"Where Kant thinks he is still dealing only with a negative presentation of the Thing, we are already in the midst of the Thing-in-itself- for this Thing-in-itself is nothing but this radical negativity...the negative experience of the Thing must change into the experience of the Thing-in-itself as radical negativity...In short, we must limit ourselves to what is strictly immanent to this experience, to pure negativity, to the negative self-relationship of the representation."
Unlike Monsieur Rolland-Piegue, I have always read Slavoj Zizek the way that I feel he should be read- as a philosopher. In truth, I find it difficult to understand how one could approach Zizek from any other perspective, neglecting his argumentation in lieu of his jokes, anecdotes and dialectical inversions, seeing as how the jokes are themselves incomprehensible without reference to the propositions that they demonstrate. While several of Rolland-Piegue's criticisms of Zizek are, in a way, justified- Zizek's somewhat haphazard style of presentation, which can be as elliptical as it is breathless; the abundance of provocative declaratives; the abstract nature of his thought, which invokes and enlists empirical examples to elaborate upon the dialectical logic of his system- accusations of sloppiness are, in my view at least, wholly unfounded.
Astonishingly, Rolland-Piegue has written an entirely unphilosophical account of Zizek, one which, while disparaging Zizek's philosophical flimsiness, does not offer one philosophical argument in the way of refutation. Should this be read as being symptomatic of our own collective incapacity to READ philosophy as philosophy, of the waning of its 'symbolic efficacy' in a post-deconstructive world? Is Zizek thereby confined to being a living anachronism, condemned to transmitting his thought under the cover of smutty asides? One is free to repudiate Zizek's system in its entirety, as long as one does not deny that it *is* a fully-elaborated system, and should be approached as such. It has been noted by various readers on Amazon that Zizek is a tiresomely repetitious writer, an insight that I would supplement with a remark that should be intuitively obvious: the sameness of his texts inheres not so much in the CONTENT of the enunciated- endlessly-rehearsed variations of the same jokes- but in the position of enunciation from which the argumentation proceeds, the logical form of his analysis. In this regard, Rolland-Piegue is entirely right to underwrite Lenin's proposition on Hegel and Marx by applying it to Zizek himself, though I cannot help but suspect that Rolland-Piegue misses the crucial point- Zizek 'performs', repeats his fidelity to Hegelian dialectics by adhering to its formal procedures, in the same way that Marx did throughout Das Kapital (needless to say, it is strictly impossible to develop a sophisticated understanding of the three volumes of Das Kapital unless one is able to reconstruct the dialectical links that constitute its fabric, the movement that informs its methodology and impels it onwards). The anomalous, unwieldy nature of Zizek's texts lies not so much in his unorthodox sense of humor,but in the fact that, beneath the bawdy banter, he is an embarassingly ORTHODOX philosopher in the classical sense. To read him properly, then, is to arouse faculties that have lain dormant for far too long, languishing in the wake of post-structuralist poetizing. This is precisely what is meant by the 'RETURN to full-blown philosophy' that he discerns in the writings of his partner-in-crime and constant interlocutor, Alain Badiou.
To return to Zizek's repetitiousness, however. While Verso proposes that each volume of the Essential Zizek are essentially different from the next, treating different dimensions of Zizek's 'theoretical edifice', I'm not entirely sure if it is possible to draw firm distinctions between the matter treated in each. In a way, it seems to me that all of Zizek's writings constitute a larger text, fragments of which he feels obliged to paste in each individual publication, supplying the reader with the primary coordinates of his intellectual itinerary. It is this aspect of Zizek's style of presentation that renders each text a whole unto itself- at the risk of belaboring the point and tiring his longtime devotees, Zizek is exceptionally conscientious in making sure that careful, first-time readers will be able to deduce the axiomatic claims that give consistency to each book. All of the foundational postulates of Zizek's ontology are supplied in his major theoretical works ('The Parallax View', 'The Ticklish Subject', 'The Sublime Object of Ideology'), though it is certainly true that he elaborates on it in greater detail in this particular book. For instance, one can already find Zizek's reading of Kant (one that he feels is entirely in keeping with Hegel's appropriation of Kant) in "The Sublime Object of Ideology", and his discussion in said book informs/lays the ground for much of what is (re)iterated here, supplemented by a sustained reading of Heidegger's "Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics". We also find a fully developed exposition of what is arguably "The Ticklish Subject"s central thesis: the subject is the name for a radical negativity/subtraction, a 'cut' in the fabric of being, a lack bereft of any positive predicates. Of course, it is here that Zizek juxtaposes this conception of the subject with Badiou's, which confuses the process of SUBJECTIVATION and SUBLIMATION with the SUBJECT as such.
