 I, however, will complicate this question of beginnings even further by asking, how is it that one gives birth to oneself as a critical subject? How does one self-create? In the case of Zizek, the critical subject never quite does emerge, but remains trapped in an endless cycle of birth contractions (and expansions) which expose the Real of the struggle involved in any act of self-assertion. Like others, such as his mentor Jacques Lacan, he assumes a theoretical stance which sets out to transgress boundaries between philosophy, psychology, literature, politics, film, and popular culture.2 But where Žižek is unique, and where he makes his radical break with other...
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SOURCE: Miklitsch, Robert. “‘Going through the Fantasy’: Screening Slavoj Žižek.” South Atlantic Quarterly 97, no. 2 (spring 1998): 475-507.
[In the following essay, Miklitsch discusses Žižek's scholarship in the cultural and political context of Slovenian culture after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.]
Far from being the Other of Europe, former Yugoslavia was rather Europe itself in its Otherness, the screen onto which Europe projected its own repressed reverse.
—Slavoj Žižek, “Caught in Another's Dream in Bosnia”
The Giant of Ljubljana? The Casanova of Slovenia? The Balkan Lacan? Saint Slavoj?
Who, exactly, is Slavoj Žižek, and where does he hail from?
It is all, one might say, in the name. An anecdote: when I first came across this particular proper name—significantly, while reading Terry Eagleton's introduction to Ideology—I was struck less by Žižek's remarks on ideology, which offered a slight but crucial revision of Peter Sloterdijk's formula for “enlightened false consciousness” (“they know that, in their activity, they are following an illusion, but still, they are doing it”1), than by the sheer strangeness of the name: all those little vs and zs!
SLOVENIA AS X-YUGOSLAVIA
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SOURCE: Boynton, Robert S. “Enjoy Your Žižek.” Lingua Franca 8, no. 7 (October 1998): 41-50.
[In the following essay, Boynton provides an overview of Žižek's life and career along with interview material gathered during the course of Žižek's lecture series at the British Film Institute.]
Amid the Bustle of Tony Blair's Britain, the tradition of the afternoon tea is one of the last remaining traces of the country's genteel past. There are few places that conjure up that past better than the oak-paneled King's Bar Lounge at the Hotel Russell, a fading Victorian pile that sits on the edge of Bloomsbury, only a few short blocks from the British Museum. On a drizzly summer afternoon, I sink into one of the Lounge's overstuffed leather chairs, feeling as if I were being transported back to an earlier, more leisurely era—far from “cool Britannia” and debates over the future of the euro. The spell is abruptly broken, however, by the sudden, agitated entrance of the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who is in town to deliver a series of lectures at the British Film Institute.
“We must have the most fanatically precise English tea,” Zizek insists, gesticulating dramatically in the style of a European dictator. “Everything must be exactly the way the English do it: clotted cream, cucumber sandwiches, scones. It must be the most radically English experience possible!”...
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SOURCE: McNay, Lois. “Unstable in Slovenia.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5048 (31 December 1999): 23.
[In the following review, McNay provides an overview of Žižek's theories of subjectivity, ideology, and psychoanalysis in The Ticklish Subject, asserting that the work is “the most systematic exposition of Žižek's theories so far.”]
Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian academic, political activist and one of the leading members of the Lacanian “Ljubljana group”, which uses the work of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan to interpret a range of philosophical and cultural texts, from Hegel and Heidegger through to Hitchcock and Hollywood. An explicit aim of the Ljubljana group is to use psychoanalytic theory to reinvigorate Marxist leftism, and, in 1989, Žižek stood as a candidate in the Slovenian presidential elections.
The Ticklish Subject offers the most systematic exposition of the foundations of Žižek's theories so far. His concern to revivify leftist politics is motivated by the disillusioning passage of Eastern European countries from socialism to capitalism, in which the civilized Czechs, once mobilized by the appeal of Havel and other cultural icons, are suddenly turned into “cheap swindlers of Western tourists”. In contrast to the pragmatic nature of British politics, post-Communist Slovenian politics is strongly influenced by intellectual...
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SOURCE: Guerra, Gustavo. “Psychoanalysis and Presuppositions.” Style 34, no. 1 (spring 2000): 144-48.
[In the following essay, Guerra finds basic inconsistencies in Žižek's theoretical framework in Cogito and the Unconscious that ultimately undermine the volume as a whole.]
I start from the obviously basic premise that most readers of this review would like to get some information about Cogito and the Unconscious. That being the case, it follows that my title here may be somewhat misleading, if not blatantly confusing, and perhaps even irrelevant. But readers even vaguely familiar with pragmatist philosophy will notice, in my title, the echo of Richard Rorty's well-known essay “Does Academic Freedom Have Philosophical Presuppositions?” In that essay Rorty summarizes, better than anything I can think of, a central tenet of the brand of pragmatism that has of late been known as “neopragmatism,” or “the new pragmatism.” Rorty argues that our traditional reliance on guiding principles to justify practices is initially misguided. Rorty argues, moreover, that such presuppositional relationship is in fact nonexistent insofar as practices presuppose beliefs only if dropping a belief implies a change in the particular practice. What this means—or what Rorty would want it to mean—is that practices are independent of the particular beliefs we might have about them. And when a...
