Red alert 46

If you don’t know about SLAVOJ ZIZEK of Slovenia, you should, because he is dangerous.

He’s a passionate communist who thinks Lenin was the greatest hero in history. The man he seems to hate most is the former (good, courageous, altogether admirable) Czech president, Vaclav Havel.

At home in Ljubljana, Zizek is no more than a senior researcher at the University of Ljubljana’s Institute of Sociology, but further west he is more highly valued with a professorship at the European Graduate School and an appointment as international director of the Birkbeck Institute for Humanities in London. Despite the extreme hostility he expresses towards the United States – or because of it – he has been a visiting professor at Princeton and numerous other American universities including Chicago, Columbia, Minnesota, Michigan, and UC Irvine.

He ran for the presidency of Slovenia in 1990, but failed. It is not, however, as an active politician that he is immediately dangerous, but as one of those intellectuals whose pernicious influence on fellow academics, and consequently on rising generations of students, do profound harm by subverting freedom and supporting tyranny. Typically, he derives pleasure from rebelling and shocking, in the irresponsible spirit of a perpetual adolescent. His fans, safe in their well-funded ivory towers, applaud him with the hideous glee of spoilt children. He is the darling of media chat shows and organs of the left such as The Guardian newspaper and the New Yorker. A characteristic ‘look at me how daring I am’ statement on TV last year in New York was: ‘Everybody in the world except US citizens should be allowed to elect the American government.’

In the style of the enfant terrible he likes to invert the values of civilization. By doing so he appears to his admirers as heroic, witty, original and profound. He is none of those things. He is brutal, blind of imagination, emotionally stunted, vicious, arrogant, and stupid in the specially obscurantist way all leftist professors of philosophy and sociology are stupid.

His chief intellectual influences – in addition to Marx and Lenin – have been members of what I call the French pandemonium, such as Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault. (A pandemonium is a gathering of all demons.) Their repulsive ideas, enthusiastically endorsed and handed on by academics in America, have been given a new lease of life by late-comer Zizek, whose country had been sleeping for decades under the spell of communism. Most East Europeans woke happily in the dawn of freedom after the fall of the Soviet Union, and have brought new vigor to the decadent spirit of the West. But here is an intellectual who lived under the oppression of communism and yet is nostalgic for it; who idealizes cruelty and suffering, and abominates freedom – while making use of it to build a lucrative reputation as its implacable enemy.

His stardom in the academic firmament is due to his wishing even worse evils upon us than did Lacan – whose psychoanalytic therapy consisted of trying to drive his patients insane; or Foucault – who wrote of ‘the joy of torture’, longed to carry out human sacrifice, and taught that cruelty should be a perpetual condition of existence, so that life would be the experience of unmitigated pain, hate and aggression.

Zizek writes in the customarily opaque language of the left. (I think they hope that unintelligibility will be mistaken for profundity. As Nietzsche – another spreader of evil but one who could write better – once said: ‘They muddy the waters that they may seem deep’.) For example:

‘To put it simply [!]: If we make an abstraction, if we subtract all the richness of the different modes of subjectivization, all the fullness of experience present in the way individuals are “living” their subject-positions, what remains is an empty place which was filled with this richness; this original void, this lack of symbolic structure, is the subject.’ (The Sublime Object of Ideology, Verso, London 1989, pp174-175.)

The only meaning I can extract from this is that if you take everything out of something, it will be empty. For this we need a philosopher?

Zizek’s appalling political ideas can with effort be discerned in his writings. They are consistent with what he admires in the acts of individuals: extreme sadism, terrorism, motiveless murder. Crime is his delight. Only crime, he feels, is ‘authentically ethical’, because it subverts the coercion of law. But this is not mere antinomianism. Zizek revels in the suffering of other people; so the more horrific the crime is, the better. He adores suicide bombing. He loved the planes crashing into the Twin Towers on 9/11; they gave him such as aesthetic thrill. America he calls ‘the enemy’. Anyone – any state, any terrorist, any traitor – who acts against America is laudable. He wants all people everywhere to live in fearful obedience to totalitarian despotism. Voluntary subordination to an ’authentic Leader’, he preaches, is ‘the highest act of freedom’. (Did Somebody say Totalitarianism? Five Interventions on the (Mis)use of a Notion, Verso, London 2001 pp246-247.)

So if you are free, the best use you can make of your freedom is to choose to be unfree. This sort of nonsense is common among academic writers of the left. But Zizek is praised for his fresh originality. In what does it lie – apart from his being even more evil than his philosophical models? It is said to be in his allusions to popular culture, especially films, and such sub-philosophical phenomena as chocolate eggs with toys in them; but Rolande Barthes (another of the French demons) did that sort of thing too. In this way they make themselves seem less esoteric; philosophers for the common man. Yet – like Lacan, who tried to be as impenetrable to his readers and audiences as possible – Zizek strives not to be understood, so that he can counter any criticism by maintaining that the critic was too dumb to grasp what he meant. He contradicts himself frequently. For instance, while he holds that torture is a splendid thing, Americans ‘torturing’ Iraqis at Abu Ghraib is deplorable.

Thinkers have been the guiding lights of civilization, but in the 20th and 21st centuries the intellectuals of the left have been preaching against it. Until now they claimed a pretext for doing so, insisting that the subversions they practiced, the revolutions they encouraged, the oppressions they excused, were heroic efforts on behalf of the wretched of the earth: the poor, the colonized, the dispossessed, workers, women, lunatics, prisoners, aborigines… They pretended it was all for the eventual happiness of the human race: iron heartlessness in the cause of compassion. Multitudes received their message indirectly; and because they believed in the pretext, they followed them. The evil has soaked our culture. That is why Europe is letting itself be raped by Islam; why millions cheer for Hamas and hate Israel; why the media in the US suppressed the information that a presidential candidate had spent his whole political life among communists, terrorists, and America-haters; why George W Bush was loathed for overthrowing an Arab tyrant; why universities oppose free speech; why the Greens threaten us with hellfire on earth.

But now the pretext has been dropped. Now, with Zizek, the sheath is off, the naked truth revealed. Zizek and his flock are against freedom. They are against reason. They are against happiness. They want us in anguish. They want us in chains. Thrilled by their own daring, and out of malice and egotism, they would light our way to subjugation and suffering without end.

We must grasp what Zizek is saying, however he fudges it. ‘Don’t take him seriously – he doesn’t really mean it,’ is often heard from commentators on the left when his assertions make them feel uneasy. But it is urgent and necessary that we do take him seriously, attend to his message and all that it implies for every one of us, because he is speaking for this age.

Jillian Becker

January 2009

Posted under Articles, Commentary by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, January 21, 2009

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