For me, though, the real highlight of the book is the middle section, where Zizek outlines the dangers inherent in the political philosophies of Badiou, Ranciere and Balibar. Besides his ontological quibbles with Badiou (put forth most forcefully in his identification of Badiou's disavowed Kantianism), the great innovation of Zizek's rather Leninist analysis is twofold: his re-evaluation of Laclau's conception of hegemony, which he distanced himself from following The Sublime Object of Ideology, as well as his suggestion that the political strategies of said triad could very well lead to a "revolution without a revolution". In 'The Sublime Object of Ideology', Zizek provided a recapitulation of the key concepts in Laclau and Mouffe's landmark book: the place of the Universal is empty, a locus of hegemonic struggle. The victor of the struggle occupies this place, constituting the 'quilting point' that unifies and 'sutures' an ideological field, generating a retroactive effect whereby a multitude of atomic 'floating signifiers' refer to it as their ultimate (teleological) frame of reference. Every victory being contingent, the signifier occupying this place is itself precarious, subject to continued contestation. Here, Zizek elaborates further on the precise nature of hegemonic consent, involving as it does the production of 'typical' representations. Hegemonic/discursive struggle hence necessarily involves, beyond the articulation of 'floating signifiers' into a lateral chain of equivalences, the deposition of dominant Universals and 'typicalities'. Again, however, Zizek is careful to emphasize the insuperable gap that persists between him and Laclau and Mouffe (remember that Laclau and Mouffe deplored Althusser for his unwillingness to renounce the last vestige of 'economic essentialism' in his thought, his insistence on the 'economic in the last instance')- every hegemonic articulation is doomed to be captured by its 'bad side' (populism, racism, nationalism) insofar as it neglects to place primacy upon the economic. In fact, this is the first text in which Zizek baldly proposes to 'politicize the economy' once more, to reinvigorate the classical Marxist analysis of political economy.
This, as we know, dovetails into Zizek's readings of Ranciere and Badiou (see "In Defense of Lost Causes"), where we find a similar aversion to the State and its 'ontic', economic functions ("the servicing of goods"). It would be useful here to refer to Zizek's review of Simon Critchley's "Infinitely Demanding" in the London Review of Books, which succinctly encapsulates Zizek's position regarding the seizure of State power. Critchley, in his advocacy of a Derridean brand of anarchism, proposes the formation of syndicalized communes, interstitial spaces of resistance (heterotopias in the Foucauldian sense?) that operate at a distance from the state. In keeping with his tacit acceptance of the persistence of the liberal democratic state, Critchley's conception of critique thus involves deluging the State with implacable demands that `call the state into question and call the established order to account, not in order to do away with the state, desirable though that might well be in some utopian sense, but in order to better it or attenuate its malicious effect'. Zizek's pithy response to this is that it is entirely in keeping with the division of labor that capitalism enforces- the dirty work of realpolitik is thereby left to neo-liberal technocrats and experts, while the task of recrimination and moralizing is left to the ineffectual intelligentsia. In avoiding the subject of the State altogether, Zizek wagers that the 'sequentialist'/'marginalist' thought of Badiou, Balibar and Ranciere announces its complicity with this sense of surrender. When we recall Baudrillard's chilling assertion that "the Left wants to lose" and couple it with Zizek's descriptions of the Beautiful Soul, we can better appreciate Zizek's unflinching fidelity to the revolutionary legacy of Marxist-Leninism, a fidelity that is as sobering as it is disquieting. I am tempted to suggest that Zizek has elaborated an 'existentialism with the unconscious', an exhortation for us to assume the abyssal contingency of the decision. At any rate, he is waiting for us on the other end of the gulf, waiting for us to make the leap by reading him seriously.
- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Verso Books; 1 edition (1 January 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1844673014
- ISBN-13: 978-1844673018
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 3.8 x 19.8 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 567 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item