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SOURCE: Mitrano, Mena. “Psychoanalysis and the Moth.” College Literature 27, no. 2 (spring 2000): 201-06.
[In the following essay, Mitrano compares Cogito and the Unconscious with Tobin Siebers's The Subject and Other Subjects, emphasizing how each work addresses theories of philosophy and politics.]
In a recent seminar, philosopher Maurizio Ferraris remarked that our epoch is thoroughly aestheticized. Cogito and the Unconscious, the new collection of essays on Lacanian psychoanalysis edited by Slavoj Zizek, speaks to this aestheticization with the image of a subject beating like a moth against the windowpane of a social code s/he seeks to renew. This assessment is not very different from the Lacan-inspired account of subjectivity Julia Kristeva offered more than twenty years ago. At that time, to make up for linguistics' failure to apprehend “anything in language which belongs not with the social contract but with play, pleasure or desire” (26), Kristeva invented semanalysis, a procedure that identifies in the subject's “capacity for enjoyment” (27) the key to renewing the order in which s/he seems apocalyptically trapped. But if the special effect of jouissance has freed the subject from the strictures of the social code, it has also magnified its tremblings. Like the subterranean being in Elizabeth Bishop's “The Man-Moth,” our post-social code subject has...
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SOURCE: Žižek, Slavoj, and Christopher Hanlon. “Psychoanalysis and the Post-Political: An Interview with Slavoj Žižek.” New Literary History 32, no. 1 (winter 2001): 1-21.
[In the following interview, Žižek discusses his later critical works, the criticism surrounding his use of Lacanian theory, and the developing political situation in the former Yugoslavia.]
For many, Jacques Lacan represents postmodern theory at its height—that is, at its worst. Lacan, so say his detractors, made a career out of obscurantism, and may not even have believed very much of what he said. Noam Chomsky once indicated such a hypothesis when he explained that “my frank opinion is that [Lacan] was a conscious charlatan, and he was simply playing games with the Paris intellectual community to see how much absurdity he could produce and still be taken seriously.”1 Even Lacanians might find it in their hearts to forgive Chomsky such a remark, since it was Chomsky who, after asking Lacan a question concerning thought (at the latter's 1968 presentation at MIT), received the reply, “We think we think with our brain; personally, I think with my feet. That's the only way I come into contact with anything solid. I do occasionally think with my forehead, when I bang into something.”2 As if to condense the aura of contrariness and enigma he cultivated in such exchanges, Lacan often relayed his...
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SOURCE: Webb, Stephen H. Review of The Fragile Absolute, or, Why Is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?, by Slavoj Žižek. Christian Century 118, no. 22 (1 August 2001): 31-2.
[In the following review, Webb assesses Žižek's theoretical approach to Christian doctrine in The Fragile Absolute from the perspective of a practicing Christian.]
The rumor swept through my circle of friends like wildfire: Bob Dylan had been converted to Christianity (by Larry Norman, no less) and was going to release a religious album! This was many years before Christian rock became mainstream, with mega-hit bands like Creed. In the '70s, contemporary Christian music occupied a small ghetto in the entertainment world, stigmatized by its association with the inherent rebelliousness of rock-and-roll. Musicians like Norman, Keith Green and Phil Keaggy, however, helped many young evangelicals reconcile their cultural isolation from pop culture. My friends and I were desperate to have rock music affirm our faith, in part, I am sure, so that we could listen to it with a clean conscience. We even entertained reckless dreams that Dylan would ignite a renaissance of religious music as powerful as any pagan revelry.
Dylan's faith has come and gone, but pop music is in the church to stay. It is not clear, however, whether the church has baptized rock-and-roll in order to save others or to save...
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SOURCE: Callinicos, Alex. “Changing the Possible.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5133 (17 August 2001): 30.
[In the following review, Callinicos observes that Žižek's dominant thematic focus in Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? is “the conditions of authentic political action.”]
How does Slavoj Z̆ĭZ̆ek do it? Since The Sublime Object of Ideology, his first book in English, appeared in 1989, the Slovene cultural theorist and Lacanian analyst has bombarded us with so many erudite, witty and challenging works that even his publishers must have lost count. Perhaps it is a mistake to think of these as separate books rather than chapters in a single, vast and continuing philosophical roman fleuve in which Z̆ĭZ̆ek overwhelms his readers with jokes, arguments, film criticism and political polemic. In the process, he has emerged as one of the major philosophers of the Western Left.
Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? is the latest instalment. Its ostensible target is what Žižek calls the “Denkverbot (prohibition against thinking)”—he has in mind the old West German Berufsverbot, banning state employment of leftists—that “shamefully exploits the horrors of Gulag or Holocaust as the ultimate bogey for blackmailing us into renouncing all serious engagement”. This does not mean that Žižek ignores Hitler's and Stalin's crimes—on the...
(The entire section is 832 words.)
SOURCE: Wheatley, David. Review of On Belief, by Slavoj Žižek. Times Literary Supplement, no. 5136 (7 September 2001): 33.
[In the following review, Wheatley offers a positive assessment of On Belief, calling the work “an honest and admirable meditation on what belief may mean today.”]
Slavoj Zizek takes the question of belief very seriously. On Belief begins with a description of a recent episode of the Larry King Show in which a rabbi, a Catholic priest and a Southern Baptist are discussing ecumenism. The rabbi and the priest agree that, irrespective of creed, a truly good person can rely on divine grace and redemption. The Baptist thinks otherwise: only those who “live in Christ” can be saved, which means that sadly “a lot of good and honest people will burn in hell”. Zizek wants us to dwell on this as an illustration of the basic premiss of On Belief: that to “break the liberal-democratic hegemony”, an authentic radical position must be prepared to “endorse its materialist version”. He goes on to discuss the radical legacies of Christianity and a more recent religion, Marxism-Leninism. Zizek argues that the suppression of the Cathar heresy by the Church was prompted not by its divergence from orthodox teaching, but by its laying bare of the inherently transgressive content of orthodoxy itself. For an ideology to achieve hegemonic status, it...
(The entire section is 374 words.)
SOURCE: Morrison, Kevin A. Review of Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?: Five Interventions in the Mis(use) of a Notion, by Slavoj Žižek. Theoria, no. 98 (December 2001): 118-20.
[In the following review, Morrison argues that Žižek fails to introduce any significantly new concepts in Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? and faults Žižek for simply presenting theories already put forth in his many previous publications.]
On receiving Slavoj Žižek's latest book, Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?: Five Interventions on the (Mis)use of a Notion, one might recall that familiar saying, “How can I miss you if you won't go away?” Virtually no publishing season passes without a new book by Žižek and spring 2001 is no different with Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? and a revised edition of Enjoy Your Symptom! both recently released.
The premise of Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? is that the notion of totalitarianism is “a kind of stopgap: instead of enabling us to think, forcing us to acquire a new insight into the historical reality it describes, it relieves us of the duty to think, or even actively prevents us from thinking”. How? In Žižek's estimation the left has essentially thrown up its collective hands in agreement that liberal democracy reigns supreme and is thus attempting to redefine itself firmly within the...
(The entire section is 885 words.)
SOURCE: Salih, Sabah A. Review of Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?: Five Interventions in the Mis(use) of a Notion, by Slavoj Žižek. World Literature Today 76, no. 2 (spring 2002): 252.
[In the following review, Salih describes Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? as Žižek's effort to rescue academic thinking from the restrictions of literary theory and cultural studies.]
A few years back, Frank Lentricchia, then one of the biggest names around in Literary Theory, created quite a stir by announcing in the now defunct Lingua Franca why he had decided not to have anything to do any more with Theory. Theory, he complained, had robbed thinking of its dialectical edge, thinking in effect becoming a matter of just plain “xeroxing,” something like “Tell me your theory and I will tell you what you would say, even about books that you haven't read.” A recent (4 October 2001) London Review of Books roundtable in response to the September 11th terrorist attacks perfectly illustrates Lentricchia's point. The contributors all seem to have proceeded according to some unwritten rules that basically determine what is being said. Edward Said, for example, cannot bring himself to say much else beyond his usual criticism of America as a place where Arabs and Muslims are not welcome; and the antifoundationalist Richard Rorty, unwilling to take grand narratives seriously, can only hope...
(The entire section is 804 words.)
SOURCE: Crockett, Clayton. Review of The Fragile Absolute, or, Why Is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?, by Slavoj Žižek. Theoria, no. 99 (June 2002): 141-43.
[In the following review, Crockett lauds Žižek's unique cultural perspective in The Fragile Absolute and recommends the volume to “scholars and thinkers working at the intersections of philosophy, cultural and political theory, and religious thought.”]
Slavoj Žižek is one of the most creative and original thinkers on the contemporary scene. His philosophical juxtaposition of Hegel and Lacan, his political commitment to a certain Marxism which has affinities with Althusser and the Frankfurt School, along with his engaging prose that illuminates movies and other aspects of contemporary culture, combine to make his voice unique and important. The Fragile Absolute, a follow-up to The Ticklish Subject, unites social and political analysis with a consideration of religion.
As the subtitle suggests, Žižek deals less with Christianity itself than with a specific legacy, here based on Alan Badiou's reading of St. Paul. On this reading, “Christianity and Marxism should fight on the same side of the barricade against the onslaught of the new spiritualisms” (p. 2). New age spiritualisms converge with perverse aspects of a well-intentioned tolerance and multiculturalism that represses national...
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SOURCE: Bullimore, Matthew. Review of The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology and Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?: Five Interventions in the Mis(use) of a Notion, by Slavoj Žižek. Literature and Theology 16, no. 3 (August 2002): 342-45.
[In the following review, Bullimore compliments Žižek's skill with constructing coherent political arguments in The Ticklish Subject and Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?, commenting that “Žižek's work provides valuable insight into the mechanisms of our contemporary universe.”]
The Ticklish Subject and Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? are two of Slavoj Žižek's most recent interventions into political theory. He has recently published two works (The Fragile Absolute, or, Why Is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For? Verso: London, 2000 and On Belief, Routledge: London, 2001), dovetailing with the volumes under consideration, which focus more specifically on theological themes. All four books, however, show Žižek's present interest in using the logic of Christianity to exemplify what he sees as authentic revolutionary commitment.
Žižek's work comes out of the Slovene/Ljubljiana Lacanian school. The school is non-clinical but uses Lacanian psychoanalysis as the privileged lens in its philosophical hermeneutic. Lacanian theory is deployed in order to describe,...
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SOURCE: Hussey, Andrew. “The Game of War.” New Statesman 131, no. 4604 (9 September 2002): 50-1.
[In the following review, Hussey discusses books by three different cultural theorists examining the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States—Žižek's Welcome to the Desert of the Real, Paul Virillio's Ground Zero, and Jean Baudrillard's The Spirit of Terrorism and Requiem for the Twin Towers Hussey concludes that all three works lack a sense of compassion for the victims of the attacks.]
The tradition of French apologists for terror is as long as it is undistinguished. From the fall of the Girondins in 1793 to Michel Foucault's impassioned defence of the Iranian revolution of 1979, French intellectual life has been shaped by revolutionary violence; indeed, it is one of the founding myths of French political thought. The publication, then, of these essays by two leading French thinkers and a fellow-traveller [Žižek's Welcome to the Desert of the Real, Paul Virillio's Ground Zero, and Jean Baudrillard's The Spirit of Terrorism and Requiem for the Twin Towers] on the events of 11 September 2001, and their aftermath, is, to say the least, intriguing.
A couple of years ago, I saw Jean Baudrillard give a lecture in Paris. Solidly built—nothing of the fey academic about him—he spoke with an almost Presbyterian rigour and...
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SOURCE: Hook, Derek. Review of On Belief, Revolution at the Gates: Selected Writings of Lenin from 1917, and Welcome to the Desert of the Real, by Slavoj Žižek. Theoria, no. 101 (June 2003): 148-52.
[In the following review, Hook discusses several of Žižek's recent publications—including On Belief, Revolution at the Gates: Selected Writings of Lenin from 1917, and Welcome to the Desert of the Real—noting that all three texts explore similar subject material.]
In three titles, published over a short period of time, Slavoj Žižek has spread out the arguments and concerns of a single book, not to mention a series of similar examples and, in fact, similar tracts of text. One wonders whether this is the first sign of the dissipation of Žižek's intellectual aura, an indication, through repetition and overlap, that the popular theorist has started spreading himself too thin. There are a series of recurring themes across the titles, amongst which include the U.S. political crisis after September 11, the worldwide threat of supposed ‘Fundamentalism’, the continual juxtaposition of irrational religious belief with technologized, consumerist atheism, the growing threat of the new European Right-wing, the Palestinian question, and the ongoing persistence of Holocaust debates.
Welcome to the Desert of the Real is the most recent of the titles,...
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Davis, Erik. Review of The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity, by Slavoj Žižek. Artforum International 10, no. 3 (fall 2003): 27.
Davis examines Žižek's darkly satirical take on Christianity in The Puppet and the Dwarf, commending the author's “powerful, if perverse, turn toward religious thought.”
Humphrey, Michael. “New Visions of the State.” Social Analysis 46, no. 1 (spring 2002): 153-69.
Humphrey offers a overview of Žižek's central ideas on globalization and the postcolonial state in Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?
Mead, Rebecca. “The Marx Brother.” New Yorker 79, no. 10 (5 May 2003): 38-40.
Mead provides a general discussion of the influence of Žižek's scholarship, as well as his celebrity status, on the world of academia.
Restivo, Angelo. “Lacan according to Žižek.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 16, no. 2 (September 1997): 193-206.
Restivo explores the significance of Žižek's Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture to the fields of psychoanalysis, political ideology, and media studies.
Stavrakakis, Yannis. Review of The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology, by Slavoj Žižek....
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